If you’ve been delving more into plant-based eating or are simply trying to eat a little healthier, you’ve probably seen hemp seeds and chia seeds mentioned all over magazines, recipe sites, and social media. But which, if either, of these tiny seeds is better? Are there any major differences between hemp seeds vs. chia seeds, or can they be used interchangeably?
Here I’ll be discussing how hemp seeds and chia seeds compare to each other in terms of nutrition, health benefits, price, and how best to use them so that you can make the most informed decision on which to use.
Hemp seeds vs. chia seeds – a quick comparison
I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for me to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
Hemp seeds, also called hemp hearts, are higher in protein and minerals like zinc, potassium, magnesium, folate, and phosphorus while being lower in carbohydrates than chia seeds. Chia seeds are higher in omega-3 fats, calcium, and fiber than hemp seeds. Hemp seeds provide more polyunsaturated fatty acids overall, but a lower proportion of these are omega-3s. They are both naturally low in sodium, saturated fat, and cholesterol, making them a heart-healthy choice.
Keep reading for a more in-depth comparison of these nutrient-packed seeds below.
Nutrition & health benefits
Omega-3 fatty acids
The type of omega-3 fatty acids found in these seeds is alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). ALA is thought to help reduce inflammation1 in the body, help lower cholesterol2, and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes3. ALA may also help reduce the risk of and complications from heart disease4, although more research is needed to determine exactly how effective it is for these conditions.
ALA may be especially important for heart health5 in vegans and others who don’t eat the other two types of omega-3s, EPA and DHA, which come from marine animals.
While both hemp and chia seeds can help you get your omega-3s, chia seeds have more than double the amount compared to hemp seeds! This means that hitting your omega-3 goal for the day will be easier with chia seeds, especially for vegans who have higher ALA needs. Daily recommended ALA omega-3 intakes6 are:
- Women – 1.1 grams (1.4 grams if pregnant, 1.3 grams if lactating)
- Men – 1.6 grams
While not a hard and fast rule, it’s sometimes recommended that vegans get more ALA7 in their diets than omnivores in order to help compensate for the lack of DHA and EPA omega-3s that come from marine animals. In this case, vegan women would need 3.1 grams per day and vegan men would need 3.6 grams.
The body can convert some ALA to DHA and EPA, but the rate is quite low. Vegans can compensate for this low conversion rate by eating extra foods with ALA or by taking an algae-based omega-3 supplement with both DHA and EPA.
If eating hemp seeds rather than chia seeds, vegans may need to include other ALA-rich foods throughout the day to meet their needs.
Here, hemp seeds have the advantage with 9.5 grams of plant-based protein in 3 tablespoons, compared to 5 grams in the same amount of chia seeds. That’s almost double! If you’re prioritizing protein intake to meet certain health or fitness goals, hemp seeds may be the better choice for you.
Hemp and chia seeds are both complete proteins, meaning that they contain all nine essential amino acids required by the body. We must get these amino acids from food since the body can’t produce them itself, making both of these seeds a valuable addition to any diet.
You probably already know how important fiber is for regular bowel movements and digestion, but did you also know about its role in managing blood sugar and supporting healthy immune function and cholesterol levels?
Unfortunately, most Americans don’t get enough fiber in their diets. Chia seeds are a great source of fiber, providing a whopping 11 grams per 3 tablespoon serving. That’s about 50% of the total recommended daily amount for women and 40% for men!
Hemp seeds provide significantly less fiber, only about 1 gram per 3 tablespoon serving. However, if you already get more than enough fiber in your diet from eating a variety of whole plant-based foods, this may not be much of an issue for you.
Vitamins & minerals
Hemp seeds are richer in certain minerals, with about twice the amount of magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, folate, and zinc compared to chia seeds.
Chia seeds, on the other hand, contain 10 times the amount of calcium. If you struggle to get enough calcium from foods or have osteoporosis, chia seeds could be a great addition to your diet.
Hemp seeds and chia seeds have the same amount of iron at 2.4 milligrams per 3 tablespoons, making them particularly valuable for women who have higher iron needs during menstruation, pregnancy, and lactation.
Hemp seeds vs. chia seeds for cooking
Hemp and chia seeds can be used in many of the same ways. They can be:
- Blended in smoothies
- Added on top of oatmeal, cereal, waffles, or non-dairy yogurt
- Baked in muffins, quick breads, and cookies
- Added to granola
Chia seeds absorb more water than hemp seeds and can be used in a variety of unique ways:
- As an egg replacement. This works the best for baking, in recipes that only call for 1-2 eggs. Simply mix 1 tbsp chia seeds and 2 tbsp hot water for each egg the recipe calls for and let sit until thickened. This also works well with ground flax seeds.
Due to their lighter, neutral color, hemp seeds can blend in seamlessly in many dishes where chia seeds would stand out and potentially even look off-putting due to their darker color. I personally dislike the look of chia seeds floating in a bowl of cereal – if you feel the same way, try using hemp seeds instead!
You can also use hemp seeds in these unexpected ways:
- Blending into creamy white soups and sauces
- Replacing up to a quarter of the amount of breadcrumbs in a recipe for meatless meatballs, baked pasta dishes, or air-fried tofu nuggets
- Mixing with nutritional yeast and a pinch of salt for a vegan parmesan alternative
- As a substitute for expensive pine nuts in homemade pesto
- Stir into cooked grains that are about the same size, like quinoa, millet, bulgur, or couscous.
According to Nuts.com, raw organic hemp seeds cost $16.99/lb and organic chia seeds cost $7.99/lb. Of course, prices will vary based on the brand and additional certifications the product may have, but chia seeds will usually be the more affordable of the two. Non-organic varieties are also cheaper most of the time.
Hemp seeds vs. chia seeds – which should you choose?
Both hemp and chia seeds are nutritious, versatile sources of healthy fats that can easily fit into a well-balanced diet. While you can add both of them to your grocery list to get the nutrition and health benefits of each, you may want to choose hemp seeds more often if you’re prioritizing your protein intake, are pregnant and trying to get more folate from foods, or want to inconspicuously add them to meals.
On the other hand, chia seeds are a better source of calcium, fiber, and omega-3 fats and can be made into an incredibly nutritious pudding for breakfast or dessert. When deciding which seed to choose, think about how you’d like to use them in your meals or snacks and what type of health benefits you’re looking for to make the best decision.
- Wysoczański, T., Wagner, J., Czyż, K., Bodkowski, R., & Lochyński, S. (2018). Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids and Their Potential Therapeutic Role in Cardiovascular System Disorders—A Review. Nutrients, 10(10), 1561. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu10101561
- Djuricic I, Calder PC. Beneficial Outcomes of Omega-6 and Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids on Human Health: An Update for 2021. Nutrients. 2021 Jul 15;13(7):2421. doi: 10.3390/nu13072421. PMID: 34371930; PMCID: PMC8308533.
- Jiang H, Wang L, Wang D, Yan N, Li C, Wu M, Wang F, Mi B, Chen F, Jia W, Liu X, Lv J, Liu Y, Lin J, Ma L. Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid biomarkers and risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and mortality. Clin Nutr. 2022 Aug;41(8):1798-1807. doi: 10.1016/j.clnu.2022.06.034. Epub 2022 Jun 30. PMID: 35830775.
- Jaca A, Durão S, Harbron J. Omega-3 fatty acids for the primary and secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease. S Afr Med J. 2020 Nov 27;110(12):1158-1159. doi: 10.7196/SAMJ.2020.v110i12.14730. PMID: 33403957.
- C S Bork, S K Venoe, A N Lasota, S Lundbye-Christensen, A Tjoenneland, K Overvad, E B Schmidt, P3425. Alpha-linolenic acid may lower the rate of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease in subjects with a low intake of marine n-3 fatty acids, European Heart Journal, Volume 40, Issue Supplement_1, October 2019, ehz745.0299, https://doi.org/10.1093/eurheartj/ehz745.0299
- National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Omega-3 Fatty Acids Health Sheet for Health Professionals. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Omega3FattyAcids-HealthProfessional/. Accessed May 15, 2023.
- Norris, J. Daily Needs. https://veganhealth.org/daily-needs/#Omega-3-Fats. Accessed May 15, 2023.