Chia versus flax….that is the question. Okay, maybe it’s not THE question but perhaps you’ve thought about it at some point. Have you ever wondered what’s the difference between flax seeds and chia seeds? Is one nutritionally better than the other? Should you be including these seeds in your diet on a daily basis? Let’s do some comparison shopping and see what we come up with.
Judging by their name, we definitely know these little guys are seeds but did you know that they come from a flower? That’s right….flax seeds come from a flax flower and chia seeds come from a flowering plant! Who knew??
Both seeds have been used as medicine for thousands of years. The history of the flax seed dates back to the Egyptians where it was used as an aid for digestion (hello fiber) and a remedy for skin and mood disorders. Chia seeds are originally from Peru and they are one of the most prized plants in the Aztec culture. They were used to promote energy and strength. In fact, the Tarahumara Indians ate only chia seeds while running hundreds of miles!
Chia and flax seeds are one of the highest sources of omega-3 fats of all plant foods. Both contain roughly 5000 mg. of omega-3’s in about 2-3 tablespoons. Some argue that the ratio of omega-3’s is predominately ALA and therefore may not be considered a complete omega-3 source. EPA and DHA, which are found in salmon and cold water fish, are the other omega-3’s. Complete or not, ALA is no slouch when it comes to health benefits. It’s great for your skin, brain, arteries and also helps in preventing inflammation.
Both seeds contain quite a bit of fiber which we can all use more of. Flax is a combination of soluble and insoluble fiber whereas chia is mostly soluble. Chia seeds actually have 11 grams of fiber in one ounce! Soluble fiber absorbs water and is excreted more slowly than insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber helps bind to cholesterol and eliminate it from the body. If you happen to struggle with IBS, soluble fiber is the better type of fiber to consume.
Chia seeds are a great source of calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and manganese. Flax seeds claim to fame is that they are a rich source of lignans which is a type of plant compound known as a polyphenol. Lignans have an anti-estrogenic effect which means they can block the effects of estrogen in some tissues. As a result, they have the potential to reduce the risk of some hormone related cancers. Studies have shown that women who have the highest intake of lignans have the lowest risk of breast cancer. Good to know, right?
As far as protein, both seeds have about the same amount – approximately 5 grams per ounce. The one difference is that chia seeds are a complete protein meaning they contain all of the essential amino acids. So with that in mind, you get a little more bang for your buck with chia.
Flax seeds can go rancid when exposed to light, heat or the air. Because of this it is best to refrigerate the seeds and use them within six months. When buying flax seeds, try to purchase them from a store that keeps them in the refrigerated section. Natural Grocers refrigerates all of their nuts and seeds. Just another reason why I love this grocery store!
Something you may not know about flax seeds is that they need to be ground in order for the nutrients to be properly absorbed. Rather than buying ground flax, it’s best to buy raw, whole flax seeds and grind them in a coffee grinder as needed. That way they are super fresh. If you designate a coffee grinder just for your seeds, you won’t have to worry about cleaning it in between uses. Just a thought 😉
Flax seeds can be either brown or golden. Golden flax seeds are lighter in texture and they taste a little sweeter when they are ground. Both are identical in nutrition so you cannot go wrong with either one. I actually prefer the golden ones.
Unlike flax seeds, chia can be eaten whole or ground. Chia seeds come in both white and black varieties. There is no difference in nutrition between the two. Chia seeds are also known as salba seeds so you may see that on some packages. I’ve noticed that if it says “salba” on the label, they tend to be more expensive. As long as the seeds are organic and non-GMO, you would be fine to go with the brand that is less expensive.
Both seeds are super versatile as far as how to use them. You can add them to smoothies, dips, oatmeal, or yogurt. Ground flax and chia can be used as a flour replacement in baked goods. They both make a great replacement for eggs in most recipes. Yep….you heard that right……1 tablespoon of ground flax or chia mixed with 3 tablespoons of water equals one egg. I am sensitive to eggs and don’t eat them so I use flax eggs all the time for my muffins, pizza crusts and pancakes. I did get a little crazy the other day and made my pancakes with whole chia seeds instead of ground flax. The batter was not as smooth as when I use ground flax and, because chia absorbs water like a sponge, I had to add a lot more liquid. But I have to say, I loved the crunchy texture the chia seeds added to the pancakes. It just might be my new favorite pancake recipe!
One thing that is kind of fun to do with chia seeds is make a chia pudding. It is a delicious way to get the benefits of chia and it takes just a few minutes to pull together. For my recipe I blend 2 cups coconut milk with 1/2 tsp. vanilla and a 1/4 tsp. cinnamon. I put the mixture in a mason jar and then add 1/2 cup chia seeds. I use whole chia seeds because I like the texture but if you prefer a smooth pudding, just blend all the ingredients together. Let the pudding sit for at least an hour. Be sure to stir it several times during that first hour to help make the pudding super creamy. The sky is the limit when it comes to toppings. I like to top mine with pecans for some sweetness and cacao nibs for a little energy boost!
If you are looking for some snacks that you don’t have to make, there are some pretty tasty crackers made with sprouted flax and chia seeds. When seeds are soaked and sprouted, they release their nutrition and protein content which then makes it easier for our bodies to absorb all of that goodness. Pictured below are a couple of my favorites.
As you can see, these small seeds are pretty amazing. They both pack a powerful nutrition punch and they are pretty easy to incorporate into your diet. Since they have similar benefits you might still be thinking “which one do I choose?” I say go crazy and stock up on both! You never know when you just might want to add some chia seeds to your pancakes….just saying!!
Have a great day!