Edible seeds like chia and hemp seeds are gaining in popularity for being so-called “superfoods,” but are they really all that they are made out to be?
The answer is yes!
This article will compare the differences between hemp seeds and chia seeds. It will discuss the health and nutritional benefit of chia seeds vs hemp seeds and how you can incorporate them into your diet.
This article was written by Chantel Alejado, Ryerson University Nutrition Student. Medically reviewed by Veronica Rouse, MAN, RD, CDE
Chia seeds are from the chia plant, known as Salvia Hispanica, and are mainly grown in tropical areas such as Guatemala, Mexico, and even Australia (1).
These seeds also have a long history to them. The ancient Aztecs consumed them because they were so nutritious (1)!
Now let’s see what all the fuss on chia seeds is all about!
Health Benefits Of Chia Seeds
Chia seeds look like poppy seeds. These tiny seeds have been proven to help with heart disease, weight loss, constipation, and inflammation.
Heart disease impacts millions of North Americans every year, so it is essential to eat more heart-healthy foods (2)!
Indeed, promising studies show that chia seeds have excellent heart health benefits as they are rich in essential fatty acids, such as omega 3s (1). Omega 3s help lower total cholesterol and raise your high-density lipoprotein (HDL) levels, also known as the “good” cholesterol.
Research has shown that when individuals who are overweight or living with diabetes eat chia seeds over several months this strategy may result in weight loss (1).
This may be because the seeds contain high amounts of soluble fiber. The body does not break down soluble fiber. So once it enters your gut, it absorbs water, slowing down digestion, leading to feelings of fullness and lowering your desire to eat.
Constipation is a condition in which you have fewer bowel movements and difficulty or discomfort in passing stools. But once again, fiber can come to your rescue!
Not only do chia seeds contain soluble fiber, but they also contain another type of dietary fiber, insoluble fiber (1).
As you can guess from its name, insoluble fiber works oppositely to soluble fiber. It speeds up digestion and helps to form bulk in your colon.
When treating constipation you need both types of fiber to help your gut absorb water, form bulk and soften the consistency of your stool, making for easier bowel movements.
This is why chia seeds can help manage constipation because it is a rich source of both soluble and insoluble fiber.
Inflammation is a response that your body uses to heal from cuts and prevent further harm. But, when inflammation becomes chronic or long-term, this can present many problems and is often some of the underlying causes of diseases such as stroke, heart disease, and arthritis.
Chia seeds contain vitamin E, an antioxidant (1). Antioxidants shield the body from free radicals, compounds that damage cells, which protect the body from inflammation and diseases such as cancer.
Nutrition Of Chia Seeds
Fiber is an essential nutrient, which means your body cannot make them, so you must get it from your diet. But the good news, chia seeds are a very rich source of fiber, even more so than other seeds such as quinoa, corn, and hemp (1)!
The seeds contain mucilage, a type of soluble fiber, which provides excellent health benefits (1). As soluble fiber absorbs water in your gut, it forms a gel-like web that helps to slow the absorption of fats into your body.
In fact, soluble fiber helps bind cholesterol or fat in its gel-like web, so instead of cholesterol being reabsorbed into the body, it’s eliminated when you pass a bowel movement.
So, in addition to making you feel more full, soluble fiber helps to manage your cholesterol levels better too.
Chia seeds are a good source of omega 3, which are vital to maintaining your normal bodily functions. The seeds are exceptionally high in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a type of omega 3 (1).
Since Omega 3s are essential fatty acids, this means your body cannot make them and we must get them through your diet. This is why eating rich sources of them, such as chia seeds, is vital to your health!
Chia seeds contain minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, iron, and zinc (1).
Potassium and magnesium are important for your heart. Diets high in both minerals can help manage blood pressure and are recommended by the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stopping Hypertension) dietary pattern.
Calcium and phosphorus are essential minerals for maintaining healthy bones. At the same time, iron and zinc are necessary to keep your blood levels regular and prevent conditions such as anemia.
How To Purchase Chia Seeds
Stores often offer chia seeds whole, with the seeds intact, or the seeds ground. The seeds can also come in various colors, black or white. Interestingly, one color is not better than another in nutritional benefits.
Where To Purchase
Chia seeds are quite accessible as they are sold at most grocery stores. They can be located near the health and vitamin section of the supermarket or can be found in the rice and grain aisle. Bulk and health food stores are also places where you can purchase them.
You also don’t have to leave your house to buy chia seeds, as Amazon offers many varieties.
The price depends on where you get your chia and the form you purchase them. In early 2022, whole chia seeds sell for $6.79 CAN for a 300g pack. 150 g of milled chia seeds, on the other hand, are priced at $4.49 CAN a pack.
How To Store
The oils in the seeds are vulnerable to oxidation, which means the oils can undergo chemical changes that make the seeds less palatable or take on an off-putting smell. The unsaturated fats in chia seeds are particularly vulnerable to oxidation, and increasing temperatures may accelerate the process.
It is recommended to store your chia seeds in a dry and cool place, like your fridge, or even keep them in the freezer for long-term use.
It is also essential to know that ground chia seeds may become rancid faster because the oils are more exposed to oxygen. So opt for whole seeds if you want your chia seeds to last longer.
How To Eat Chia Seeds
Luckily, the shell of the chia seed is easily broken down in liquids. You’ll notice that when you add them to your smoothie or yogurt, they will form a gel-like consistency!
But, ground chia seeds benefit from making their nutrients more available for absorption since there is no shell to be broken down. Less work for your digestive system.
So, good news! Chia seeds can be consumed either whole or ground.
Chia seeds have a slightly nutty but mild flavor. This means that the seeds won’t overwhelm the taste of your drink or meal, making it a perfect topping or added ingredient.
What’s A Serving
One tablespoon of chia seeds offers 5 grams of fiber. It is recommended that women consume at least 25 grams of fiber a day, while men need 38 grams a day (3). So 1 Tbsp serving of chia seeds already makes up an impressive 20% of a woman’s fiber requirements and 13% for the men.
Chia seeds are a great addition to your dietary pattern. If you want inspiration on how to add chia seeds to your diet, here are some possible ideas:
- Simple and easy way to make chia seed blueberry jam
- Pineapple weight loss smoothie for those simmering summer afternoons
- Check out some other heart healthy smoothies
Humans have used the hemp plant for thousands of years and for various functions, including being used as material for the production of clothing and paper (4).
The hemp plant, is also known as the Cannabis sativa plant. Technically, the hemp plant is the same as the cannabis plant, but it doesn’t have the same effects as cannabis.
Let’s jump into its beneficial effects through diet.
Health Benefits Of Hemp Seeds
Evidence shows hemp seeds can contribute to heart health, weight loss, constipation, brain health, and inflammation.
Hemp seeds contain antioxidants such as polyphenols (4). These protect against diseases like atherosclerosis, a condition where free radicals damage your blood vessel’s linings and lead to plaque buildup. But, antioxidants help protect against free radicals and lower your risk for these diseases (4).
Additionally, hemp seeds contain soluble fiber (4). Eating adequate amounts of soluble fiber can help lower cholesterol levels.
They can also help lower blood pressure.
All of these reasons make them a perfect gift for a heart patient.
Hemp seeds are a great source of fiber because they contain both insoluble and soluble fiber (4). The combination of both fibers helps you feel full longer, which makes you less likely to eat more, and helps manage your energy intake!
But not enough Canadians are consuming adequate amounts of fiber (3), so it is essential to incorporate fiber-rich foods such as hemp seeds into your diet!
The majority of the fiber within hemp seeds is insoluble (4). The insoluble fiber makes the body draw more water into our stools, making for a softer consistency and helping alleviate the struggles of constipation.
Hemp seeds are also rich in essential fatty acids, omega 6s and omega 3s. But it’s the ratio of the two that is most praiseworthy. Hemp seeds have an omega 6 to omega 3 ratio of 2.5 to 1, which is highly desirable and helps to promote brain health (4).
Indeed, studies show that diets high in hemp seeds promote longer life and improved memory (4).
The omega 6 to omega 3 ratio is not only good for your brain but is also connected to decreasing inflammation in your body and lowering your risks of developing other inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis (4).
Nutrition Of Hemp Seeds
Hemp seeds are a nutrition powerhouse. They are a fantastic source of protein, fatty acids, potassium, and magnesium.
Hemp seeds are very rich in protein as it takes up around 25-30% of the seed (4), making them an excellent plant-based protein option. Health Canada even recommends that Canadians eat more plant-based protein, to support your heart health (5).
Indeed, hemp seeds have all nine essential amino acids, which makes it a complete protein (4). Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, with some of them being essential and can only be obtained through foods.
Getting all nine essential amino acids in one food is even more challenging on a plant-based diet, making the hemp seed even more remarkable!
Around 90% of the oil in hemp seeds is made of unsaturated fats, including polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) such as your omega 3s (4). A diet high in polyunsaturated fats is linked to a lower risk for cardiovascular disease and hypertension (4).
Hemp seeds contain many heart-healthy minerals, such as potassium and magnesium (6). Hemp seeds are a great way to add potassium to your diet, which is essential as many Canadians are not eating enough of this important mineral (7).
Choosing to add hemp seeds also follows the DASH diet and helps manage blood pressure and lower your risk for heart disease.
Additionally, hemp seeds are a fantastic source of iron. Adult women are recommended to consume at least 18 milligrams of iron a day and 8 milligrams for men. 30 grams or 3 tablespoons of hemp seeds covers 20% of a woman’s and 50% of a man’s daily requirements (8).
How To Purchase Hemp Seeds
You can purchase the seeds in their whole form, with the outer shells intact, or shelled/hulled, where the outer shell is removed. Also referred to as hemp seeds vs hemp hearts, respectively.
Whole hemp seeds will be crunchier and offer more fiber due to the outer shell (4). But, shelled hemp seeds, often marketed as hemp hearts, benefit from having its minerals and fatty acids more available as your body does not need to get through the rough outer layer.
Hemp seeds are so famous for their fat and protein content as there are even hemp seed oil and hemp protein powder products on the market!
Where To Purchase
Hemp seeds are also available at local grocery stores, bulk stores, and online through Amazon.
Hulled hemp seeds are much more common in grocery stores than whole seeds. A 227g of hemp hearts cost around $8.49 CAN.
How To Store
You want to store your hemp seeds in a dry and cool place since hemp seeds contain oils that can quickly become rancid.
So, like chia seeds, you can store them in the fridge or freezer if you want to preserve them for a longer time.
How To Eat Hemp Seeds
You can eat hemp seeds both in their whole form and when it’s shelled.
Whole hemp seeds are crunchy and are more suitable to incorporate into your cereals, granola, or salads. Hulled hemp hearts are easier to consume and offer a chewy texture that you can add to your smoothies and dressings.
Hemp seeds have a nutty taste that has been compared to sunflower seeds. The flavor is also mild enough that you can add it to any meal without it overwhelming the taste of the final dish.
What’s A Serving
Having 30 grams or 3 tablespoons of hemp seeds can provide you with around 10 grams of protein, 12 grams of PUFA, and 4 milligrams of iron.
Try these 3 fun, delicious recipes as ways to add hemp seeds to your diet:
- Overnight oat bran as a healthy breakfast
- Added to this watermelon smoothie for weight loss
- Or use them in a smoothie for high blood pressure
Another Contender: Flaxseed
Now that you’ve learned about chia seeds vs hemp seeds, I’m sure you are wondering about another popular seed, flaxseeds or linseeds. As you will learn, all three seeds, flaxseed vs chia seed vs hemp seeds, are amazing additions to a healthy lifestyle.
Flax vs Chia vs Hemp
Flaxseeds are great a heart-healthy food.
Like chia and hemp, flaxseeds are shown to lower blood pressure in individuals with cardiovascular disease due to their omega-3 fatty acids, such as alpha-linolenic acid (9). The omega 3s in flaxseeds may also help with brain development and memory (9).
The seeds also have high fiber content and laxative properties to ease constipation symptoms (9).
Another health benefit connected with flaxseeds is that they contain antioxidants such as lignans which have been shown to lower a woman’s risk for breast cancer and decrease tumor growth in breast cancer patients (9).
If you’re interested in learning more about flaxseeds, check out my article, where I similarly compare flaxseeds to linseeds.
Summary Chia Seeds vs Hemp Seeds
Similarities Between Chia Seeds vs Hemp Seeds
- Great sources of fiber
- Rich in essential fatty acids, such as omega 3s
- High amounts of heart-healthy minerals like potassium and magnesium
- Have a mild, nutty flavor that won’t overwhelm the overall taste of your meal
Differences Between Hemp Seeds And Chia Seeds
- Hemp seeds have a greater protein content
- Chia seeds are a richer source of fiber
Can Hemp Seeds and Chia Seeds Be Substituted For Each Other?
Considering the difference between hemp seeds and chia seeds, eating one for the other may not provide you with the same nutritional benefit. Opt for hemp seeds if you’re looking for a high-protein meal and chia seeds for the high fiber content.
However, both are still excellent sources of omega 3s and potassium, in which case, you can’t go wrong with either!
Can Chia Seeds, Hemp Seeds and Flaxseed Be Eaten Together?
Yes definitely! You can even buy seed mixes that include chia seeds, hemp seeds, and flaxseeds.
Final Thoughts On Chia Seeds vs Hemp Seeds
Who knew that food as small as the tip of your pen could have so many health and nutritional benefits?
Both chia and hemp seeds can help you achieve a balanced diet. They are great for your health as they are full of essential fats, important minerals, protein, and fiber. These seeds are versatile as you can add them to almost anything and find them at any grocery store.
So I’d recommend adding these super seeds to your cart on your next grocery trip!
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