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Flax vs. Chia: Which Is Best for You?

Filed Under: Health Foods,Nutrition,Superfoods at 4:00 pm | By: Helen Anne Travis

If you’re looking for an easy way to support your cardiovascular health and help reduce inflammation, consider adding more flaxseed and chia seeds to your diet. These superfoods are stellar sources of heart- and brain-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.

“You know, the ‘good’ fats,” says Jane Ujoatu, a registered dietitian at Encore Nutrition and Public Health Consulting in Richmond, Texas.

But while chia seeds and flaxseed are great, they’re not exactly created equal. Which one is best for your needs? Read on to learn more about these superfoods and how to incorporate them into your diet.

Chia Seeds: Fiber for Days

While many people associate these tiny superfoods with the Chia Pet craze of the 1980s, chia seeds have been around since the time of the Aztecs, Ujoatu says.

In addition to packing in 5.1 grams of omega-3s per 2-tablespoon serving, chia seeds are also a good source of protein and calcium, she says.

If you’re looking to up your fiber consumption (and really, who isn’t?), chia seeds also offer 10 grams of fiber, almost half the daily recommended amount. A diet high in fiber has been shown to help reduce bad cholesterol and keep you feeling fuller longer, which can help with weight management, Ujoatu says. (Flaxseed, by comparison, only offers 4 grams of fiber.)

Careful though. If you’re looking for constipation relief, taking the chia without enough water can make you feel even more backed up, Ujoatu says.

When it comes to taste, “it’s like tofu; it absorbs the flavors of the ingredients around it,” Ujoatu describes.

Flaxseed: More Omega-3s, Less Fat

Flaxseed first showed up on the menus of ancient Egypt. “They didn’t have the science we have today, but they knew it had nutritional value,” Ujoatu says.

Flax is the No. 1 highest source of omega-3 fatty acids of all plant foods, slightly edging out chia. Flaxseed is also a rich source of a phytochemical called lignans, Ujoatu says. Preliminary studies show lignans may help prevent breast and prostate cancers, reduce the risk of heart disease and help with diabetes management.

Flaxseed is also less caloric. A 2-tablespoon serving of ground flaxseed contains about 74 calories, compared to 139 calories for the same amount of chia. Ground flaxseed also has less fat, about 5 grams compared to 9 grams for chia, Ujoatu says.

Many say flaxseed has a slightly nutty, earthy taste.

How to Incorporate Chia Seeds and Flaxseed in Your Diet

To optimize the health benefits, you want to grind down the flaxseed before adding it to your recipes. It makes it easier for your body to absorb and digest the seeds’ nutrients, Ujoatu says.

You can buy the flaxseed pre-ground, but make sure to keep it in a tightly sealed bag in your fridge or freezer so it doesn’t oxidize, she says.

Flaxseed is also available in oil form, but before you go out and buy 10 gallons, know that the oil may not contain all those beneficial phytochemicals. “It’s good to have a balance of the oil and the actual flaxseed itself to get the full benefits,” Ujoatu says.

As for chia, it’s a little less complicated, Ujoatu says. You can enjoy them whole.

Ujoatu starts every day with a smoothie made of fruit, milk, cucumber, and flaxseed and chia seeds. She also recommends clients incorporate flaxseed and chia seeds into their diet in the following ways:

  • Baking: Add a half cup of ground flaxseed or chia seeds to your batter to up the fiber and omega-3 content.
  • Salads: Whole chia seeds add a nice crunch.
  • Soups: Mix ground flaxseed or whole chia seeds into your vegetarian or meat-based chili.

So Which Is Better, Chia or Flax?

The best answer? Both.

To get the most out of each seed, Ujoatu recommends incorporating both into your diet. This way you get the fiber, protein and minerals from the chia as well as the phytochemicals from the flax.

“I wouldn’t say one is better than the other,” she says. “Balance is what I preach about.”

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