Over the years we’ve learned that seeds can be nutritional powerhouses full of proteins, vitamins and minerals. They also happen to be vegan and nut free which means anyone can consume them without fear of allergic reaction or going against their eating lifestyle. Typically, someone who consumes seeds for nutritional purposes is going to consume one of these six seeds: hemp, pumpkin, sunflower, flax, sesame and chia. There are of course other seeds, but these are the six big ones I always hear about.
I’ve been asked about the differences between hemp seed and many of the other seeds so I thought I would start a short series comparing them. Don’t worry I’m not about to tell you that hemp seeds are the end all be all answer and the only seed that matters. I’m simply going to lay out some nutritional information and tell you the benefits of the seeds, because some seeds may be better than others for the purpose you are consuming them. I personally have chosen hemp seeds over other seeds for the bulk of my diet and I’ll explain why but all of the seeds I mentioned above are great choices. It’s just a personal decision you have to make for your body.
Today we’re going to start on the big one: flax seed. Hemp seed vs. flax seed comes up a lot because both are fantastic nutritional sources and until now flax has sort of been the “it” seed for nutrition. So let’s get started and see how they stack up to each other.
Hemp seed and flax seed are both considered a complete protein. This means that they both contain all 9 of the essential amino acids that your body can’t make on its own. However, hemp seed contains twice as much protein as flax seed does. Hemp seed contains 10 grams of protein in a 3 tablespoon serving while flax seed contains just 5.7 grams of the same amount. Hemp seed is nature’s highest plant source of essential fatty acids, even more so than flax seed.
Fiber is where flax seed shines. While hemp seed contains 3 grams of fiber in a 3 tablespoon serving, flax seed provides us with 8.4 grams of fiber in the same serving size. This is definitely a positive advantage to flax seed if fiber is a dietary concern for you.
Calories and Fat
If you compare strictly the calories and fat intake, hemp seed contains 168 calories and flax seed contains 165 in a 3 tablespoon serving, fairly close in calories intake with each other. Both also contain a total of 13 grams of fat in a 3 tablespoon serving.
Flax seed does contain some anti-nutrient absorbing qualities in the form of phytic acid. Phytic acid isn’t harmful to you, but it does make your body absorb less nutrients than are present in your food. It binds to minerals like zinc, iron, copper, calcium and magnesium and never unbinds. Your body never absorbs those minerals and you simply get rid of them in the bathroom. This was one of the main reasons for me to choose hemp seed for the bulk of my seed diet. Hemp seed contains no phytic acid or any other anti-nutrient properties.
Omega-3 and Omega-6
Hemp seeds have the perfect balance of Omega-6 and Omega-3. The actual recommended ratio by the World Health Organization is 4:1 (Omega-6 to Omega-3) and hemp seeds provide that exactly. Of course, if you are already out of balance, this would need to be adjusted with other supplements but as a stand alone food, hemp seeds are where it’s at. Comparatively, hemp seeds have approximately 3300mg of Omega-3 and 8100mg of Omega-6 in a single 3 tablespoon serving. Flax seed has 4050mg of Omega-3 and 800mg of Omega-6 in the same serving size.
EPA and DHA Omega-3 fatty acids are the two most talked about types of Omega-3. This is what is found naturally in fish and breast milk. They are the most potent types of Omega-3 and is usually what everyone wants. In a nutshell, EPA and DHA are polyunsaturated fatty acids, the kind of fat we want in our bodies and what helps to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.
Unfortunately, hemp seeds nor flax seeds contain EPA or DHA Omega-3. Instead, hemp seeds and flax seeds both contain a different type of Omega-3 called ALA or alpha-linolenic acid. ALA Omega-3 only has 18 carbon molecules and unlike EPA and DHA which has 20, the benefit of ALA only happens when it’s converted to EPA and DHA when other nutrients are introduced as conversion aids. So while ALA Omega-3’s can be beneficial when converted to EPA and DHA, it doesn’t always happen due to lack of nutrients. Hemp seeds do contain GLA and SDA which have been shown to increase DHA/EPA concentrations.
Remember above when I said that flax seed contained phytic acid? Well, it’s required to have vitamin B3, B6, Vitamin C, Zinc and Magnesium to convert an ALA Omega-3 to EPA and DHA. Without these nutrients, you cannot convert ALA Omega-3 into EPA and DHA. Since phytic acid prevents the absorbtion of nutrients, choosing flax seed over hemp seed simply for the Omega-3 isn’t necessarily the best choice. What’s the point of having more ALA Omega-3 when it never gets converted to EPA and DHA?
To make matters worse, the amount of ALA Omega-3 that gets converted into EPA and DHA is very minimal. Less than 5% of ALA gets converted to EPA and less than .5% to DHA. Yes that’s right, 5% and .5%. What that means is that if you are looking at any seed to be a decent source of Omega-3 for your body, choosing a seed with anti-nutrient properties is going to make the amount converted even smaller than it already is.
If you’ve been on HempInformer for any length of time, you have probably heard me talk about the taste of hemp seeds resembling something close to pine nuts. It’s a very mild nutty flavor that goes well with anything. You can grab them straight out of the bag and pop a few seeds in your mouth and you’ve got a great snack. They digest very easily and don’t cause any sort of issues like bloating.
Flax seed is a bit different. You don’t eat the actual seeds whole. Our stomachs can’t digest the seed so unless you grind it up your body will never gain the Omega-3 nutrients that are only contained inside the seed. The taste is barely noticable, almost earthy or grassy slightly but pretty much tasteless which can be beneficial if you don’t want to alter the taste of other foods you put it in.
Hemp seeds tend to be on the more expensive side of things. Most likely this is due to hemp being illegal to grow in the U.S., so hemp seed must be imported from places like Canada which drives the price of the finished product up. Having said that, the price isn’t outrageous enough to not purchase it.
Doing a quick search on Amazon for flax seed, you can pick up 2 16 ounce bags of golden flax seeds for $12.45. Hemp hearts (shelled hemp seeds) on the other hand are about double the cost at $12.39 for a single 16 ounce bag of hemp hearts(the shelled version of hemp seeds and most often used). You can of course do some price shopping to find the best product at the best price but generally this is an average price comparison. In both cases, the price of hemp seed and flax seed are very affordable and last quite a while based on the recommended intake values.
Hemp and flax seed both are great source of nutrition and you may want to work both types of seeds into your diet. I would recommend that if protein and other minerals are your main concern to stick to hemp seeds and if fiber is your main concern, then maybe flax seed is your answer. For me, someone who’s after a high protein diet and looking for a seed that maximizes its nutrients, hemp seeds are where I will stick for now.