In my nutrition coaching practice and my cleanses, I recommend people include chia, flax and hemp in their diet. Most of the smoothies on my blog contain them. I receive a lot of questions asking, “what is the difference and which one is better?”. Even though chia has become the new wonder food in the media, flax and hemp also deserve attention. Today I am going to break down how these seeds compare.
All these powerful seeds contain fiber, omega fatty acids and protein but different types and quantities.
Fiber comes from plants and is a type of carbohydrate that can’t be broken down and absorbed by your digestive system. Instead it moves through your digestive system absorbing toxins and making your stools soft and easy to release. There are 2 types of fiber, soluble and insoluble. We need them both.
Most plant foods contain both but are usually richer in one type than another.
Soluble fiber is the type that absorbs liquids and forms a gel. Insoluble fiber is just bulk. Think about putting chopped kale in a soup, it doesn’t absorb any water, this is insoluble fiber.
Flax and chia are both high in soluble fiber. Soluble fiber attaches to cholesterol particles and traps toxic laden bile escorting them out of your body. Soluble fiber slows the absorption of sugar keeping your blood sugar in balance. Clearly it is important to have lots of soluble fiber in your diet.
You can see the difference when you soak a tablespoon of chia or flax seeds in half a cup of water and let it sit for 30 minutes, the liquids become thick like a gel. You will notice the chia gets much thicker. It turns into a gel like pudding similar to tapioca. Since chia holds onto water it helps your body stay hydrated. It is popular with athletes.
Hemp seeds are not high in fiber, only .03 grams in 1 tablespoon compared to 3 grams in flax and 5 grams in chia. They do not change when soaked in water.
Since chia seeds absorb so much water it is best to soak them for 30 minutes before eating. If added to energy bars, be sure to drink lots of water.
Omega Fatty Acids
Our body needs essential fatty acids for optimal health and well-being. Since our body does not make them we need to consume them regularly.
In order to get the most benefit from omega fatty acids you need a balance between omega-6 and omega-3 fats in your diet 2:1. In general our diets tend to be higher in omega-6 which makes chia and flax so valuable. They provide a lot of omega-3 which balances out the omega-6.
Flax is the number one highest source of plant based omega-3 fats in the form of ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). Chia is almost as high in its omega-3 (ALA) content. These types of fatty acids reduce inflammation, support our brain and help maintain a good mood. The amount of Omega-3 ALA is important for two reasons. ALA gets converted to Omega-3 EPA and DHA, which you can’t get from plant sources.
Hemp seeds have the perfect balance of Omega-6 and Omega-3. As a way to balance out your omegas hemp is not as useful as chia or flax. But as a stand alone food, hemp seeds are in perfect balance.
Hemp is High in gamma linolenic acid (GLA), an essential omega-6 fatty acid found in borage oil and egg yolks that has been proven to naturally balance hormones
Proteins are the main building blocks of your body. Proteins are needed to build new cells, maintain tissues, and synthesize new proteins that make it possible for you to perform basic bodily functions.
All three seeds contain protein but this is where hemp really shines. It has 30%-50% more protein than flax or chia. It is the “perfect vegan protein” containing all 20 amino acids and each of the 9 essential amino acids that our bodies cannot produce.
Chia seeds are also considered a complete protein because they contain all the essential amino acids, while flaxseeds do not.
Nutritional Benefits and Recipes
Flax seeds are rich in lignans, compounds that provide extra protection against many types of cancer—a benefit that chia does not provide. Lignans have been linked to a reduction in menopause symptoms.
Flax is an estrogen metabolizing food that helps keep our estrogen and progesterone in balance. We live in an estrogenic world that can shift our hormones out of balance. Excess estrogens come from factory-raised animal products, skin care and cleaning products containing endocrine disruptors such as the BPA’s and phthalates.
On the negative side, flax seeds contain phytic acid with is an anti-nutrient. It binds to minerals like zinc, copper, iron, calcium and magnesium and never unbinds. It prevents your body from absorbing some of these minerals. This is one of the main reasons to choose either hemp or chia.
Golden flax seeds have a mild nutty flavor. The brown ones have the same nutritional profile and are slightly nuttier. I add ground flax to smoothies or sprinkle it on porridge. They are great in homemade energy bars.
Chia, unlike flax is an excellent dairy free source of calcium. There are 233 milligrams of calcium in 3 tablespoons of chia which is close to a cup of milk (299 milligrams). We need about 1,000 milligrams of calcium per day. Calcium helps strengthen our bones, cartilage, and keeps stress at bay by lowering cortisol in the body. Chia is a great source of this mineral.
Chia seeds are similar to poppy seeds and almost tasteless. They can be easily added to any beverage or smoothie without altering the taste. I love raspberry and chocolate chia pudding.
Hemp seeds have a similar taste and texture to walnuts, maybe a little grassier. Sprinkle on salad or vegetables or blend them into hemp milk.
Grinding and Storing
Unfortunately flax seeds easily go rancid. The oils in flax seeds go bad when exposed to heat, light or air. They must be kept in the refrigerator.
Chia seeds do not go rancid quickly. The antioxidants in the chia seeds allow them to be stored for months in a dark, cool place.
Flax seeds must be ground in order to get the nutritional benefits. If not ground they go through your system whole. They can easily be ground in a spice grinder but then go rancid even faster. It is best to grind them just before using. If you buy already ground flax seed be sure they are fresh and have been refrigerated.
Chia seeds can be enjoyed whole or ground. You can grind chia seeds but I find them best eaten whole. I discovered if I blend the chia seeds when making chia pudding it tastes a little bitter but they can be blended into a smoothie without altering the taste. Keep chia seeds in a glass storage container with a tight-fitting lid.
Hemp seeds are tiny and don’t need to be ground. They are a stable product when stored properly. Thanks to the high levels of naturally occurring vitamin E, oxidation and rancidity are minimal.
It’s best to keep organic hemp hearts refrigerated in an airtight container. If you purchase a 5-pound bag, consider putting 1 pound of the hemp seeds in an airtight container in the refrigerator for daily use and freezing the rest. Freezing keeps them fresher.
At your local health food store your will see flax is the cheapest of all 3 seeds usually about $2.75 pound. Chia used to be quite expensive but with high demand the price has come down recently to about $8.50 per pound. Hemp unfortunately is quite expensive. The laws in America prevent us from growing it here, we must import it. It runs about $12-$18 per pound.
Hemp, chia and flax are all beneficial in different ways. Chia is best for fiber. Hemp is the winner if you want protein. Flax seed is the least expensive and has the highest amount of Omega-3. Include them all in your diet.
Until next time, have a fantastic day and I hope this information give you clarity.
Please leave a comment on the blog. I always love hearing about your health journey and your thoughts and feedback