Each month FBC member and certified nutritionist, Sondi Bruner, helps us figure out how to eat a healthy diet without needing a science degree! This month, she shows us just what to do with hemp and chia seeds - two tiny ingredients that pack a nutritional punch.
"Superfood" is a word that's bandied about and often it's a piece of fluffy marketing lingo that capitalizes on our need for quick fixes. I believe most whole ingredients have superfood qualities — we just need to recognize them.
Still, there are some foods that are more nutrient dense than others. And today we're going to be talking about two of them: hemp seeds and chia seeds.
Please don't ditch me because I've brought up ingredients you believe should stay in the 70s, along with bell bottoms and patchouli. Hemp and chia are intensely good for us and can be used in a myriad of delicious ways.
What are Hemp Seeds?
Hemp (Cannabis sativa L.) is a plant that's been cultivated for thousands of years and used both as a food and as a psychotropic drug. Yes, it's part of the Cannabaceae family, but there are two types: the drug variety and the non-drug variety. The drug variation, as you might have already guessed, is marijuana, while the non-drug type is not gonna get you high and give you the munchies.
In the United States, growing hemp was illegal until 2014, and even now it's only allowed for limited purposes, mostly research. Oh, America. Here in Canada, hemp was banned from 1938 to 1998, but now production is thriving.
You can find hemp in different forms at the grocery store. Shelled hemp seeds, where the husks are removed, are also referred to as "hemp hearts." If you wander to the refrigerator section, you'll discover hemp oil. Stroll the aisles and you may also see hemp milk, hemp flour or hemp protein powder.
What are Chia Seeds?
Who would've thought that we'd end up eating the same stuff we used in the 80s to lovingly grow our chia pets? It wasn't until the 90s that we began to see chia as a reliable food source instead of just those terra cotta animals from the commercials.
Chia (Salvia hispanica), like hemp, is also not new. It originated in Mexico and Guatemala and was a staple crop in Mexican and other Central American cultures. You might be surprised to learn that chia belongs to the mint family and, as a desert plant, it grows well with little water and dry soil.
In the supermarket or health food store, you'll see it labeled as "chia" or also "salba." Chia swells in water, so you can eat it whole. If you're not a fan of the gelatinous texture, you can also grind it.
Health Benefits of Hemp Seeds and Chia Seeds
There's a load of nutrition in such teeny tiny packages. Both chia seeds and hemp seeds are rich sources of protein, fibre and anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids.
Hemp, which actually has twice the protein of chia seeds, is easily digested (especially in its unshelled form). In one study of a variety of hemp products, researchers found that it has a digestibility equal to and sometimes even greater than nuts, seeds, grains and pulses. Another thing to note about hemp's protein qualities is it's a complete protein, meaning it has a full slate of the essential amino acids we need.
It's also rich in a particular omega-6 fatty acid called GLA, which is highly anti-inflammatory, and hemp has the ideal 3:1 ratio of omega 6 to omega 3s (all too often in North American, we consume diets that have a ratio of almost 17:1; this can lead to inflammation.) Hemp's nutritional profile includes Vitamin E, magnesium, iron, potassium and zinc, too.
While there haven't been many human trials measuring the health impacts of hemp, based on animal studies and what we know about omega-3s, researchers surmise that hemp seeds have the potential to positively impact the cardiovascular system, such as decreasing high blood pressure, cholesterol, atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease.
Chia isn't a slouch in the nutrition department, either. It's a plant-based, bio-available form of calcium and other bone-building nutrients like protein, magnesium and phosphorus that can help improve bone and skeletal health. Chia is packed with antioxidants, can improve blood lipid profiles in animals, and can reduce cardiovascular and diabetes risks in humans.
One study of diabetic men and women who ate chia daily for 12 weeks resulted in reduced blood pressure and the inflammatory blood marker C-reactive protein in participants, and chia helped them maintain good blood sugar control. In another small study of non-diabetic, healthy subjects, consuming chia decreased post-meal drops in blood sugar and they felt more full.
Plus, chia's mucilaginous properties make it a soothing balm for the digestive tract and it prevents constipation.
Moral of the story? You have nothing to lose from adding a little hemp and chia to your diet.
And, as you might suspect if you've been following my allergen-friendly columns, hemp and chia are:
This makes them a great option for people with allergies or intolerances.
How To Use Hemp Seeds and Chia Seeds
Hemp has an earthy, nutty flavour and to be completely honest, the taste isn't for everyone. Going overboard on the hemp seeds can overpower dishes; we definitely don't want to deter the picky eaters and children. A tablespoon or two is often enough and you'll still glean the health benefits. Here are some options for using hemp:
- Sprinkle it over a salad, yogurt, oatmeal, cereal, smoothie bowl, soup or avocado toast
- Blend it into a smoothie (a great way to hide it)
- Whip up a hemp "Caesar" salad dressing
- Make a vegan "Parmesan" cheese (this is the perfect popcorn topping)
- Create a dairy-free hemp "fauxgurt"
- Incorporate them into raw energy bites and bars
- Make hemp milk — it's easy to blend and since there's no pulp, you don't need to strain it like with other nut/seed milks
- Swap in hemp seeds for pine nuts in pesto
Since the omega-3 fats in hempseed are susceptible to oxidation from heat, light and air, I prefer to enjoy hemp seeds raw.
As for chia seeds, I would describe their flavour as neutral, so you can blend them easily into dishes without really tasting them. What you will notice, however, is the texture, particularly if you're combining them with liquids. Like hemp, you can mix them into smoothies and sprinkle them over salads, cereal, yogurt and granola, but with chia's unique gelling properties you can also:
- Mix them into a thick pudding
- Instead of employing pectin, substitute chia seeds in jam
- Make an egg replacer by mixing 1 tbsp ground chia with 4 tbsp water to be used in baked goods (the chia will remain stable in the heat). An actual scientific study showed that you can replace up to 25 percent of eggs or oil in cake without compromising colour, taste and texture.
How do you incorporate hemp seeds or chia seeds in your kitchen? Please share in the
Check out more of Sondi’s Allergen-Friendly Guides and Recipe Remixes for great ideas on revamping your favourite recipes to make them allergen friendly or to find out more about allergen friendly ingredients!
- A Guide to Using Dried Beans
- Dips and Spreads
- Sensational Salads
- A Guide to Natural Sweeteners
- Healthy Summer Mocktails
Sondi Bruner is a holistic nutritionist, freelance writer and food blogger. She educates people who follow allergen-friendly diets about how to eat simply, deliciously and safely, allowing them to rediscover the pleasure of food. When she’s wearing her writer’s hat, she works with natural health brands to create content that will help their customers live fulfilling, healthful lives. Find out more at www.sondibruner.com. Or you can follow Sondi on Facebook or Twitter.