Flax, chia, hemp, oh my! Seeds pack a plant-based nutritional punch – from healthy fats to fibre, protein and micronutrients the little guys are a great. I love adding different varieties of seeds at my meals, knowing that I’m adding a little extra nourishment – and sometimes you don’t even know they’re there!
Today I thought I’d break down what’s what when it comes to seeds. I’ll walk you through my favourite seeds on the market and how they stack up nutritionally – because they’re all different! I’ll also let you in on my favourite ways to use them on a daily basis.
Chia seeds are the edible seeds of the Salvia hispanica plant – a flowering plant in the mint family native to Central America. Chia seeds are tiny, oval-shaped seeds that are either gray, black or white. You can purchase chia seeds whole or ground at the grocery store, often in the natural products section.
Chia seeds are rich in polyunsaturated fats (a type of “healthy” fat), fibre (good for digestion, gut health, and lowering cholesterol), protein, calcium and phosphorus (good for our bones & teeth), and zinc (good for immune system, sleep, mood). They also have thickening properties, meaning that they form a thick, gel-like consistency when soaked or mixed with liquid.
My favourite way to use chia seeds is in my overnight oats – you guys know my obsession with this quick and delicious breakfast. I also use them frequently in homemade chia pudding – makes a filling breakfast or snack – or smoothies. I always add chia seeds to my smoothies! Try adding 1 tbsp to your next smoothie, and if you like it, work your way up to 2 tbsp!
Flax seeds are flat, oval seeds that can be purchased whole or ground as well. You can also purchase flaxseed oil – oil made from the flax seeds. Flax seeds have a nutty flavour and are brown or golden/yellow in colour.
Flax seeds are rich in Omega-3 fats, an essential fat (meaning that we must get this in our diet as our bodies cannot produce it) that plays a role in heart health, brain health and more. Flax seeds also provide fibre and some protein too. They are also a rich source of phytonutrients called lignans which may play a role in protecting from certain types of cancer. They really are little nutrition powerhouses!
I often use flax seeds again, in smoothies – anywhere from 1 tsp – 1 tbsp per smoothie. I also add them to oatmeal and yogurt. Flax seeds are also a great egg-replacer in many recipes. Don’t have any eggs on hand or looking to eat less animal products? Create a “flax egg” by combining 1 tbsp ground flax seeds with 3 tbsp water and let the mixture sit for 5 minutes. It will mimic the binding properties of the egg in your recipes.
Another little powerhouse! Hemp seeds (also known as hemp hearts) come from the hemp crop (it is a species of Cannabis sativa – but it is not the same as marijuana). Hemp seeds are little thin, round, white seeds that can also be found in the natural section of the grocery store. Similar to flax seeds, hemp seeds also have a nutty flavour.
Hemp seeds are definitely the highest in plant-based protein of them all – packing 10g in just 3 tbsp. They’re also a great source of omega-3 and omega-6 fats, as well as phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, and iron (22% Daily Value in 3 tbsp!).
As for use, I sprinkle hemp seeds on just about everything that I can. From avocado or peanut butter toast to salads and smoothie bowls, hemp seeds are a great staple to add, especially if you lean more towards vegan/vegetarian/plant-based eating. I keep a jar of hemp seeds in my fridge and am always pulling it out to sprinkle them on top of things. Not only are they great for you, they’re pretty aesthetically pleasing, too! I love using hemp seeds to elevate my food photos for blogging and Instagram.
Sesame seeds are little seeds that consist of both white and black varieties.
In terms of nutrition, sesame seeds are slightly higher in both total and unsaturated fat than the rest of the seeds here on my list. They also provide a source of protein, fibre, calcium, iron, magnesium, and vitamin B-6 (good for brain function and mood).
While I don’t use sesame seeds near as much as hemp, chia, or flax seeds, they remain a staple in my pantry. I often add them as a topper for stir fries and salads. What is also a staple in my pantry is tahini.If you haven’t heard of tahini, it’s essentially like the peanut butter of sesame seeds – meaning it’s made of ground up sesame seeds. I often use tahini in homemade salad dressings, sauces and hummus. For an easy lemon tahini salad dressing, just whisk tahini with some lemon juice, garlic, maple syrup and water!
The final seed-staple in my pantry are pumpkin seeds or pepitas. These are the edible seeds from pumpkins. The seeds are typically flat and oval-shaped, and either light-green in colour or with a white outer hull.
Pumpkin seeds are a great source of protein, monounsaturated fats, and iron. They’re also an amazing source of magnesium – providing approximately 58% of our daily requirement in 1/4 cup.
Pepitas add a great crunch to things like salads, oatmeal, and even dark chocolate bark! You can also add them to baked goods like muffins, cookies or breads. Yum!
Do you already enjoy seeds in your diet? If you do – what’s your favourite way to eat them? Leave a comment and let me know!