Hemp Seed vs. Chia Seed: The Most Comprehensive Review

Nuts and seeds are a group of plants which contain some of the highest levels of antioxidants and some of the best nutrient profiles found. This is a Hemp seed vs. chia face off.

Each contains healthy fats, fiber and protein that can help regulate blood sugar and reduce blood pressure and inflammation. All of which may improve your heart health.

We’re going to break down hemp seed vs. chia seed and take a look at their nutritional profiles, health benefits, uses, storage and substitutions, how to shop for the best and some favorite ways dietitians enjoy them!

hemp seed vs chia seed the most comprehensive review.

Nutrition Comparison

First, plant diversity is king. So although this is titled hemp vs chia, it really shouldn’t be about inclusion, rather than comparison. The more diverse your diet, particularly plants, the stronger your immune system and overall health (due to a robust microbiome). 

With that said, let’s take a look at the below chart. 

A chart showing the difference between Hulled hemp seeds and chia seeds, including antioxidants

Health Benefits of Hemp Hearts

Interestingly, much of the research available is on whole hemp seeds, not hulled hemp seeds (AKA hemp hearts). However, this article will focus on (hulled) hemp hearts as those are the most readily available in grocery stores. 

Foods are typically healthier with skin on, and this article states the potential of hemp seed hulls. I’d expect many nutrients to be lost/reduced when we remove the hull/shell, the process is akin to removing the bran from wheat. The most notable of nutrients reduced is fiber. 

That said, the seeds still have a wonderful fatty acid profile and are high in protein; they offer iron, magnesium, zinc, phosphorus and potassium as well. 

  • Blood sugar: due to their high protein and a good fatty acid profile, one can infer that they have a normalizing effect on blood sugar and appetite. 
  • NAFLD: their fatty acid profile may also benefit inflammation and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). 
  • Antioxidant capacity: hemp seeds contain a variety of phytochemicals with phenolic compounds and tocopherols improving their antioxidant capacity. 

Health Benefits of Chia Seeds

Chia seeds’ nutrition profile provides several health benefits. You’ll find chia seeds in a variety of white and black seeds, brown ones are typically immature and therefore lack nutrition.

  • Blood pressure: 15 grams (~1 tbsp) of chia seeds has been found to reduce blood pressure in those with elevated blood pressure, but not in those with normal pressure. 
  • Blood sugar: chia seeds, when added to a meal, were found to reduce blood sugar in a dose dependent fashion, from 21-48%. 
  • Antioxidant capacity: chia seeds seem to have an amount of antioxidants similar to that of Vitamin E. As listed above in the final row of the table, chia seeds contain several phytonutrients, with the greatest levels being quercetin and kaempferol.
    • Quercetin is the most well researched of all bioflavonoids. It has mediocre research in blood pressure control and athletic performance, and perhaps better known for immune function
    • Kaempferol is found in high levels in cruciferous vegetables and holds anti-cancer potential.  

Marketing: Know how to shop for Chia Seeds

It’s important to know where and how your food is grown. For plants, their location of origin matters because the ground and climate in which they are grown affects their nutrient status and risk of contaminants. 

  • Country of Origin: chia seeds grow best in warm, tropical climates; such as Mexico and South America. Since they are picky about lighting, ideal regions are tropical. 80% of seeds are grown in Argentina. 
  • Heavy Metals and Toxins: chia seeds have the potential to contain arsenic, cadmium, mercury and lead. As well as the presence of mold or e.coli. – this is perhaps due to their ability to absorb. Finding a trusted source is important.
  • Farming Techniques: chia seeds are sensitive to weed killers, so they must be manually picked and their essential oils on the leaves are a natural insecticide
  • Chia seeds were used as a cover crop in North America and although they grew vigorously, outgrowing the weeds, they did not come to seed. That said, I suspect little, if any fertilizers, or pesticides are used on this crop. 

In summary, until I learn more I would recommend purchasing organically grown chia seeds due to their risk of heavy metals. Sourced from South America, where growing conditions are ideal. A trusted brand such as Bob’s Red Mill is a good choice. 

Marketing: Know how to shop for Hemp Seeds

  • Country of Origin: One of the largest providers of hemp is grown in Canada. Hemp seeds are also grown in Europe.  
  • Farming Techniques: Remember hemp is a weed, and it’s one of the fastest growing crops in the world, it reaches for sunlight first and typically doesn’t have an issue competing with other weeds. Therefore it likely doesn’t require pesticides. 

Therefore, the difference in organic and conventional comes down to the soil they are grown in and the potential fertilizer used. I would feel comfortable recommending either organic or conventionally grown hemp when consumed orally (research seems to differ when inhaling). 

A trusted brand such as Manitoba is a good choice. 

How to eat hemp and chia seeds

Chia seeds have a fairly mild, nutty flavor. Pop some in your mouth and you won’t taste them as much as you feel them. (Don’t try this at home, see more about the dangers of chia seeds).  But this function is important in baking because they affect the texture of foods.

Chia seeds are gelatinous beed-like seeds that due to their fiber content, which is primarily insoluble, have the ability to swell up and bind to liquid to form a gel. That means they’re great for binding! In fact, there are many vegan recipes that utilize them as an egg substitute.  

Other ways to utilize these seeds are in puddings, mixed into oatmeal, granolas and other cereals, smoothies, desserts, bars and jams. 

Hemp seeds on the other hand have a slightly grassy flavor, a bit nutty and somewhat hard to mask. They don’t have the ability to bind with liquid like chia seeds, so they remain somewhat firm.

That said, they go great atop a salad, within dressings, smoothies, mixed into oatmeal, made into bars and snacks, seed butters, granolas and other cereals or as a dairy substitute. 

Storage

Since both seeds are higher in fat they are vulnerable to rancidity. It’s best to keep them stored in a cool, dry place. Ideally in the fridge, in a sealed container; limiting their exposure to light, heat and air. 

If you choose to grind either of them, it’s best to eat them straight away.

Can I substitute hemp seed for chia seed?

It depends…

If you’re making something with either of the seeds that is more about topping, or adding crunch – then likely you can swap them without trouble. A good example is a salad. 

However, if your recipe has a fair amount of liquid in it, then it’s best to follow the recipe. 

Let me explain. If you swap chia seeds for hemp hearts in a baked dish – you’ll probably end up with a liquidy mess. This is due to the lack of binding ability of hemp hearts. And, if you swap hemp hearts for chia seeds – you may end up with a dried out product. Neither is good.

Are hemp hearts healthier than chia seeds?

Not really, it just depends on your goals. To reap the benefits of a healthy diet, plant diversity always wins. Which means, enjoy hemp seeds and chia seeds!

  • Both chia and hemp seeds have a nice ratio of omega 6: omega 3. The “ideal” ratio is up to about 4:1 (omega 6:omega 3), hemp and chia are closer to a 3:1 ratio. The standard American diet is 16:1. Hemp seeds do have more overall healthy fat.
  • Chia seeds are a unique combination of fiber and fat, whereas hemp hearts are primarily fat and protein. 
  • Notable nutrients provided for both are phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, iron and potassium. Hemp seeds provide more of all of these vitamins and minerals, except chia seeds provide more calcium. 
  • They each provide a unique phytonutrient profile and this is perhaps the main reason to enjoy both.
  • Like all seeds, both contain “anti-nutrients” such as phytic acid and trypsin. Although these may bind to some nutrients like calcium, they have also shown beneficial effects as well. 
  • Of note, the region and growing conditions were shown to affect the nutrient content of each, as you’d expect no two regions or seasons produce the same exact product.
  • Both are tasty super seeds that are versatile in the kitchen!

Recipes with hemp hearts (from dietitians!)

Easy Trail Mix Bars
These vegan homemade trail mix bars are great for athletes on the go, as a pre or post workout snack. Made with oats, maple syrup, peanut butter and nuts, raisins, and hemp seeds, these wholesome diy trail mix bars are easy make ahead snacks!
Sarah Schlichter, MPH, RD
Check out this recipe
Easy trail mix bars made with hemp seeds
Coffee Energy Balls
If you’re looking for a pick me up, grab one or two of these fueling coffee energy balls. Yup, go ahead and eat your caffeine!
Amy Gorin, MS, RDN
Check out this recipe
Coffee energy balls, so you can eat your caffeine.
Banana Nut Butter
Hands down, y’all, this is the best nut butter you’ll ever taste. This banana nut butter is like almond butter and banana bread’s love child, so clearly, you just can’t go wrong making this one. 
Melissa Macher, RD
Check out this recipe
Banana nut butter made with hemp seeds.

Recipes with chia seeds (from dietitians!)

Lemon Truffle with Chickpeas
If you enjoy a hint of lemon, these chickpea protein balls are perfect. They're the Goldie-locks of lemon flavor, packed with protein and fiber!
Jessie Gutsue, MA, RDN
Check out this recipe
cacao bliss balls stacked
VEGAN STRAWBERRY JAM RECIPE (CHIA SEED JAM)
This easy vegan strawberry jam recipe creates an ultra fresh tasting spread with little to no added sugar. Berries and chia seeds are all you truly need!
Nicole Stevens, MScFN, RD
Check out this recipe
VEGAN STRAWBERRY JAM RECIPE (CHIA SEED JAM).
Protein Chia Pudding
Make this easy chia seed porridge aka chia pudding as a delicious base for fresh fruit and other delicious toppings. It makes for a great breakfast or snack any time of the day.
Rebecca Clyde, MS, RDN
Check out this recipe
Versatile Chia Seed Porridge.