My trainer suggested I add hemp hearts to my smoothie. How are they different from flax or chia seeds? Are they healthier?
It used to be we sprinkled wheat germ on food to get a boost of vitamins, minerals and healthy fats. Today, so-called "super seeds" like chia, flax and hemp will give your smoothie or protein shake a powerful nutritional edge. All are healthy add-ons that deliver fibre, minerals, antioxidants and alpha linolenic acid (ALA), an anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acid.
What's the difference between them? Hemp seeds outshine chia and flax when it comes to protein: Two tablespoons serve up almost 7 grams, the amount found in two egg whites. Plus, the protein in hemp seeds contains all essential amino acids, something that's unusual for plant foods. (Amino acids are the building blocks of protein; essential amino acids must come from your diet because your body can't make them on its own.)
Hemp seeds are also an outstanding source of magnesium, a mineral that helps regulate blood pressure and blood sugar. Blend two tablespoons into your smoothie and you'll get one-quarter of a day's worth of magnesium (116 mg).
Chia seeds are high in magnesium too and, unlike hemp seeds and flaxseeds, they're also a good source of calcium. When it comes to fibre, chia seeds have the edge, providing 5 grams per tablespoon of whole seeds. (One tablespoon of ground chia has 2.5 grams of fibre.)
Flaxseed, however, has something that hemp and chia seeds don't: lignans, phytochemicals linked to breast and prostate cancer prevention. In order to gain the nutritional benefits of flax, the seeds need to be ground. Otherwise, whole flaxseeds pass through your digestive tract undigested. Hemp and chia seeds can be eaten whole or ground.
Hemp, flax and chia seeds each have a unique nutrition profile, so there's no reason to stick to eating only one. Mix it up. Include one to two tablespoons of one or more types of seeds in your diet each day.
If you're watching your waistline, calories from seeds add up. Two tablespoons of hemp seeds, for example, serve up 115 calories. Substitute one tablespoon of seeds for one teaspoon of oil in your diet.
Use the accompanying chart to add nutrients – and a mild nutty flavour – to meals and snacks. To retain nutrient value longer, store seeds in the refrigerator.
How to use your seeds
As an egg replacer, mix 1 tablespoon of chia seeds or ground flax with 3 tablespoons of water.
Finely grind hemp seeds with almonds, then mix with honey to make a spread for toast.
Add to smoothies, salads, soups, chili, meat loaf and turkey burgers.
Stir into muffin, pancake, waffle and cookie batters.
Mix with mashed avocado for a healthy sandwich spread.
Add to your favourite granola recipe.
Cook 1/4 cup hemp seeds with steel-cut oats.
Mix ground seeds with whole-grain breadcrumbs for breading fish and chicken.
Stir ground flax or chia seeds into hummus or yogurt.
Leslie Beck, a registered dietitian, is based at the Medisys clinic in Toronto. She can be seen every Thursday at noon on CTV News Channel's Direct; lesliebeck.com