Health Benefits of Chia, Hemp, and Flax Seeds
Of all the many foods that have been marketed as “superfoods” in recent years, chia, hemp and flax seeds are most definitely among them. We agree with the many other health experts out there that believe that these are some of the healthiest foods you can eat. Whether or not you have started using any of these seeds in your diet yet, you may be interested to know what their hype is all about. Keep reading to learn about the health benefits of these powerful seeds and gain some ideas for how you can start enjoying them in your diet today.
What are chia, hemp, and flax seeds?
Chia seeds come from the Salvia hispanica L. plant and originated as a major crop and important food source for the ancient Mayan and Aztec cultures. They are tiny black seeds that resemble birdseed (but don’t let that deter you!).
Hemp seeds come from the seeds of the Cannabis plant but are a different species than that of what is used for marijuana. Unlike marijuana, hemp seeds contain only trace amounts of THC, which is the compound that gets you high. Hemp seeds are an off-white color that resembles split peas.
Finally, flax seeds come from the flax plant and are a light brown color that resembles rice. They can be eaten in whole or ground form, but the ground version is more common and has the benefit of being easier to digest.
Each of these seeds are rich in healthy fats, protein, and other nutrients and provide similar health benefits.
Health Benefits of Chia, Hemp, and Flax Seeds
Good source of omega-3 fatty acids. Most omega-3 fats come from animal foods like fish, but these seeds are some of the richest plant sources of these essential fats. Omega-3 fats benefit your health in many ways, and one of the main ways is by helping to lower the levels of inflammation in your body that can otherwise lead to disease. You can read more about the benefits of omega-3’s in this post. Keep in mind, though, that the type of omega-3’s in these seeds is different from those found in fish. These seeds provide the omega-3 known as alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA, which must be converted into the active forms of EPA and DHA in order to be used by the body. Therefore, these seeds aren’t as efficient of a source of omega-3’s compared to a food like salmon, but they still provide similar health benefits and are a good option for vegetarians and vegans to obtain these essential fats.
Rich in antioxidants. All three of these seeds have a high antioxidant content. Eating antioxidants helps protect our cells from damage by fighting off free radicals that can cause disease. Eating chia, hemp, and flax seeds can therefore help protect against diseases.
Full of fiber. Nearly all of the carbohydrates that these seeds contain is in the form of fiber, which is indigestible. Fiber acts as a prebiotic to help feed the beneficial bacteria in your gut which supports healthy digestion and can protect against digestive disorders like constipation and irritable bowel syndrome. You can read more about the importance of gut health, fiber, and probiotics here. Eating high amounts of fiber also comes with a slew of other health benefits including supporting natural detoxification through the excretion of bowel movements and assisting in weight management by helping you feel full for longer.
Provide plant-based protein. These seeds provide a good amount of plant-based protein in a small quantity, with hemp seeds providing the most. Just 2-3 tablespoons of hemp seeds provide about 10 grams of protein, with chia and flax seeds providing about 5 grams. These seeds make an especially great addition for people who follow vegetarian or vegan diets to help provide adequate protein intake but can also be enjoyed as part of any eating style.
Helps treat some chronic diseases. The fiber and omega-3 fatty acids that these seeds provide can help improve heart health by lowering cholesterol and blood pressure levels and by reducing inflammation. Fiber also helps control blood sugar and insulin levels, making it highly beneficial for people with diabetes. In addition, flax seeds in particular are a great source of a plant compound called lignans, which some research shows can help protect against cancer.
Tips for Incorporating these Seeds into Your Diet
Each of these seeds can be easily found in most major grocery stores.
Here are some ideas for incorporating them into your diet:
- Mix a spoonful into your oatmeal, or add them to your overnight oats
- Sprinkle them on top of yogurt or cereal
- Blend a small handful into a smoothie
- Make chia seed pudding (find simple and delicious recipes here!)
- Use them in homemade jam, like this recipe
- Stir a small amount into baking recipes such as cookies, pancakes and muffins (it won’t affect the flavor!)
- Swirl chia seeds into your water or juice
- Mix them into grains like rice or quinoa while cooking
- Use as an egg substitute by soaking 1 Tbsp chia or flax seeds with 3 Tbsp water and allowing to gel for about 5 minutes (replaces 1 egg in any recipe)
Chia, hemp, and flax seeds provide a lot of important nutrients and come with a lot of health benefits. If you haven’t given them a try yet, we encourage you to consider trying out one of the ideas mentioned in this post to start enjoying them and reaping their benefits today!