2017. The year of chia seeds and hemp seeds.

Have you noticed that there always seems to be a new ‘it’ food?

In the last couple of years we have heard a lot about kale, quinoa, maca powder and turmeric, just to name a few!

What are 2017’s ‘it’ foods?

Among our bariatric patients this year it seems to be hemp and chia seeds!

‘It’ foods are typically foods that many parts of the world have been eating for centuries but are only now being marketed in North America and other first-world countries. They are advertised as ‘good-for-you’ products with the promise of making you healthier and happier than you have ever been! Their marketing claims make you feel like you’ve been missing out and that you NEED to include this ‘perfect’ food in your diet every single day!

As dietitians, we are ALWAYS skeptical of these types of promises.

Many of our patients this year have been loading up on hemp and chia seeds to supplement their protein intake. Patients brag about sprinkling them on their oats, yogurts, scrambled eggs and even ice cream!

While these seeds do boast some great qualities, they have been misrepresented as being high in protein.

Yes you heard us right… hemp and chia seeds are NOT considered to be a good protein supplement.

Let us explain…

If you are struggling to meet your protein needs, a good protein supplement should add at least 6-15 grams of protein to your meal or snack. Additionally, you ideally want this protein source to have the least amount of calories possible.

A good way to compare how much protein you are getting for the calories is to calculate the food’s protein to calorie ratio (protein : calorie).

Let’s look at the protein to calorie ratios of some common protein supplements:

What is the chart telling us?

*For every 1 gram of protein from chia seeds there are 29 calories.

**For every 1 gram of whey isolate protein powder there are 5 calories.

This means that whey isolate protein powder can give you the same amount of protein for much less calories. More precisely, it can provide the same 6 grams of protein for 1/6th of the calories compared to chia seeds!

So does this mean I should stop using hemp and chia seeds?

The short answer is no!

Hemp and chia seeds do have many positive benefits (see below), however they should not be used to supplement the missing 20 grams of protein in your diet.

WHY? Adding 20 grams of protein using chia seeds would mean adding a whopping 585 calories! With hemp seeds this would mean adding 320 calories, which is still quite a bit! Comparatively, adding 20 grams of protein using whey isolate protein powder would only mean adding 100 calories. See the difference?

How should I be using hemp and chia seeds then?

For those of you looking to boost your protein intake, hemp and chia seeds should not be your only source of added protein. We recommend using them in combination with other lower calorie protein supplements such as protein powders.

Adding ½ or 1 serving of seeds per day (see serving sizes in chart above) for example is very appropriate, as hemp and chia seeds contain many important nutrients that are often not talked about.

Hemp and chia seeds are…

  • Good vegan/vegetarian source of protein.
  • High in fiber. Make sure you choose whole hemp seeds (i.e. not shelled ones like hemp hearts) if you are looking for the fiber boost. In the early stages postop, adding 1-2 tbsps of these seeds into your smoothies is a great way to help fight constipation.
  • High in several important micronutrients. Hemp seeds are excellent sources of iron, zinc, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus and vitamin E, while chia seeds are high in calcium, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, omega-3s and omega-6s.

The bottom line: Healthy eating is not determined by one ‘superfood’ or seed. As always, the key is variety and moderation!

– Lisa & Monica

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P.S. For those of you who are vegetarian or vegan, we recommend that you speak with your dietitian if you have questions about sources of protein.

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