The Real Reason Chia Seeds are Hotter than Flax or Hemp

chia seeds
iStock/Karisssa

Just a few years ago, when we heard the word chia, we thought more about pets with miraculous green “hair” than of the superfood seed we all know and love today. Chia seeds have since taken the health world by storm thanks to their richness in omega-3s, fiber, protein, calcium, and iron. But there are tons of omega- and vitamin-rich super-seeds out there besides chia, like flax and hemp. So what makes chia the hottest of the hot?

A large part of chia’s superiority comes from its unparalleled nutritional richness: chia seeds are packed, gram for gram, with eight times more omega-3s than salmon, 25 percent more fiber than flax seeds, 30 percent more antioxidants than blueberries, twice as much potassium as bananas, and 70 percent more protein than soybeans.

Chia seeds are also one of the best plant-based sources of calcium, with twice as much as milk.

“It’s as if nature decided to develop its own wellness supplement and put all the nutrients known to help fight disease and boost vigor into one small package,” explains Janie Hoffman, founder and CEO of USDA organic certified chia-based beverage and snack company Mamma Chia.

Hemp seeds, meanwhile, may have 50 to 70 percent more protein than either flax or chia, but they also have virtually no fiber as compared with the other two seeds.

Hemp also has nearly the opposite omega-3 to omega-6 ratio of flax or chia, and since our diets tend to be much higher in omega-6 than in omega-3, chia seeds are definitely the better choice (especially for people who eat omega-6-rich animal proteins). A study in the British Journal of Nutrition shows that diets higher in omega-6 lead to a 13 percent increase in heart disease risk, pointing to evidence that the American Hearth Association has “drawn incorrect conclusions about omega-3 and omega-6 fats” and “are making potentially dangerous dietary recommendations, as a result” according to Mercola.com.

Chia’s popularity may also have something to do with how easy it is to incorporate into your diet. Unlike flax, for example, chia seeds don’t need to be ground for their benefits to be reaped.

“Think of it in the same way you do indispensable everyday seasonings like salt and pepper,” explains Hoffman, “Only instead of adding a pinch of flavor, you’ll be adding a dose of health and vitality to your food.”

Because chia is a complete protein and swells up to 12 times its normal size in liquid, chia also helps keep you more satisfied after a meal and keeps you hydrated, too.

But perhaps the most important way in which chia seeds soundly defeat any other superfood out there is that, according to Hoffman, they don’t just feed the body.

“Chia also feeds the soul,” she says. And she knows from personal experience.

For twenty years, Hoffman was plagued by a variety of autoimmune disorders, and while she tried everything she could, including harsh drugs and various dietary changes, it wasn’t until she tried chia that she saw results, and from then on, her life was changed.

“It may seem like a stretch—how can a mere seed put you on the road to a more soul-inspiring and exuberant life?” she says. “Trust me, chia is like a shot in the arm. It wakes you up, giving you the mental clarity and physical energy you need to pursue your soul’s purpose: a life with meaning, connection and authenticity.”

In cooperation with a transition to an organic diet, the addition of chia seeds to Hoffman’s diet quite literally changed her life, leading her into complete remission and giving her a new purpose: sharing this superfood with the world.

“Chia is a beautiful, natural, unadulterated product of the earth that offers us the gift of good health,” she says. “It’s not a supplement made by extracting nutrients from their source; it’s the source itself.”

This year, Mamma Chia is celebrating National Chia Day (March 23) by partnering with The Ecology Center to support their sustainability and environmental stewardship efforts. Get involved by posting on Instagram and Twitter before March 31 about your favorite ways to incorporate chia seeds into your daily life, along with the hashtag #ItsChiaDay – Mamma Chia will donate $1 for every post and tweet up to $10,000.

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Emily Monaco
Emily Monaco

Emily Monaco is an American food and culture writer based in Paris. She loves uncovering the stories behind ingredients and exposing the face of our food system, so that consumers can make educated choices. Her work has been published in the Wall Street Journal, Vice Munchies, and Serious Eats.