Everything You Wanted to Know about Cooking with Flaxseeds, Chia Seeds and Hemp Seeds

Cooking with nuts is nothing new, but what about seeds? Recently, you've probably seen these little morsels popping up just about everywhere, and for good reason. Just like nuts, seeds are nutritional powerhouses, packed with protein, healthy fats, fiber and antioxidants. Tweet this Incorporating seeds into your favorite recipes boosts flavor and texture.

Chia Seeds

Chia seeds' rise in popularity is no doubt due to their culinary versatility. Chia seeds are harvested from the Salvia hispanica plant, found commonly in Central and South America. Containing omega-3 fatty acids, carbohydrates, protein, fiber and calcium, these seeds have a mild, nutty flavor that can be enjoyed in a variety of foods. Try sprinkling chia on oatmeal, cereals, yogurt and smoothies for a delightful crunch. Or, when mixed with liquid, chia seeds create a gel that's similar in texture to tapioca pudding or jam. Because of this unique property, you'll find chia used in beverages, puddings and jams.

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With a similar nutritional profile as chia seeds, flaxseeds are becoming more widely available, popping up in foods such as baked goods, waffles and cereal. Thanks to their omega-3 fatty acids and fiber, flaxseeds may reduce risk of heart disease, cancer and diabetes. They also provide phytoestrogens, plant compounds similar in structure to human estrogen, in the form of lignans. Studies suggest that consuming flax lignans may reduce risk of breast cancer due to their estrogen-like effects. In a 2010 study published in Anticancer Research, exposure to high levels of lignans caused breast cancer cells to decrease the amount of estrogen receptors located within each cell. Some theorize that this may prevent breast cancer cells from responding to estrogen and therefore slow cancer growth.

Since they aren't absorbed in their whole form, flaxseeds need to be ground in order to provide the most benefits. You can purchase either pre-ground flaxseeds or use a coffee or nut grinder to grind seeds in batches as needed. Enjoy ground flaxseeds in oatmeal, smoothies or yogurt. Or, when combined with water, flaxseeds create a gel that is often used as an egg substitute in vegan baked goods.

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Hemp Seeds

Similar in taste to sunflower seeds, hemp seeds pack a serious amount of nutrients in a small size. In addition to being an excellent source of essential fatty acids, hemp seeds contain all nine essential amino acids in the proportion that humans need. Even though hemp and marijuana are members of the same plant species, Cannabis sativa, eating hemp seeds will not produce any psychoactive side effects.

Shelled hemp seeds, also known as hemp hearts, can be enjoyed anywhere you want a mild crunch. Try sprinkling some on top of salads, cereal, yogurt or soup. Combined with spices, hemp hearts can be used as a breadcrumb substitute for any protein: simply combine with seasonings and gently press before baking or sautéing. In some grocery stores, you'll even find hemp milk, which can be used as an alternative to dairy in any recipe.

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Alexandra Caspero
Alexandra Caspero, MA, RD, CLT, is a registered dietitian and nutrition expert with a passion for health and wellness. Alex is a nationally recognized nutritionist and appears regularly on TV, print and social media. She was most recently featured in Runner's World, Men's Health, Fitness, Shape Magazine & Vogue. As the campus dietitian, director of wellness and adjunct instructor at University of the Pacific, Alex teaches what she preaches. Through innovative programs and services, Alex inspires students to become their healthiest selves. Her blog, DelishKnowledge, focuses on making whole-food eating deliciously simple. Alex also dishes out delicious tips to her thousands of social media followers.