You would be hard-pressed to pick up a health magazine without seeing the words “chia,” “hemp” or “flax” splattered across one of the pages. Seeds are quickly becoming the superfoods of the future. Although they are small, chia, hemp and flax offer a boatload of nutritional benefits, and they are easy to incorporate into food you already eat.
When you hear the word "chia," your first instinct may be to resist the urge to sing that catchy little jingle; but the seed has much more to offer than kitschy appeal. Chia seeds originated in Central America, where they were a staple in the Aztec diet. The seeds contain omega-3 fatty acids, which help protect against heart disease and inflammation in the body, and omega-6 fatty acids, which play a role in proper brain function. Two tablespoons of chia seeds contain about 10 grams of fiber, which is almost half of the total amount you need in a day. Chia seeds also offer more calcium than milk per serving and are considered a complete protein because they contain all of the essential amino acids.
Hone In on Hemp
Hemp seed, which is technically a nut, consists of about 25 percent protein and 30 percent fat. Most of the fat in hemp seed is in the forms of alpha-linolenic acid, linoleic acid, gamma-linolenic acid and stearidonic acid, which are all polyunsaturated fats. The major proteins in hemp are edestin and albumin, which are easily digestible and contain all amino acids but are especially rich in arginine. Hemp seed is also rich in fiber.
Fill Up on Flax
Flaxseed comes from the flax plant, which is actually considered an herb. Flaxseed is rich in a type of fiber called lignans and a material called mucilage, both of which expand when they come into contact with water. These properties add bulk to your stool and help prevent or treat constipation. A high intake of lignans has also been linked to a reduced risk of certain types of cancer, including breast and colon, although more research is needed to make definitive statements. The lignans may slow the growth of abnormal cells and tumors. Regular consumption of flaxseed may also help reduce high cholesterol levels. Like chia and hemp, flax is also rich in alpha-linolenic acid.
Sprinkle It On
Chia, hemp and flax all pack a nutritional punch without changing much in terms of flavor. Blend these seeds into smoothies, mix them into oatmeal or yogurt or sprinkle them on top of your salad. Incorporate the seeds into baked goods or sneak them into pureed soups. Ground flaxseed is more easily absorbed than whole flaxseed and thus has more nutritional benefit. Store dry, whole flaxseed in an airtight container and grind right before use. Hemp and flax are also available as nondairy milk alternatives. Drink them straight up or use them in hot or cold cereal.
- Chicago Tribune: Seeds of Life: Chia, Flax, Hemp and Pumpkin
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: What Are Chia Seeds?
- FoxNews.com: The Benefits of Chia Seeds
- Living Harvest: Hemp Benefits
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Flaxseed
- Harvard School of Public Health: Omega-3 Fatty Acids
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Omega-6 Fatty Acids