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Hemp vs Flax vs Chia

hemp vs flax vs chia

Hemp vs Flax vs Chia - can these seeds help with blood sugars?

The other day when I was eating breakfast, my son was staring at my breakfast strangely. He asked me why I was eating bird food. Bird food??? It took me a bit to realize what he was talking about. It was early in the morning and I was still just waking up. I started to giggle after I looked down at my breakfast. It did look like bird food with all the seeds. There was a mixture of flax, chia and hemp seeds. I tried to explain to him why I was eating them. He still thought that it looked like bird food – that’s okay it’s not easy to convince my son. 

Flax, chia and hemp are versatile seeds that can be used to add a lot of nutrition to your meals or snacks. They are great sources of fibre, protein, healthy omega-3 fatty acids and minerals. It is easy to understand why they have become so popular in everyday meals and snacks. When you have prediabetes, you are looking for ways to help manage blood sugars and prevent the progression to type 2 diabetes.

Can any of these seeds help with blood sugar control? Keep reading to find out.

What are hemp seeds?

Hemp Seeds are also called hemp hearts. Originally, hemp seed was a by-product of fibre production and was used to feed animals [1]. Once studies started to show the health benefits of eating hemp seeds, they were used for human consumption [1]. There are two versions of hemp seeds – hulled and dehulled. The difference is that the dehulled seed has its outer layer (the hull) removed while the hulled seed retains its outer layer [1]. It is much easier to find a dehulled version of hemp seed in the store.

Nutritional value

Hemp Seed has a high protein and low carbohydrate content. Can you believe that two tablespoons of hemp seeds (6.64g of protein) has more protein than 1/2 cup of cooked quinoa (4.30g of protein). The protein is found on the inside of the seed so it’s okay if the hempseed is dehulled [1]. What’s great about hemp seed is that it is a complete protein. It has the nine essential amino acids that our bodies are not able to make so we need to get them from our food [1]. Amino acids are important because they are the building blocks for protein in our body. Hemp Seeds have a high content of essential fatty acids – linoleic (omega 6 fatty acid) and alpha-linolenic (omega 3 fatty acid) [1]. Our body cannot make these so we need to get them from our food.  Most of the fibre is found in the outer layer (the hull) so the dehulled hemp seed will have less fibre [1]. Hemp Seeds are a great source of magnesium. Two tablespoons of hemp seed (120mg of magnesium) has three times more magnesium than 1/4 cup (60mL) of chopped walnuts (47 mg of magnesium) [1].

Use and Storage

These seeds are sensitive to light and heat. Ideally you want to store them in a package or container that is opaque (not clear) so that they are not exposed to light. If you store them in the refrigerator, the shelf life will be longer than storing them in a cool, dry pantry. If you smell the hemp seed and you get an off smell, then it means they have gone bad (rancid) and it’s time to throw them out. There are many products that are made from hemp seeds such as flour, oil and protein powder. Hemp seeds are a great addition to salads, yogurt, smoothies, and cereal. I absolutely love adding them to my protein shakes to give a bit of crunch.

What are flax seeds?

Flaxseeds are flat and oval in shape. Flaxseed can either be brown or golden in colour but more often you will see the brown variety at the store.

Nutritional value

Flaxseeds have a low carbohydrate and high fibre content. What makes flaxseed so great is that it has two types of fibre: insoluble and soluble [4]. Why would this be great? Well, the insoluble fiber will help to keep you regular and soften your bowel movements [5]. Yeah! something to help with constipation. The soluble fibre mixes with water to form a gel. This helps to slow the passage of food from the stomach for digestion which will then slow down the absorption of glucose (sugar) [6,7].  Soluble fibre can help lower cholesterol levels [6]. Did you know that two tablespoons of ground flaxseeds (3.9g fibre) has more fibre than 1/2 cup (125mL) of cooked oat bran (2.4g fibre) [5].  You are definitely getting lots of fibre in small bite. Flax seeds have a high content of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an essential omega 3 fatty acid [7]. It is not a complete protein as it does not contain all of the essential amino acids [4]

Use and Storage

Flaxseeds are sold either whole or ground. Ground flaxseed can be easier to digest [4]. When it comes to storing flaxseed, there are many different messages. You can store a sealed bag of whole flaxseed at room temperature but once the bag is open, it needs to be refrigerated. Or, once they are ground, the flax seed needs to be stored in an opaque (not clear), airtight container. I usually tend to store them, ground or whole, in the refrigerator as it just helps to simplify things for me. Life is already hectic with balancing life and work. Also, always keep an eye out for an off, fishy smell. This means the product has become rancid and is no longer good. 

Flaxseed can be used to replace eggs in a recipe. This happened to me when I was making a muffin recipe and I didn’t realize I had run out of eggs. I used flaxseed as a replacement. I was skeptical that it would work but they turned out amazing. Flax seeds are a great addition to cereal, yogurt, smoothies and can be used in baking and cooking.

What Are Chia Seed?

It’s funny to think that chia seeds were used to grow Chia pets for decoration and now they are added to our food. Chia seeds are flat and oval. There are two types: black chia seeds and white chia seeds. More often, you will find black chia seeds being sold in stores.

Nutritional value

Chia seeds have a low carbohydrate and high fiber content. Two tablespoons of chia seeds (7.4g fibre) have more fibre than 1 cup (250mL) of large flake oats (4.0g fibre). Just like flax seed, you are getting a lot of fibre by eating a small amount of seed. Chia seeds contain a lot of soluble fibre and mucilage [9]. Mucilage? Yes, I know it sounds strange but this type of fibre helps to make a gel in water [9]. This helps to slow down the digestion of food which will then slow down the absorption of glucose (sugar) and prevent blood sugar spikes [10].

Chia seeds have a high content of an essential omega 3 fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) [9].  Similar to hemp seed, chia seed is a complete protein because it has all of the nine essential amino acids [10].

Use and Storage

Ideally, you want to store them in a package or container that is opaque (not clear) so that they are not exposed to light. If you store them in the refrigerator, the shelf life will be longer than storing them in a cool, dry pantry. If you smell the chia seed and you get an off smell then it means they have gone bad (rancid) and it’s time to throw them out. Chia seeds are amazing to use when you want to thicken a liquid – for example, to thicken a homemade salad dressing or to make pudding and jam. It’s absolutely magical to see how this seed thickens liquids. It can be added to baked goods or homemade granola. The options are many.

Can these seeds help with blood sugars?

Hemp

There is very little research on the effect of hemp seeds on blood sugars. However, there was one study that used hemp protein powder. Participants were either given 40g or 20g of hemp protein powder with their pizza meal. The hemp protein helped to lower post meal blood sugars (post-prandial blood glucose) [3]. And, there was a bigger reduction in blood sugars when having 40g versus 20g of hemp protein powder [3].

Flax

Yes, flaxseeds can help with blood sugars. One study showed that having 2 tablespoons (13g) of ground flaxseed per day helped to improve insulin resistance and fasting blood sugar levels in people with prediabetes [8]. Also, the fiber in flaxseed has a role in helping with blood sugars [6,7].

Chia

Yes, chia seeds can help with blood sugars but it’s the white chia seeds that do. Salba chia is the trademark name for white chia seeds. In one study, participants had either 7g, 15g, or 24g of Salba chia with a carbohydrate (50g) meal [11]. The larger doses of Salba chia helped to reduce post meal blood sugars [11]. Not only did the Salba chia help with post meal blood sugar, it also helped with reducing appetite and increasing sense of fullness [11]. In another study, they baked bread with either whole or ground Salba chia seeds.  It was found that the seeds helped to reduce blood sugar levels and there was no difference in the results between the use of ground and whole chia seeds [10].

Final thoughts: Can these seeds help with blood sugars?

Overall, chia and flax seeds can help with blood sugars. When it comes to hemp seeds, there is little research available. Hemp protein has been shown to be helpful with post meal blood sugars. Hemp, flax and chia seeds are so small in size but have so many nutrients that can benefit our health in different ways. Try using them on a daily basis in moderation to help create a balanced diet.

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