Health Benefits of Seeds: Chia, Flax and Hemp
Nuts and seeds are very healthy sources of nutrients such as protein, vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, and fiber. They are also known to contain substances called antioxidants, which help to fight cancer and heart disease. Although many people are afraid to eat nuts and seeds because they are high in fat, eating these provide a sense of satisfaction and fullness that makes you to eat less of other high-calorie foods. They may be eaten as a healthy snack instead of eating cakes or chips, or they may be used as part of a recipe for a favorite dish such as a salad or dessert.
Although most people know about the nutritional value of nuts like almonds and walnuts or of seeds like pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds, not many people are aware of the nutritional value of flaxseed, chia seeds or hemp seeds. Here is a bit of information about these nutritious seeds.
Chia seeds come from Salvia hispanica, a desert plant grown in Mexico. These tiny black and white seeds are believed to stand for strength, and according to Mexican folklore, people used the seeds as energy boosters. This does make sense, since chia seeds are a concentrated source of carbohydrates, healthy fats (omega-3 fatty acids), and protein, as well as calcium, fiber, and antioxidants.
Chia seeds are whole-grain food that can be eaten and digested as seeds. They have a mild nutty flavor that makes them a delectable addition to foods or beverages. You can sprinkle them on cereals, vegetables, sauces, rice dishes, yogurt and baked goods. You can also mix them with water to make a gel or to drinks for added flavor.
Some people believe that chia seeds can help them lose weight because they can absorb water in the body to form a gel substance. This can help them feel full as well as hydrated. As an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, chia seeds can also help promote brain and heart health. Its high fiber content helps promote good digestion and waste elimination, thus contributing to colonic health. Having sufficient fiber in the diet is linked with lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, and cancer.
Chia seeds are also a very good source of minerals such as calcium and boron, which help strengthen bones, as well as manganese, phosphorus, and zinc. Their high antioxidant content helps reduce oxidative stress, which defends your body against damage caused by the by-products of metabolism called free radicals.
Flaxseed (also called linseed) comes from flax plants, which the ancient people of Egypt used as food and medicine (mostly for its laxative effect). These oval seeds are high in fiber and expand when they are mixed with water. In the body, they add bulk to your stool and help eliminate wastes from the intestines.
Flaxseed is rich in alpha-linolenic acid, which is an omega-3 fatty acid that helps prevent heart disease, arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, and other medical problems. It is also known to contain natural chemicals called lignans, which help protect the body from cancer. These phytoestrogens act like estrogen, a female hormone, and can help reduce the unpleasant symptoms of menopause. Lignans have also been found to reduce the risk of inflammation in blood vessels, and thus protect against heart disease.
Flaxseed must be ground before they are eaten, and immediately consumed to enjoy its health benefits. The ground seeds may be sprinkled on cereal, yogurt, vegetables or baked goods.
Hemp seed is a superfood that comes from the non-drug varieties of the Cannabis sativa plant. It provides about 25% protein, over 30% oil in the form of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, a variety of vitamins and minerals, and dietary fiber. It has a nutty flavor which blends well with a variety of foods. You can stir it into your oatmeal, milk, yogurt, cereal, or bake it into muffins.
Hempseed oil is a rich source of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), and two essential fatty acids called linoleic acid and alpha-linolenic acid. It also contains the biological metabolites called gamma-linolenic acid and stearidonic acid. It provides two important proteins called albumin and edestin, which contain significant amounts of essential amino acids that are easily digested. Recent research suggests that hempseed oil is a functional food that is not only nutritious but with healing properties as well.
This information should not take the place of medical advice. We encourage you to talk to your health care providers (doctor, registered dietitian, pharmacist, etc.) about your interest in, questions about, or use of dietary supplements and what may be best for your overall health.
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WebMD. The Truth about Chia. http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/truth-about-chia
WHFoods. Flaxseeds. http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=81
WebMD. Top 10 Smart Foods for College Students. http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/top-10-smart-foods-college-students
JC Callaway. Hempseed as a nutritional resource: An overview. http://www.finola.fi/Hempseed%20Nutrition.pdf