I just returned from my annual trip to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo (FNCE) in Houston, Texas. The event was attended by approximately 8,000 Registered Dietitians (my peers!) representing all areas of the field. When I had a moment to sneak away from my client duties, I walked around the massive expo floor where hundreds of food companies and boards set up shop to sample and hand out swag. One trend that I noticed was the rise in popularity of seeds – specifically chia and hemp seeds. Here is an overview of these foods that marketers have labeled and the “next big thing.”
Chia Seeds, Not Chia Pets
Chia seeds come from the plant, Salvia hispanicasame which comes from the same family as mint. It is native to Mexico and Guatemala, where it was thought to be a staple in the Aztec diet.
Nutritionally, Chia is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, high in fiber, contains protein as well as trace minerals (calcium and magnesium to name a few). According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, preliminary research has found that chia seeds may help may lower cholesterol, triglycerides and blood pressure.
At FNCE, I found larger food companies such as Bob’s Red Mill offering up their line of seeds and Dole was there showcasing their line of milled chia seeds packaged in individual pouches. The idea behind these is that they make it convenient to add the seeds to your foods or beverages anywhere you choose. Just pop a pack of chia seeds in your purse and add them to your morning latte. Why not?
Hemp Seeds (no, not that kind of hemp)
According to Wikipedia, Hemp seeds are derived from the same plant that produces cannabis, but are bred with only a trace (undetectable) amount of THC. Therefore the seeds that are sold in health food stores are safe to eat. Many of the hemp seeds that are sold in America come from Canada because it is illegal to grow hemp in the U.S. Nutritionally, hemp seeds are very high in protein – they contain all nine essential amino acids, a balanced amount of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, plus fiber and trace minerals. As for flavor, they taste nutty to me and I think the easiest way to enjoy them is to sprinkle on salads, in smoothies or in yogurt.
One company at FNCE that was showcasing their line of hemp (and chia seeds) was the California-based natural foods company, Nutiva. If you cruise the aisles of your health food store, you are likely to find hemp seeds, hemp milk and hemp oil for baking.
While these foods are nutritious and convenient when added to other healthy foods, they might not be accessible to all. I think adding them to your already healthful foods may help give you a boost, but a good ol’ balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and fish high in omega-3s, such as salmon and sardines, will also do just fine.