I collect seeds like a squirrel. But I don’t bury them, I stash them in jars, not wanting to discover one winter day while hibernating in my over-heated New York City apartment, that the stockpile of flax seeds has been depleted.
The seeds go into soups, onto salads, mixed with yogurt and tossed with sauteed kale in need of texture.
Texture’s a big thing in my life – at six it was crunchy peanut butter over smooth, during my bagel phase – Everything bagels with the stray everythings from the bottom of the bag emptied on top of the cream cheese, and lately it’s been chunky sauteed vegetables in my scrambled omelet*.
The latest addition to the seed collection – chia seeds. I bought them because an exotic woman with beads six-inches up her wrist, and elegant silver rings that hugged her fingers, was buying them. “For the Omegas” she said, “I eat them daily.” I had heard of their Omega reputation, and their Mexican origins, but with my hemp, flax and fish oil habit firmly entrenched, I wasn’t sure there was room for another player. (The chia seeds, by the way, are in the middle of the photo above, flanked by hemp and flax.)
But I was open to them, because as far as nutrients go, I’m a zealous proselytizer of Omega 3’s (one of the essential fatty acids). We get a lot of Omega 6 in vegetable oils, and Omega 9 our body can make, but Omega 3 we can only get from food, and foods rich in them (oily fish for example) are not a common snack. (Ideally our diet should contain 2:1 Omega 6:Omega 3. For most people it’s 10:1, or higher.)
So chia joined my seed family. Verdict: when you first meet them, you’ll think you’re eating poppy seeds, but if you allow them to soak up moisture in whatever it is you’re putting them in (yogurt, a smoothie), within 10 minutes the little seeds will turn into gelatinous baubles – tiny flavorless little, bally, gummy bears. (With the mere suggestion of water, they inflate to 9x their size.)
I don’t think I’ll collect them on a regular basis, the gummy thing is not really my thing, but I respect their strengths. Below, a completely biased assessment (coupled with unbiased research) of chia relative to flax and hemp.
Chia vs. Flax and Hemp
Taste&Texture: Starts life like a poppy seed but turns into gluey tapioca – at least from a mouth-feel standpoint. Hemp and flax, even when doused in yogurt, don’t change personality half way through your meal. Unlike flax and hemp, chia doesn’t bring its own taste which may be a benefit or a detriment.
Fat: At 2 g per tbsp, it’s lower than flax or hemp – though I don’t think this should this should weight heavily on the choice since it’s all “good” fat we’re talking about. (Flax and hemp are about the same – when measured on a weight standpoint.)
Omegas: Both chia and flax have more Omega 3 (in the form of LNA**) than any other plant. There is some debate as to whether one has more than the other, with many sources declaring one the clear winner. (Simple rule of thumb: if a website claims flax has twice as much as chia, check if they’re selling flax; if chia has more, scan the page for a purchase link for chia.). So let’s call it a draw. They are both super high and both have higher levels than hemp which offers a more balanced Omega 3 to 6 ratio.
Protein: Moderate amount (about the same as flax at 3g per tbsp), but about half that of hemp (which is a superstar in the protein department).
Carbs: Chia has the highest of the three and it’s largely in the form of fiber. Hemp has virtually no carbs (it’s all protein and (good) fat). You can actually see chia swell up and form a jelly-like mass of soluble fiber by soaking a tbsp in a 1/2 cup of water and letting it sit for 30 mins. It is in part this “inflation” in the stomach, that has led people historically and today, to use chia as an energy food. When you eat chia, be sure to drink plenty of water.
Phytoestrogens***: This is estrogen that is not created by the body, but is found in food. Flax and soy are quite high in them. There is debate as to whether they are benign, good or bad for you. I personally feel, in moderation, flax should not be a concern, but if you are concerned, go for chia or hemp which have no/low levels.
Other: You don’t have to grind chia, as you do flax, in order to extract the oils. Chia’s also cheaper than both flax and hemp (the latter is all imported from Canada).
There are a variety of antioxidants and other trace minerals in chia, as well as a solid dose of calcium and iron and it will fill you up more than flax or hemp. It’s a super nutritious food, so if you’re into it – eat it! My only word of caution – if you don’t like tapioca, don’t walk away from wet chia seeds.
Ever tried it?
Hemp Seeds: Better For You Than Flax Seeds (A comparison of hemp versus flax)
Fish Oil v. Flax Oil: Omegas Demystified (Learn more about the kind of Omega 3 that fish oil offers that flax, hemp and chia don’t)
*Eggs mixed with sauteed vegetables, scrambled together but allowed to settle in the pan like an omelet.
**LNA=alpha linoleic acid (See the post on fish oil, above, to see what this Omega 3 does)
*** The Wikipedia entry on phytoestrogens.
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