Most of us know that flax and chia seeds are both excellent plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids, but when it comes down to which one is better, do we really know the ins and outs of these seeds enough to pick a winner? With chia being the superstar of the seeds department these days, has flax taken an unnecessary back seat when it deserves a daily part in our nutritional plans, or is chia really the better option all the way around? If you’re on the fence about which one is better or you’re just not sure about how much of each one you should be eating each day, check out the comparison below:
Flax seeds actually come from the flax flower and can be grown virtually anywhere in North America today. It is said that they originated in Egypt where the Egyptians used them for both food and medicine, both as a nutritional aid and a digestive, skin, and mood remedy.
- Flax is the number one highest source of omega-3 fatty acids of all plant foods. Omega-3 fats are important to prevent inflammation, aid in optimal brain function, create a balanced mood, and keep our bodies in a proper balance of omega-3 to omega-6 fats. Omega-6 fats can lead to inflammation in excess and are largely found in oils such as corn and soybean oil.
- Flax is mostly comprised of ALA fats (alpha linolenic fats), which is a precursor fat to forming EPA and DHA, the types of omega 3’s found salmon and other cold water fish. Some people argue that flax isn’t a complete omega-3 source for this reason, but for the most part, flax deserves to be recognized for its omega-3 content, regardless of the form it contains. ALA fats are also beneficial for other reasons outside of forming EPA and DHA. They’re fantastic for your skin, brain, arteries, and preventing inflammation. Flax contains roughly 5 grams of fat in just two tablespoons, which equates to 4,790 milligrams of omega 3’s in two tablespoons compared to 4,000 milligrams in a 4-ounce wild salmon fillet.
- Flax also contains a nice mix of both soluble and insoluble fiber with 5 grams total in just two tablespoons of ground flax. Flax is also low in net carbohydrates which makes it a good alternative to grains for diabetics or those sensitive to starchier sources of fiber.
- One of the best nutritional benefits of flax is that they are a rich source of lignans. Lignans are a type of antioxidant known as phytochemicals. Lignans that have been linked to a reduction in menopause symptoms, along with removing cholesterol from the body, and enhancing the appearance of skin and hair.
Flax makes a perfect replacement for eggs in vegan recipes or breadcrumbs in low-carb baking. They can be sprinkled onto yogurt, smoothies, or used to thicken smoothies and oatmeal. Whole flax seeds can be used to make vegan crackers, muffins, non-dairy milk, pizza crust, or just used to treat regularity. Ground flax seeds are also a great replacement to use in place of a portion of the flour called for in a recipe to add both nutrition and a hearty texture.
Here are some of my favorite flax recipes:
- Raw Vegan and Carrot Flax Crackers (one of my favorites!)
- Raw Vegan Pizza With Red Pepper Flax Crust
- Flax Milk
- The World’s Healthiest Vegan Pumpkin Pie (as the egg replacer)
Need to Knows
- Flax seeds will go rancid (bad) when exposed to heat, light, or air. To play it safe, keep your seeds in the fridge in a somewhat dark container and use them within six months. I use a recycled cocoa container for mine and it works just great! You can also keep them in the freezer if you grind your own seeds, which is easy enough to do in a coffee grinder, and it ensures they’re as fresh as possible when you use them. Just be sure they’re well sealed so they don’t freezer burn.
- You can buy flax seeds whole or pre-ground, but remember, the fresher the grind, the fresher the seeds will be. You’ll need to consume flax in ground form to get the nutritional benefits, so if you buy them whole either grind them yourself or add them to your blender before making a smoothie to ensure they’re broken down properly.
- Always look for cold-milled flax seeds when buying ground flax. If you buy the whole seeds, always buy the raw form. This ensures they were never heated and haven’t gone rancid by the time you purchase them.
- It’s perfectly fine to consume whole flax seeds but they go completely undigested by your body and are eliminated without being absorbed. Some people use them for this purpose to treat irregularity, in bread recipes, or when they’re craving flax crackers.
Flax seeds are slighly nutty in whole form and a bit sweeter and fluffier once ground. Brown flax seeds taste more hearty, while golden flax seeds taste lighter in texture (and are usually the best tasting in my opinion). Both brown and golden flax seeds are identical in nutrition though, so don’t worry about which one is better — they’re both great!
Chia seeds also originate from a flowering plant and are home to Peru originally, though now they’re grown in various parts of the world. A relative of the mint family, the chia plant is one of the most prized plants among the Aztec culture. Chia has been used as a staple crop throughout history to promote energy, strength, satiety, and a healthy mood, just to name a handful of benefits this mighty seed holds.
Though most of us typically use chia to make chia pudding or to thicken oatmeal, you can actually do almost anything you want with chia seeds. They make an excellent egg replacement in vegan recipes due to their special binding properties. Since they are also a rich source of mucilage fibers, they help to hold water in the body and make an easy addition to water for a hydrating sports drink. You can also use chia seeds anytime you want a little bit of crunch and extra nutrition. From energy bars to thickening smoothies, the uses for chia are virtually limitless.
Here are a few of my favorite chia recipes:
- Super Healthy Vegan Berry Fruit Tarts with Chia Seeds
- Raw Hemp Chia Seed Bars
- Chia Caramel Vegan Vegan Pie
- Chocolate Chia Breakfast Pudding
- To keep things as simple as possible, there’s almost no reason not to eat chia seeds, if any at all. Chia seeds contain 5,000 milligrams of omega-3 fats in just one ounce, which is about three tablespoons. You’d have to eat roughly 6 ounces of salmon just to get the same amounts of omega 3’s. Compared to flax, chia is nearly identical in its omega-3 content, with just a bit less per serving.
- One ounce of chia seeds has 11 grams of fiber, which makes it an excellent replacement for grains for diabetics or those looking to lower their starch content. The fiber in chia is largely soluble fiber, which means it helps bind with cholesterol, evacuating it out of the body. Soluble fiber is also a better type of fiber to consume if you have IBS since it absorbs water and is excreted more slowly during digestion than insoluble fibers are.
- Unlike flax seeds, chia seeds make an excellent source of calcium, whether you’re vegan or not. One serving of chia seeds contain roughly 20 percent of your daily calcium needs. Calcium helps strengthen your bones, cartilage, and keeps stress at bay by lowering cortisol in the body.
- Chia is also a great source of magnesium, phosphorus, and manganese, which are all critical nutrients for overall health. Magnesium is one of the most well-studied minerals for reducing stress, aiding digestion, alleviating insomnia, reducing high blood pressure, treating PMS, and reducing migraines. It can also enhance your energy and mood to name a couple other benefits. Phosphorus keeps your bones strong and aids in regularity and metabolism. Manganese is important for a healthy nervous system, strong bones, and a healthy metabolism.
- Just like flax, you should grind chia prior to using it in order to maximize your omega-3 intake.
- Lastly, chia seeds are a wonderful source of B vitamins and protein. They contain 5 grams of complete protein in just two tablespoons, making them a nearly complete package of nutrients for vegans.
Need to Knows
- Chia seeds can be eaten whole or ground and you’ll still get all the health benefits, unlike flax that must be ground before the nutrients are released. Whole or ground, chia seeds make a perfect thickener in recipes and an easy way to add nutrition. Personally, I like to use ground chia seeds as a replacement for flour in grain-free baking and as a general binding agent. Ground chia also thickens up a smoothie really nicely without altering the taste.
- Whole chia seeds can be added to salads, salad dressings, dips, oatmeal, sprinkled on top of smoothies, or blended in smoothies. You can add them to energy bars, vegan crusts, or simply make chia pudding.
- Chia seeds are also known as salba seeds, so if you see chia labeled as such at the store, don’t fear you’re getting a different type of seed. Salba seeds are thought to be a more prized form of chia, though all chia seeds are excellent.
- Chia seeds come in both black and white varieties. There is no nutritional difference between the two colors, but the white seeds often cost a little more since more people prefer them for culinary uses.
Unlike flax that has a nice nutty taste, chia seeds are virtually tasteless. This is great if you’re just looking to add nutrition to your meals or just need a thickening agent. However, if you want a dose of flavor, chia’s not the seed to turn to.
So…which is better: chia or flax?
Both chia and flax should be a part of every vegan’s diet. For a more rounded dose of nutrients, go with chia, but don’t ignore flax either. As you can see, they each have benefits and uses that make them necessary and helpful whether you’re a vegan or an omnivore.
Now, you tell us — how do you use chia and flax?
Image source: Sanjay Acharya/Wikimedia Commons