Seeds are all the rage these days, from flax, to chia, to hemp and more. Ever wonder what all of these seeds do for your health? To help answer this question, I’ve outlined the benefits, similarities and differences of these power-packed seeds.
Flaxseeds may sound relatively new, but they come from flax, which is one of the world’s oldest crops, dating back to about 3,000 B.C. They also are commonly known as "linseeds." Flaxseeds are a great source of healthy fat, antioxidants and fiber, and they contain all of the essential fatty acids, including alpha linoleic acids (ALA), which are commonly known as omega-3 fatty acids. Flaxseeds are high in fiber (both soluble and insoluble), vitamin B1, magnesium and other micronutrients. They also contain lignans, which have antioxidant and estrogen qualities. Research has shown that consumption of flaxseed may lower the risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, lung disease and cancer (specifically prostate, breast and colon). Flaxseed can also lower your blood cholesterol. Flaxseed is what chickens are fed to produce eggs that are high in omega-3 fatty acids.
How Can I Use Flaxseed?
There are many flax-based products out on the market. You can find flaxseed as either golden or brown flaxseed. While flaxseeds can be eaten whole, using ground flaxseed is more easily digested. Grinding the seeds also allows the nutrients to be more easily released for absorption. You can add ground flaxseed to just about anything: hot or cold cereals, dressings or sauces, yogurt or fruit smoothies. It also is easily added to baked products, so you can add it to your homemade bread, cookies or other baked goods.
Chia seeds are the edible seeds from a desert plant. And yes, they are the same seeds that are used to make Chia Pets grow Unlike flaxseeds, they can be eaten whole because of their tiny size, and are therefore easily digested and absorbed. They have many of the same health benefits as flaxseed, including their content of omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants and soluble fiber. They contain omega-6 fatty acids, and more protein and calcium than flaxseed.
How Can I Use Chia Seeds?
Because of their mild flavor and small size, chia seeds can be added to your everyday foods. They can be sprinkled on top of just about everything, including vegetables and salads. They can also be blended into yogurt, hot cereal and shakes. They dissolve in water to make a gel-like paste, so you can use them to thicken sauces or gravy.
Hemp seeds are seeds derived from the hemp plant, which is commonly confused with the marijuana plant. The hemp plant is a different plant from the same species, which does not have the same effects associated with consumption of marijuana. Like flaxseed and chia seeds, hemp seeds are high in the omega-3 fatty acid ALA. Research has shown that consumption of hemp seeds is associated with decreased risk of heart disease and lower blood pressure and cholesterol. They are a great source of fiber and protein, and contain other minerals such as iron, magnesium, phosphorus and zinc. Hemp seeds also can be used to make dairy product substitutes, such as hemp seed milk.
How Can I Use Hemp Seeds?
Once hulled, you can eat them in their whole form. They can be roasted, toasted or eaten raw. They can be added to anything you would normally add nuts to, such as cereal, granola or baked goods.
Is One Seed Better Than Another?
Flaxseed, chia seeds and hemp seeds all contain heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids and fiber, and have all shown to have health-protective benefits. While their nutritional qualities vary slightly, consumption of any of these types of seeds will give a nutritional boost to your diet.
Carmen Roberts, M.S., R.D., L.D.N., is a registered dietitian, receiving her undergraduate degree in dietetics from James Madison University and her master’s degree in health education and administration from Towson University. She is a certified specialist in adult weight management and teaches cooking classes. Carmen enjoys educating her clients about how nutrition affects the body and its role in overall health and wellness. She also loves volunteering, including as a Girl Scout troop leader.