In this Article about Omega 3 Sources:
- Consumers who have heard or read that seeds provide a good source of Omega 3 fatty acids will learn more about this and other nutritional advantages.
- Food marketers will learn more about positive messaging for Omega 3s in the context of seeds and seed-based ingredients.
- Food formulators will obtain a snapshot of seed comparisons for nutritional content and taste profile.
Intro to Omega 3 Fatty Acids for Nutrition
“Omega:” it might be the last letter of the Greek alphabet, but when it comes to human nutrition, Omega 3 fatty acids should be thought of as a starting point.
First, it’s important to know why we want to consume Omega 3-rich foods. Omega 3s contribute 3 essential fatty acids that the body can’t produce on its own. They are an integral part of cell membranes and affect the function of cell receptors, provide a starting point for making hormones that regulate blood clotting; contraction and relaxation of artery walls; and inflammation.1 Omega 3s also help bind receptors in cells that regulate genetic function. It’s likely that because of these effects, Omega 3s have been shown to help prevent heart disease and stroke, may help to control other chronic illnesses, and may play a protective role against cancer and other conditions.1
There are 3 main Omega 3s1:
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) – mainly comes from fish and often referred to as a “marine” Omega 3
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) – another “marine” Omega 3
- Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) – the most common Omega 3 fatty acid in most Western diets, found in vegetable oils, nuts, seeds and seed oils, leafy vegetables and some animal fat, especially in grass-fed animals
Flax, Hemp & Chia Seeds - Great Omega 3 Sources
Three types of seeds are frequently cited among the best plant sources of Omega 3 fatty acids: chia, flaxseed, and hemp. As seen in the chart below, these seeds provide excellent sources of ALA Omega 3 fatty acids. You can contrast these seeds with other seeds commonly eaten or used as ingredient sources, sesame and sunflower seeds.
The current daily recommended intake of ALA for adults over age 19 is 1,100 mg for women and 1,600 mg for men, per USDA data.2
A comparison of the nutritional value of commonly eaten seeds is shown here:
Nutrition Data Per 1 Ounce (28 grams)
|Seed||ALA Omega 3||% Daily Rec. Intake of ALA*||Protein**||%DV**†|
|Flax||6,388 mg**||400 - 580||5.1 g||10%|
|Hemp||6,000 mg***||375 - 545||9.2 g||21%|
|Chia||4,915 mg**||307 - 447||4.4 g||9%|
|Sesame||105 mg**||0.1 - 0.1||5.0 g||10%|
|Sunflower||20.7 mg**||0.0 - 0.0||5.8 g||12%|
* reference 2 below
** reference 3 below
*** reference 4 below
† Percent Daily Values (%DV) are for adults or children aged 4 or older, and are based on a 2,000 calorie reference diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower based on your individual needs.
Although flaxseed is the winner in providing the most ALA Omega 3 fatty acid per ounce, there’s no contest with hemp seed in protein per ounce. Additionally, the protein in hemp seeds contains all of the essential amino acids, an unusual advantage for plant foods, according to Leslie Beck, one of Canada’s leading nutritionists.5 Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Similar to essential fatty acids, essential amino acids must come from your diet because your body can’t produce them on its own. This makes hemp seeds and hemp seed-based ingredients attractive options for food formulators given their valuable profiles as sources for both Omega 3 and plant-based protein.
Beck also explains how flaxseed contains something that hemp and chia seeds don’t—lignans—which are phytochemicals linked to breast and prostate cancer prevention.5 However, that means in order to gain the nutritional benefits of flax, the seeds need to be ground, otherwise they can pass through the digestive tract undigested. In contrast, hemp and chia seeds can be eaten whole or ground.
Bonus hemp seed fact: Beck says hemp seeds are an “outstanding source of magnesium, a mineral that can help to regulate blood pressure and blood sugar.”5 She recommends blending 2 tablespoons of hemp seed into a smoothie to get one-quarter of a day’s worth of magnesium.
Seed Taste and Texture Profile
Flaxseed: a bit larger than sesame seed, hard and dry, with a faint grassy taste that gets nuttier with toasting
Chia seeds: much smaller and neutral in flavor, similar to poppy seeds. They form a slippery gel with a slight crunch when exposed to water.
Hemp seeds: offer even more variety with different flavors and textures depending on processing. If hulls are off, think pine nuts crossed with sesame heeds; if hulls are on, earthy tones with a crunch.
How Consumers Are Using Seeds to Gain Omega 3s
Seeds can be added to smoothies, hot cereal or baked goods. “Nutrition Diva” Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS points out that hemp is “particularly good for sprinkling over casseroles, vegetables, or salads.”6
Beck adds seeds to soups, chili, meatloaf and turkey burgers. She also stirs them into muffin, pancake, waffle and cookie batters, adds them to her favorite granola recipe, and mixes them with a mashed avocado for a healthy sandwich spread. Another preparation idea maximizes Omega 3 intake by mixing ground seeds with whole-grain bread crumbs for breading fish or chicken.
Bonus hemp prep: Playing to hemp’s nutty profile, finely grind hemp seeds with almonds, then mix with honey to make a spread for toast. You can also cook 1/4 cup hemp seeds with steel-cut oats.
The Takeaway for Food Marketers and Formulators Related to Omega 3 Sources
As well-documented sources of Omega 3 fatty acids, certain seeds have proven to be more than just a nutritional fad; they’re part of the foundation of a healthy diet. As dollar sales of plant-based foods continue to grow7, it’s likely that even more emphasis will be placed on seeds as ingredients.
The desirable traits discussed in this article—depth in nutritional profile, enticing textures and tastes, and versatility in preparation—make specific seeds appealing for both food formulators and food marketers alike.
For food marketers and formulators, take note that consumers are discovering the health benefits of hemp seeds from nutritionists. Google trends tell us that searches around topics such as ‘hemp hearts nutrition’ are increasing.
'Hemp Hearts Nutrition' - Google Trends
Hemp seed-based ingredients offer an attractive ingredient profile, being an excellent Omega 3 source and also having a great Omega 3 / Omega 6 Balance. They’re also an extraordinary source of protein and have other important minerals and vitamins.
Armed with a full understanding of the nutritional science and full set of options, food formulators and marketers can take advantage of increasing consumer interest in and knowledge of the importance of Omega 3 fatty acids and the seed-based ingredients that can supply them.
Want to learn more about Omega 3 sources? Explore these helpful resources:
2. Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Fact Sheet for Health Professionals. National Institutes of Health. Office of Dietary Supplements. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Omega3FattyAcids-HealthProfessional/