Q: First it was flaxseeds, then hemp seeds, now chia seeds are in everything. What are the benefits of these different seeds and how do I use them in my diet?
A: When I was a kid, wheat germ was the only “healthy” additive around, and we would sprinkle it on yogurt, but now flaxseeds, hemp seeds, and chia seed recipes are becoming increasingly popular, expanding this category of food. As there’s been a lot of “super seed” hype, you’ll find them in more and more packaged foods, but why should you bother eating them in the first place? Let’s take a look:
Flaxseeds: Two tablespoons of flaxseed meal contains 4 grams of fiber, 2.4 grams of the short-chain omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), and 300 milligrams of a particular type of antioxidant called lignans. Both ALA and lignans are anti-inflammatory, and lignans may also help lower cholesterol levels. Flaxseeds should be eaten ground, otherwise they won’t be fully digested—and you won’t extract the nutrients.
Hemp Seeds: Of these three seeds, hemp contains the most well-rounded and balanced nutritional profile. Two tablespoons contains 6 grams of fat (including 882 milligrams of ALA), 2 grams of fiber, and 5 grams of protein. One unique characteristic of hemp seeds is that they contain all essential amino acids—something uncommon with plant protein sources—making them a great addition for people on a vegetarian or vegan diet.
Chia Seeds: While most associate them with the infomercials trying to convince you to buy green furry pets, chia seeds were originally eaten by the Mayan and Aztecs. One of the goals of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans was to have people choose foods that provide more dietary fiber. The typical American only eats 40 percent of their daily fiber goals (women should aim to consume 25 grams a day). Chia seeds can help you close this gap. With 5 grams of fiber per tablespoon, just adding two tablespoons of the seeds to your oatmeal or smoothie in the morning will double the fiber intake of the average American. Like flax and hemp seeds, chia seeds also contain the omega-3 fat ALA.
Flaxseed meal, hemp seeds, and chia seeds are very nutritious add-ons to any smoothie, yogurt, cottage cheese, oatmeal, or parfait. They can also be added to just about any baked good to increase the fiber and nutrient content.