Chia, hemp, and flaxseeds seem to be everywhere these days! This trio of tiny seeds offers an abundance of health benefits, not the least of which are the valuable Omega-3 fatty acids. These seeds aren’t just for those following plant-based diets, but anyone who wants to boost their intake of nutrients. Read on for a brief introduction to these small but mighty super foods, their comparative benefits, and some ways to use them in your daily fare.
Chia seeds are known for their abundance of Omega-3 fatty acids, making them a great alternative from fish oil for vegans. These tiny seeds actually have more of the beneficial fats than salmon. The omega fatty acids can improve your heart health and cholesterol levels, and can be helpful in losing weight. The gel that is formed around the seed with the help of water has no calories and makes you feel more full.
These seeds contain an abundance of antioxidants, as well as complete protein, a rarity in plant sources. They balance your blood sugar and give you steady energy that lasts for hours (a good reason why runners have adopted chia). Chia seeds are also a great source of fiber; they have both soluble and insoluble fibers. You can add these seeds to pretty much anything. Try using them in oatmeal or smoothies. A typical amount is 2 tablespoons a day.
When immersed in liquid, chia seeds form a gel, and make a great egg substitute. To replace one egg, combine 1 tablespoon chia seeds with 3 tablespoons water. Stir together and let stand for 15 to 30 minutes, or until thick and gelatinous.
Chia seeds are amazingly sturdy and rarely get rancid, even if kept at room temperature for months at a time. Still, it doesn’t hurt to keep them in a tightly lidded container or jar in the refrigerator. For lots more information on chia seeds, how to use them, and their benefits, go to Chia FAQ.
A few recipes using chia seeds on VegKitchen:
These days, flax seeds can be found in a wide variety of foods. Something often overlooked is that whole flax seeds don’t break down when eaten, they go right through the digestive tract without bestowing any of their many benefits. Make sure you grind the seeds yourself (coffee grinders work well), or use pre-ground flax seeds to get the most value.
Flaxseeds contains lignans, which are chemical compounds that carry antioxidants and enzymes that have many benefits. Flax is also a good source of a type of soluble fiber that helps maintain ideal cholesterol levels. It provides Omega-6 fatty acids and many essential minerals.
Ground flaxseeds can be added to oatmeal, baked goods, smoothies, cereal, and more. Like chia seeds, when immersed in liquid, ground flax seeds form a gel, and make a great egg substitute. To replace one egg, combine 1 tablespoon ground flax seeds with 3 tablespoons water. Stir together and let stand for 15 to 30 minutes, or until thick and gelatinous.
Until recently, it has been necessary to buy whole flaxseeds and grind them in a spice or coffee grinder to get their full benefits. Now, pre-ground flaxseeds are available, making them handy to use without extra preparations. Both flaxseeds and flax oil are highly perishable, so keep them refrigerated. Another way to reap flaxseeds’ fatty acid benefits is by using the oil in salads or dressings (direct exposure to heat damages the nutrients).
Tip: Keep your ground flax in the freezer so it keeps longer and retain nutrients. If you have whole flax, just keep in a sealable bag or mason jar in the refrigerator, as they are highly perishable.
A few recipes using flaxseeds:
Hemp seeds are a great addition to vegan and vegetarian diets, as they’re packed with easily digestible proteins and contain all 10 essential amino acids, putting them among the rare plant-based foods that provide complete protein. These seeds are abundant in omega-3 fatty acids, as well as a specific omega-6 fatty acid (GLA) not found in any other food; hemp oil contains even more GLA.
Hemp seeds are high in fiber and are rich in minerals including magnesium, iron, zinc, and potassium. Hemp seeds are very rarely allergens, unlike many other nuts and seeds. And unlike flaxseeds, you need not grind them to reap their benefits. While chia and flaxseeds have the edge in terms of soluble fiber, hemp is higher than the other two seeds in protein. Hemp seeds aren’t as rich in Omega 3 fatty acids as chia or flax, but much higher in Omega 6s, which is not necessarily a benefit, as the western diet is already overabundant in the latter.
Hemp seeds have a mild, nutty flavor. As with the other seeds, they’re good in hot or cold cereals, smoothies, and soups, or just sprinkled on salads, casseroles, noodle dishes, or cooked grains. Hemp oil has a strong "grassy" flavor that, though an acquired taste, affords the same benefits and can be used in place of olive oil in cold dishes like salads, but not for cooking. For more, see Hemp Seeds: Nutrition, Benefits, & Recipes.
A few recipes using hemp seeds:
Here’s a handy chart comparing the major nutrients in chia, hemp, and flax seeds, reprinted from Quick and Dirty Tips:
- Here's lots more on plant-based nutrition.