3 Healthy Seeds—Comparing and Contrasting Chia, Flax, and Hemp

Monday Jan 13 | BY |
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Chia, flax, and hemp seeds are all great sources of protein and antioxidants,
and make an easy healthy addition to your diet.

About a decade ago, you’d be hard pressed to find too many people regularly consuming chia seeds, flax seeds, or hemp seeds. That’s all changed.

With our new focus on preventative care and optimal health, many of us are nearly obsessed with seeds, and for good reason—they’re a great source of fiber, antioxidants, protein, vitamins, and minerals, and they’re so easy to mix in with your smoothies, salads, and cereals.

If you’re not a seed expert, you may be a little confused about what seeds are best used when. To help you out, we gathered some information on each of today’s popular choices.

Chia Seeds

According to ABC News, 2013 was the “year of the chia seed,” with the ancient crop seeing new popularity as people realized how flexible and easy it was to work them into their daily diets, and how high in healthy omega-3 fatty acids they were.

Indigenous to Mexico and Central America, chia seeds and small and gray and were once a staple of the Mayan and Aztec diets. When used in poultices, they helped prevent infections and stimulate healing.

Good Source of:

  • dietary fiber—more than flax seeds
  • omega-3 fatty acids—n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA), and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), though less than flax seeds
  • antioxidants
  • Calcium
  • Phosphorus

Best When:

  • Used as an egg substitute (for vegans)
  • Sprinkled into yogurt, oatmeal, or smoothies
  • Added to porridges and puddings
  • Soaked in fruit juice
  • Eaten raw as a healthy snack
  • Added to stir fries or rice salads
  • Made into an oil and then used on salads
  • Added to baked goods like breads, cakes, and biscuits

Health Benefits

  • Type 2 diabetes: According to the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, human studies indicate chia may help patients with type 2 diabetes. So far, this benefit seems particularly possible with the white-seeded variant of chia, called “Salba.”
  • Heart disease: The Harvard Health blog indicates that animal studies show a chia-rich diet lowers harmful LDL cholesterol and triglycerides while increasing “good” HDL cholesterol.
  • Digestive health: A one-ounce serving of chia has 11 grams of fiber, about a third of the recommended daily intake for adults.
  • Reduce cravings: The combination of protein and high fiber content—plus the “gelling” action of chia seeds once mixed with liquids—can keep you satisfied, helping you to potentially lose some pounds or cut back on belly fat.
  • Strong bones: One serving provides 18 percent of the recommended intake for calcium.
  • Strong muscles: One serving provides about 4.4 grams of protein—nearly 10 percent of the daily value. This makes chia seeds a great snack for vegans and vegetarians, as well as those trying to build muscle and stay satisfied between meals.
  • Omega-3s: Chia seeds have nearly five grams of healthy omega-3 fatty acids in each serving.
  • Antioxidants: Rich in antioxidants, chia provides protection against damaging and aging free radicals.

Flax Seeds

Flax seeds come from the flax plant, which is a grain-like food and fiber crop cultivated in ancient Egypt and China. Early populations used this plant for the fibers, which are stronger and straighter than those from cotton.

For centuries, people depended on flax to make fabric. Egyptians used linen cloth made from flax to wrap mummies for placement in early tombs. The fiber was also widely employed in the U.S. to make fabric until the invention of the cotton gin in 1793. Traditional medicine used the seed in a tea or in water to treat respiratory tract disorders, infections, cold, flu, fever, rheumatism and gout.

Today, flax is grown for its oil-rich seed, which is used to produce flax seeds and linseed oil.

Good Source of:

  • dietary fiber—about 7.6 grams per serving, or 31 percent; a little less than chia seeds
  • omega-3 fatty acids—a little more than chia seeds
  • protein—about 5.1 grams per serving, a little more than chia seeds
  • lignans—phytochemicals thought to be helpful in preventing cancer; contains more than chia seeds
  • calcium and phosphorus, but not as much as chia seeds

Best When:

  • ground up—otherwise they may not break down as they move through the digestive tract, which means the body will not be able to extract the nutrients; once they’re ground, they can spoil quickly, so be careful
  • used as an egg substitute in baked goods (for vegans)
  • sprinkled over cottage cheese, yogurt, breakfast cereals
  • added to smoothies and shakes
  • cooked in a hot cereal
  • used as a flour in baked goods
  • used for the oil and tossed with healthy greens
  • as a nutty topping for vegetables
  • In meatballs and chili

Health Benefits

  • Cancer: Some recent studies have indicated that flaxseed may have a protective effect against breast, prostate, and colon cancers. The lignans may help block enzymes involved in hormone metabolism, and interfere with the growth and spread of tumor cells.
  • Omega-3s: Like chia seeds, flax seeds are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which may help tame inflammation in the body and help prevent modern disease.
  • Blood pressure: A 2012 study found that daily consumption of flaxseed-fortified bakery products reduced blood pressure in patients with peripheral artery disease. Researchers speculated the fiber, lignans, and omega-3 fatty acids all helped to bring about the result.
  • Cholesterol: Some studies show that people who add flaxseed to their diet can lower their cholesterol levels.
  • Prevent hot flashes: Some studies indicate that dietary intake of flaxseed can decrease the risk of hot flashes among postmenopausal women.
  • Protect against radiation: One study found that consuming flaxseed everyday may protect skin tissue from damage by radiation.
  • Digestive health: Flaxseed has long been used as a laxative, and because of its high fiber content, can help improve digestive health.
  • Antioxidants: Flaxseeds contain a number of antioxidants that may help fight off free radicals and prevent disease.

Hemp Seeds

Hemp seeds come from the Cannabis sativa plant and have been eaten as a healthy snack for over 3,000 years. This is the same plant from which marijuana is made, but the varieties bred and grown for seeds have only trace amounts, if any, of the psychoactive ingredient (THC)—similar to the small amount of opium in poppy seeds.

With the legality of growing hemp still subject to debate in the U.S. and between the states, most of our supply of the seeds comes from Canada. Like flaxseed, hemp was long used to make a woven fabric, and in nets for catching birds and other small animals. Today, in addition to their use in foods, hemp seeds are part of the paint and varnish industries and are imported as bird food.

Good Source of:

  • Protein—more than flax or chia
  • Dietary fiber—about 1 gram per serving, or 4 percent of daily value, much less than flax or chia
  • Omega-3 fatty acids—but quite a bit less than chia or flax, with more omega-6 fatty acids
  • Magnesium—about 192 mg, or 48 percent of the daily value
  • Zinc—about 3.5 mg, or 23 percent of the daily value
  • Vitamin B

Best When:

  • Sprinkled on oatmeal, yogurt, and salads
  • Used to make hemp milk
  • As an oil for low-to-moderate heat cooking
  • Roasted and eaten as a healthy snack
  • As part of a nut-and-seed crush for fish or tofu
  • Baked into homemade granola bars
  • In pestos

Health Benefits

Note: We have less research on the health benefits of hemp seeds because of the relationship to marijuana, even though the seeds themselves have little to no psychotropic properties.

  • Skin health: Using the oil in beauty applications is said to help improve skin softness, make nails stronger and hair, thicker.
  • Heart health: A 2010 study notes that hemp seeds have great potential in preventing heart disease, and that animal studies have shown it may help reduce blood clotting.
  • Multiple sclerosis: Preliminary studies indicate that the consumption of hemp seed oil, along with evening primrose oils, in a diet low in saturated fats and sugars, is associated with “significant improvement” in symptoms for those with MS.

Do you know of other health benefits of these seeds—or do you have a great way to use them? Please share your tips.

* * *

Genevieve Shaw Brown, “Chia Seeds the ‘It’ Food of 2013,” ABC News, February 6, 2013, http://abcnews.go.com/Travel/eating-chia-seeds/story?id=18296119.

Terri Coles, “Chia Seed Benefits: 10 Reasons to Add Chia to Your Diet,” Huffington Post, November 22, 2013, http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/06/03/chia-seed-benefits-_n_3379831.html.

“Chia,” Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, http://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/herb/chia.

Patrick J. Skerrett, “A Chia Pet for diabetes?” Harvard Health Blog, December 17, 2010, http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/a-chia-pet-for-diabetes-20101217923.

“Flax Seeds vs. Chia Seeds,” New Health Guide, http://www.newhealthguide.org/Chia-Seeds-Vs-Flax-Seeds.html.

Stephen Daniels, “Flaxseed shows blood pressure-lowering potential: Study,” Nutraingredients, November 30, 2012, http://www.nutraingredients-usa.com/Research/Flaxseed-shows-blood-pressure-lowering-potential-Study.

“What is flaxseed? What are the benefits of flaxseed?” Medical News Today, July 16, 2013, http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/263405.php.


Delfin Rodriguez-Leyva and Grant N. Pierce, “The cardiac and haemostatic effects of dietary hempseed,” Nutrition & Metabolism 2010, 7:32, http://www.nutritionandmetabolism.com/content/7/1/32.

Paul Armentano, “Study: MS improvement with hemp seed oil & low sat fat diet,” Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis, June 17, 2013, http://www.overcomingmultiplesclerosis.org/Community/Forum/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=4039.

Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story, a northwest-based writer, editor, and ghostwriter, has been creating non-fiction materials for individuals, corporations, and commercial magazines for over 17 years. She specializes in the health and wellness field, where she writes and ghostwrites books, e-books, blogs, magazine articles, and more.

Colleen is the founder of Writing and Wellness. Her fantasy novel, “Rise of the Sidenah,” was released with Jupiter Gardens Press in September 2015. Her literary novel, “Loreena’s Gift,” is forthcoming in spring 2016 from Dzanc Books. She lives in Idaho. www.colleenmstory.com


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  1. Pete Adams says:

    Namaste Colleen. Thanks for sharing. My understanding of food combination is that fats and fruits are best not eaten together to avoid fermentation and gas in the digestive system. What is your take on this?

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