Flax, Chia and Hemp Seeds

They may be small, but all types of seeds are gaining huge popularity in the food marketplace. Relative to their size, they contain a high proportion of nutrients. That’s no doubt why they are attracting so much interest!

Five good reasons to add them to your menu 

There is no such thing as a miracle food! But seeds can round out, or boost, a balanced diet.

Flax, chia and hemp seeds are: 

  1. A source of protein. They belong to the “meat and alternatives” food group;
  2. A source of Omega-3 fatty acids  and other fats that are beneficial for your health and heart;
  3. High in fibre, which helps control blood glucose (sugar) and blood cholesterol, and promotes weight management through the satiety (fullness) effect, which reduces the feeling of hunger. Fibre also contributes to proper digestive health;
  4. Low in carbohydrates, which affect blood glucose (sugar); 
  5. Versatile! Seeds can add crunch to a wide assortment of dishes and drinks! 

Flax seeds 

Flax seeds are oval and flat, and usually dark brown. There is also a yellow variety, called golden flax. You can buy flax seeds whole or ground. In addition to the nutritional benefits mentioned above, flax seeds contain lignans, nutrients with the potential to prevent certain cancers. Whole flax seeds provide 3 g of fibre per tablespoon (15 ml), more than a regular slice of whole-wheat bread. 

The tough shell of flax seeds make them difficult to digest. When whole, they pass intact through the digestive tract and their valuable nutrients do not get absorbed. Consequently, it is best to grind flax seeds before consuming them.

Storage tips

If you want to keep flax seeds for an extended period, grind the whole seeds only when you need them. Use a coffee grinder, food processor, or mortar and pestle. Ground flax seeds keep for about a month when refrigerated in a tightly sealed container. Whole flax seeds keep for up to a year at room temperature.

How to incorporate flax seeds into your diet? 

You can sprinkle ground flax seeds on yoghurt, fruit compote, oatmeal or cold breakfast cereal. You can also add it to recipes for muffins, soft energy bars, breads and dessert loaves (e.g., banana bread) by replacing 1/4 cup (60 ml) of flour with the same amount of ground flax seed. 

Chia seeds

These tiny seeds are white or black, depending on their provenance. Chia is sold ground or whole. Unlike flax seeds, the absorption of nutrients is not hampered in its whole form. Therefore, the choice is yours! 

Its nutritional profile resembles that of flax seeds. Chia is slightly higher in fibre, with 4 g of fibre per tablespoon (15 ml). It is also high in antioxidants. It is also marketed as Salba™ Chia, the tradename for a variety of chia seed.

Storage tips 

Chia is unlikely to go rancid. When stored in a cool, dark place, at room temperature, it will keep for two years, whether ground or whole.

How to incorporate chia into your diet? 

You can use chia as you would flax seeds. Chia also has an impressive ability to absorb liquid and rapidly turn into a gel—perfect for cooking a quick pudding!

Hemp seeds

These nutty tasting seeds have a texture similar to sunflower seeds. Bought hulled or peeled, hemp seeds are less granular than flax or chia. If you are concerned about eating hemp, you should know that hemp seeds come from a different variety of plant than marijuana. Don’t worry: hemp seeds contains no THC (the active ingredient in marijuana)! 
Hemp seeds are higher in protein, but lower in dietary fibre than flax or chia, with 3.5 g of protein and 1 g of fibre per tablespoon (15 ml). 

Storage tips 

Hemp seeds will keep for about a year in a cool, dark place. Keeping them refrigerated will prolong their shelf life, and prevent them from going rancid. 

How to incorporate hemp into your diet? 

Like flax and chia, you can add hemp seeds to virtually everything. They are especially tasty sprinkled on a salad or soup, or sprinkled on a stir-fry just before serving.

The price varies by type of seed

For your information, here are some typical prices for each type of seed. The price may vary by brand, size and store.

Price and nutrient value per 15 ml of flax, chia and hemp seeds*

Type of seed

Price

Protein (g)

Omega-3 (mg)

Carbo-

hydrates (g)

Fibre

 (g)

Flax (ground) $0.06 1.4 1.6 2.0 2.0
Chia (black or white) $0.35 1.7 1.9 4.7 4.1
Hemp (shelled) $0.38 3.0 0.7 0.5 0.5

*Adapted and updated table: P. Haddad http://www.passeportsante.net/fr/Solutions/PlantesSupplements/Fiche.aspx?doc=chia_salba_ps (in French only)

Will adding seeds to your diet make you healthier?

Seeds pack a lot of nutrients in a small space. Despite this, you should eat them in small quantities. They can help meet certain needs, but they do not replace a healthy balanced diet. Think of them as a bonus! Although they provide good heart-healthy fats, they are still high in fat and therefore relatively high in calories.

Enjoy nuts and seeds in moderation. Strive for an overall balanced diet!

Research and text: Diabetes Québec Team of Dietitians

Adapted from: Cynthia Chaput (Summer 2015), “Graines de lin, de chia et de chanvre: petites aux grandes vertus!” Plein Soleil, Diabète Québec, pp. 22-24.

May 2017 (updated on July 2018)

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