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Superfood Showdown: Flax v. Chia v. Hemp

It seems like every week, there is a new super food that you need to run, literally run, to the store to buy. Flax seed was all the rage until chia seeds exploded onto the scene; and now hemp seed is all the rage. If you’re anything like me, you have all three in your cupboard, but you’re left questioning which one packs the biggest nutritional punch. And if chia is better than flax, what should I do with the bag of flax seeds I still have? The truth is, although “new” products are constantly being introduced, they’re not new at all. They have been around for thousands of years. And they are all still relevant. Foods may go out of style, so to speak, but that doesn’t mean they lose their nutritional value! There is no need to replace any seed with a more popular one….use them all!

Here is a great guide to these three super seeds (taken from Quick and Dirty Tips). As you will see, they all have their own special place in our diets. There are benefits and drawbacks to investing whole-heartedly into any one seed by itself. I like to use them all, depending on what I am eating or cooking…

What Do Flax and Chia Have in Common?

Flax and chia are fairly similar nutritionally. Both are excellent sources of omega-3, each providing about 2400 mg of omega-3s per tablespoon. Both are also high in fiber, with chia having the edge—5 grams of fiber per tablespoon versus 3 grams for flax. Both also contain a modest amount of protein.

What Are the Differences Between Flax and Chia?

Flaxseeds are particularly rich in lignans, compounds that seem to provide extra protection against many types of cancer—a benefit that chia does not provide. On the other hand, flaxeeds have a hard shell and must be ground or thoroughly chewed in order for their nutrients to be absorbed. Tiny chia seeds do not have this protective armor and are readily digested without grinding.

Both flax and chia are high in soluble fiber. As you might recall from my previous show on soluble and insoluble fiber, soluble fiber is the type that absorbs liquid and forms a gel—and this can help slow the absorption of sugar and cholesterol from foods. And you can easily actually see this effect in action. If you stir a tablespoon of flaxseed into a quarter cup of water and let it sit for 30 minutes, the liquid becomes a bit thicker and more viscous. But this effect is much more dramatic with chia seeds. Stir a tablespoon of chia into a quarter cup of water or juice and ten minutes later you’ll have something that you can eat with a spoon, with a texture resembling tapioca pudding.

How Does Hemp Compare with Flax and Chia?

Hemp has much less in common with the other two. For one thing, hemp provides 50 to 75% more protein then either flax or chia. On the other hand, it has virtually no fiber. Soak a tablespoon of hemp in liquid and you just end up with wet hemp.

Hemp also isn’t as high in omega-3s. Flax and chia both provide about 2400 mg of omega-3 per tablespoon, while hemp only provides about 1000 mg. In addition, hemp is also much higher in omega-6. Flax and chia both provide about three times as much omega-3 as omega-6. With hemp, the ratio is reverse: about 3 times as much omega-6 as omega-3.

As I’ve talked about before, in order to get the most benefit from omega-3 (especially from plant-based sources), you need a balance between omega-6 and omega-3 fats in your diet. In general, our diets tend to be much higher in omega-6 than omega-3. And that’s what makes foods like flax and chia (as well as fish) so valuable: They provide a lot of omega-3 and not very much omega-6. Hemp, on the other hand, provides a lot of omega-3 but a whole lot more omega-6. So, as a way to balance the omegas in your diet, hemp is not as useful.

Big Difference in Price

Here’s one thing chia and hemp have in common: They are both considerably more expensive than flax. You can buy flaxseed in bulk for $1.99/lb. Chia costs about $10 a pound and hemp will set you back about $12 a pound. Hopefully, these higher-ticket seeds will come down in price as supply catches up with demand.

1 Tablespoon

Flax

Chia

Hemp

Total Fat

4.5

4 g

4.6

Omega-3s

2300 mg

2400 mg

1000 mg

Omega-6

600 mg

800 mg

2500 mg

Protein

2 g

2.5 g

3.5

Fiber

3 g

5 g

0.3g

Calories

55

60

57

Price

.05

.22

.26

How Do They Taste?

In terms of taste and texture, flax, chia, and hemp are all completely unique. Flaxseeds, which are a bit larger than sesame seeds, are hard and rather dry, with a faint grassy taste that gets nuttier when you toast them.

Chia seeds are much smaller and rather neutral in flavor—similar to poppy seeds. When exposed to water, they form a slippery gel with a slight crunch.

Hemp seeds, which are generally sold hulled, have a taste and texture similar to chopped walnuts.

How Do You Use Them?

Any of these seeds can be added to smoothies, hot cereal, or baked goods. (Except for the smoothies, you’ll want to grind the flax first). With its nutlike taste and texture, hemp is particularly good for sprinkling over casseroles, vegetables, or salads. Chia’s unique texture is fun to play with. Try combining it with a chilled green tea and fruit juice or for a healthy take on bubble tea. And for sheer value, you can’t beat flax! But if your budget will allow, there’s definitely room for all three of these unique and nutritious seeds in your diet!

Seed Showdown originally posted on QuickAndDirtyTips.com.

 

Written by rockstar Sakara intern, Mallory Walker

Mallory is a self-proclaimed health and wellness advocate. She is a strong supporter of family farms – honest and clean food grown by people who care about our health and our environment. As a professional dancer with two modern dance companies, Mallory is always thinking of new, healthy ways to feel her best and fuel her body. By experimenting in the kitchen and learning about her brother’s organic farm in Vermont, she developed a passion for good food and nutrition.

She graduated Suma cum Laude from Bridgewater State College in 2009 with a Bachelor’s degree in Communication Arts and Sciences, with a concentration in Dance Education. In her free time, she can be found in yoga class, cooking up a storm, or spending time with her close-knit family.

 

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