Flax, Chia or Hemp Seeds – Which are Healthier?
First it was flax seeds, then chia and now hemp seeds! Everywhere you look these little seeds are being added to foods – from crackers, cereal and breads to energy bars and puddings. Not only are they tasty, but they pack a nutritional punch. They’re rich in fiber and heart healthy fats and may help reduce risk of numerous diseases. So what is the difference between these seeds and which is the most nutritious, flax, chia or hemp seeds? Read Sarah Adler’s (recent NYU Nutrition grad) guest blog post to learn the answer.
Flax, chia and hemp seeds are particularly high in omega-3s, the essential fatty acid critical for heart health, brain development, reducing inflammation and joint pain, managing depression, preventing dry eyes, lowering cholesterol, controlling high blood pressure, and protecting bone health. Shall I continue? Needless to say, omega-3 fatty acids are a nutrient that you want in your diet! But chia, flax, and hemp seeds have a lot more to offer than just omega-3s. Take a look at how each one measures up based on a one oz (~two tbsp) serving size! I know what you’re thinking, “Chia, and flax, and hemp! Oh, my! How do I know which seed is best for me?” The good news is that they’re all great for you and your go-to seed depends upon what nutrients you’re looking to get out of it. Here’s how their protein, fiber, and omega-3s compare.
Nutritional content in a one ounce serving
|Chia Seeds||Flax Seeds||Ground Flax||Hemp Seeds|
|Serving Size||1 oz (28 g)||1 oz (28 g)||1 oz (28 g)||1 oz (28 g)|
|Calories||137 kcals||150 kcals||148 kcals||161 kcals|
|Protein||4 g||5 g||4 g||9 g|
|Total Fat||9 g||12 g||12 g||12 g|
|Saturated Fat||1 g||1 g||1g||1 g|
|Unsaturated Fat||7 g||10.1 g||10 g||10 g|
|Total Carbohydrate||12 g||8 g||8 g||3 g|
|Dietary Fiber||11 g||8 g||8 g||2 g|
|Omega-3 Fatty Acids*||4.9 g||6.4 g||6.4 g||2.8 g|
*Omega 3 fatty acids from plant sources, ALA
Label confusion – what’s a serving?
The above nutrient values are based on a one oz serving size, which is typically equivalent to two tablespoons. But when you look at the nutrition label serving sizes for chia, flax, and hemp seeds on their packaging (see chart 2), a two-tablespoon serving is not the same as one ounce, as least not in this situation. Let me explain. While we all have a general idea of what a tablespoon amounts to, the unit “ounce” is more arbitrary and complicated! That is because an ounce is a unit of weight and differs from food to food so we don’t have as clear a picture as we do with tablespoons. It’s similar to how one cup of water is 8 fluid ounces, but one cup of quinoa is not eight ounces! To elucidate this matter even more, picture cheese, almonds, and cereal. Do you know how much an ounce of each is? Again, it’s not the same across the board, rather one slice of cheese, 22 almonds, and one cup of dry cereal are all one-ounce servings! Is this making a bit more sense now? Therefore, just because two tablespoons of olive oil are equal to one ounce doesn’t mean that two tablespoons of chia seeds are (in fact, they’re lighter than olive oil so they are approximately half an ounce). These foods weigh different amounts and so it becomes similar to comparing apples and oranges! Paying close attention to serving sizes on nutrition labels is really important and can help clarify some of this confusion. The chart below demonstrates the nutrition values in proper serving sizes of chia, flax, and hemp seeds as written on their packaging.
Nutritional content of flax, chia and hemp seeds serving size (as per nutrition label)
|Chia Seeds||Flax Seeds||Ground Flax||Hemp Seeds|
|Serving Size as Listed on Packaging||1 tbsp (15 g)||2 tbsp (15 g)||2 tbsp (13 g)||2 tbsp (15 g)|
|Calories||60 kcals||90 kcals||60 kcals||90 kcals|
|Protein||3 g||3 g||3 g||5 g|
|Total Fat||5 g||7 g||4.5 g||6 g|
|Saturated Fat||0 g||0.5 g||0 g||1 g|
|Unsaturated Fat||4 g||6 g||4.5 g||5 g|
|Total Carbohydrate||6 g||4 g||4 g||3 g|
|Dietary Fiber||6 g||4 g||4 g||2 g|
|Omega-3 Fatty Acids||2.6 g||3.4 g||3 g||882 mg|
*Omega 3 fatty acids from plant sources, ALA
The Protein Powerhouse: Hemp Seed
While chia, flax, and hemp seeds are all good additions to any food for an extra boost of protein, hemp seeds are the winner, weighing in at 9 grams of quality protein per ounce. But don’t let that prevent you from enjoying chia and flax. On an amino acid scale, chia and flax score 115 and 92, respectively. Scores of greater than 100 mean that the protein is a high-quality, or complete protein, so chia seeds win a point for that! Flax isn’t too far behind the 100 mark, but is an incomplete protein and needs a complementary protein to increase its overall quality. Don’t know how to enjoy hemp seeds? No problem. Here are a few ideas:
– Dry toasted with spices and then sprinkled on a salad or some kale chips
– Baked into homemade granola bars
– In Greek yogurt or a warm breakfast cereal
– Used in a pesto recipe instead of pine nuts
– In a tabouli-hemp seed salad
The High-Fiber Champion: Chia Seeds
Chia seeds have the most dietary fiber with a whopping 11 grams per ounce, nearly half of the 25 grams per day recommended for women and a third of the 38 grams per day for men! A diet high in fiber can help you lose weight, lower cholesterol, stabilize blood sugar levels, and prevent constipation. If you’re looking to increase your fiber intake with seeds, then flax comes in at a close second place with 8 grams per ounce. If you’re not as focused on upping your intake, then the small amount of fiber in hemp seeds is fine for you! Add chia to your diet with these easy suggestions:
– In a chocolate chia seed pudding with chocolate soy/almond milk
– As an egg substitute (1 tbsp finely ground chia seeds and 3 tbsp water per egg)
– Mixed into yogurt with berries
– Blended in your favorite smoothie
– Added to coconut water for a natural energy drink
– Soaked in your choice of milk and mixed in hot cereal
– Check out Martha’s previous post (and video!) on:
– Making Chia Seed pudding
– How chia seeds helped her client lose 50+ lbs
– Check out this link on 40 Ways to Use Chia Seeds
Martha’s note: think the chia pets from years ago are a thing of the past? Nope – check out this GIANT chia pet at Rockefeller Center!
Omega-3 Winner: Flax seeds
Flax seeds are the clear-cut winner when it comes to omega-3 fatty acids, containing 6.4 grams per ounce! Quick review: there are 2 major types of omega-3 fatty acids in our diets: One type is alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and is found in plant sources. The other type, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), is found in fatty fish. The body partially converts ALA to EPA and DHA. So while ALA isn’t as potent as the omega 3’s found in fatty fish, you are still getting health benefits. Plus, flax seeds are loaded with fiber – unlike fish! Never been a flax fanatic? You will be after using it in one of these recipes:
– Baked into muffins and breads (can be whole or ground flax)
– Added to homemade raw crackers (needs to be whole)
– Used as a healthy “breading” for chicken, tofu, or fish
– As an egg substitute (2 tbsp ground flax seeds and 2 tbsp water per egg)
Now that we all know what chia, flax, and hemp seeds are and why we should eat them, it’s time to learn how to properly store them! The best way to store these superfoods is in a glass mason jar in the refrigerator. There’s an age-old diet trick to keep candies and unwanted foods in an opaque container so that they’re out of sight, out of mind. The opposite holds true here – in sight, in mind! Using a glass mason jar will enable you to easily see what seeds you have and how much you have left, and encourage you to eat them. Because seeds contain delicate oils that can spoil quickly, storing them in the refrigerator will extend their shelf life. Mason jars can also be sealed tightly, which keeps the air out and helps prevent oxidation, thus saving you money in the long run (and who wouldn’t want that)! Lastly, a glass mason jar is not only good for your seeds, but also for you and the environment because they are reusable, last forever, and non-reactive. *Tip: use a label or masking tape and permanent marker to add the seed name and expiration date to the lid (printed on the original packaging)!
Chia seeds: Chia seeds do not require refrigeration or any special storage container. As long as you keep the bag or container airtight in a dry place, your seeds will stay fresh and ready to use for several months. Or keep in the freezer for an extended shelf. Also, unlike flax seeds, you don’t need to grind chia seeds to reap the nutritional benefits.
Flax seeds: To get their full nutritional benefit, flax seeds should be ground into meal. You can do this with a coffee grinder (cleaned!) or mini-food processor. Flaxseed meal can be purchased, but the seeds begin to degrade as soon as they’re cracked so the best and most nutritious flax is freshly ground in your kitchen and used that day. Whole flax seed should be bought and stored in airtight packaging and can be stored at room temperature for up to a year. As previously mentioned, ground flaxseed is more delicate and should be refrigerated in an airtight, opaque container for up to 90 days.
Hemp seeds: Once opened, it is best to keep hemp seeds in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freezer because their nutritional content will remain higher with this storage method. However, it’s not necessary because they will still remain fresh up to a year in a dark pantry at room temperature (some people report even longer). Unopened hemp seed products can be stored in a cool, dry place for a long while without any issues. Again, no grinding needed.
Bottom line: To sum it up, chia, flax, and hemp seeds are all winners and you can’t go wrong with whichever seed you choose! Each seed has its own special nutrient powerhouse, be it hemp and protein, chia and fiber, or flax and omega-3s, while also being wholly nutritious and delicious!
I’d like to thank Sarah Adler for writing this guest post. Sarah is a young aspiring registered dietitian in New York City. She recently graduated from New York University, where she received her Bachelor of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics, and will soon begin her Dietetic Internship at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. When Sarah is not immersed in her nutrition studies (which is a rare occurrence), she enjoys writing, testing out new recipes, educating others, practicing yoga, and traveling around the world! Stay tuned … you’ll be seeing more of Sarah’s articles in the next few months!
I especially love problem-solving, whether it’s helping women defeat issues plaguing them for years, helping a busy executive find practical ways to get heart healthy, or providing tips to help you reverse diabetes. That’s why I’m on a constant quest to expand my knowledge by staying on top of the latest research.