Chia Seeds Versus Flaxseeds: What’s the Big Difference?
Besides being a great source of fiber, chia and flax are nutritional powerhouses in their own right. But what is the difference between chia seeds and flax seeds? For starters, chia looks like small seeds (yes, exactly like the ones you used to grow your chia pet) and have a distinct mild yet earthy taste. Flaxseeds are most often ground (although you can buy ground chia too if you don't want the seed texture) and have more of a nutty flavor.
The whole chia pudding trend has made chia a lot more popular the last five years, but they've actually been around for a long time—since 3,500 B.C., when they were considered food of the gods. And like chia, flax goes back to ancient times and has been used forever in food and for medicinal uses.
"Chia seeds are derived from a flowering plant in the mint family found in Mexico and the southwestern United States," says Whitney English Tabaie, RDN, author of The Plant-Based Baby and Toddler. "Historic evidence traces chia seeds back to the Aztecs who considered it a priority crop along with corn and beans. Flax, or linseed, comes from a cultivated plant that was domesticated in the Middle East and dates back to the Paleolithic area. It was used extensively in ancient Egypt."
When it comes to their respective nutrient breakdowns, the two seed types have similarities and differences. Here's the 411 on what you need to know about the nutrition in flax versus chia seeds:
Chia seeds (2 tablespoons)
- 140 calories
- 11 grams of fiber
- 7 grams of unsaturated fat
- 18% of the recommended daily value for calcium
- Trace minerals including zinc, copper, magnesium, and potassium
- Omega 3s
- 4.4 grams of protein (chia seeds are considered a complete protein since they contain all 9 essential amino acids)
Flaxseeds (2 tablespoons)
- 78 calories
- 4.2 grams fiber
- 6.3 grams fat
- Minerals including calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc, and folate
- 2.76 grams protein
Since chia seeds have such a high amount of good-for-you omega 3 fatty acids, fiber, minerals, and are a complete protein source, they're considered a superfood by many experts. In fact, they're er, super good for your heart.
Flaxseeds have their own set of good-for-you benefits too: they can help with managing blood pressure, cholesterol, and even play a role in cancer prevention. The antioxidant benefits in flaxseeds come mainly from nutrients called phenolic compounds.
Flaxseeds can also help rid your body of estrogen. Too much estrogen is linked to not-so-fun menstrual and PMS symptoms according to Alisa Vitti. (To take your seed and menstrual cycle connection knowledge to the next level check out this guide to seed cycling to help balance your hormones.)
Chia seeds versus flax seeds: a head-to-head comparison
English notes that while both chia and flax seeds are awesome sources of fiber, chia provides about double that of flaxseeds. "They are both amazing sources of the omega-3 fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), with flaxseeds providing about 1.6 grams per tablespoon and chia seeds providing 1.8 grams," she says.
Chia seeds also beat flaxseeds out in terms of their protein content, though the margins are slimmer. "Chia seeds are slightly higher in protein with about 1.7 grams of protein per tablespoon, while flax seeds contain about 1.3 grams per tablespoon," English says. The former are also a better source of iron, with about 1.6 mg per tablespoon. "Pair chia seeds with a good source of vitamin C, like strawberries or citrus, to maximize absorption of non-heme iron," English advises.
Finally, chia seeds also come out on top as a better source of calcium, providing about 63 mg per tablespoon. "A chia pudding made with 1/4 cup of chia seeds would provide almost 1/4 of your daily calcium needs," says English.
How to eat and prepare chia seeds and flax seeds
You'll most likely find recipes that call for ground flaxseeds since the ground form is easier to digest than the whole seed. But chia seeds, on the other hand, are actually easier to digest in their whole form than flaxseeds. Below you'll find helpful tips and recipes for incorporating these superfood seeds into your diet (and check out this recipe that uses a chia and flax combo for a Paleo "oatmeal").
How to eat and prepare chia seed
- Add to oatmeal, cereal, smoothies, or top yogurt or salads with a sprinkle of chia seeds
- Bake into baked goods like zucchini bread, muffins, and desserts
- Make a "chia gel" that you can use in smoothies or as a vegan egg replacement in recipes
- Make chia pudding for a healthy breakfast, dessert, or snack
How to eat and prepare flax seed
- Mix into oatmeal, cereal, smoothies, and yogurt
- Bake into muffins, bread, and pancakes
- Blend into smoothies
- Make a flax "egg" replacement and use as a vegan egg substitute in recipes
Recipes with chia seeds
This recipe for chia pudding puts an energy-boosting twist on the classic breakfast with matcha green tea powder. To make it, you mix the chia seeds with nut milk and the matcha powder, and let sit for several hours or overnight. When it's ready you can add a sweetener like maple syrup, and add toppings like cashews, shredded coconut, or fruit.
2. Chocolate Chip Cashew Cookie Dough Protein Bites
These chocolate chip cookie dough bites may look (and sound) like a dessert, but they make a great snack or breakfast on the go thanks to all the protein from the chia seeds, cashews, and protein powder. Add 'em to your weekly meal prep lineup and you'll always have a tasty, healthy snack or dessert on-hand.
3. Seeded Lemon-Blueberry Banana Bread
It seems like we're constantly trying to figure out what to do with those over-ripe bananas (should I freeze them for "nice" cream? Smoothies?). One yummy decision would be to whip up this healthy loaf, which could make a great breakfast, or anytime snack.
4. Healthy Pear Ginger Smoothie
Switch up your smoothie game with this pear ginger recipe that includes chia seeds for added-nutrient boost.
Mango is as healthy as it is delicious. It contains 50 percent of the recommended daily intake of Vitamin C and has 2 grams of fiber. While this recipe by English was designed for kids, it's no less yummy or healthful for adults.
Recipes with flax seeds
1. Norma Kamali's "Cleanse" Bread
If you want to reset but don't want to give up avocado toast, this "cleanse" bread is a great gluten-free bread substitute. Norma Kamali's recipe is full of good-for-you nuts and seeds, and a healthy dose of flax to help you get in some extra fiber and omega 3s. Kamali even says she makes multiple loaves at a time and freezes them for later.
2. One Bowl Vegan Chocolate Zucchini Banana Bread
Pro tip: Adding zucchini to your bread recipe makes it extra moist. And when you add flax and chocolate chips, it's as sweet as it is nutrient-dense.
The nutty, crunchy flavor of flax seeds makes them the perfect addition to a salty, savory snack. Pair these with your favorite hummus, dip, or avocado slices for a savory snack filled with super-satisfying fiber.
4. Keto Flaxseed Cinnamon Bun Muffins
Keto and cinnamon buns aren't usually used in the same sentence, but thanks to Leanne Vogel from the Healthful Pursuit, keto cinnamon buns are a reality—at least in a muffin form. These muffins are made without any gluten or grains, making them a perfect treat for when the cinnamon bun craving strikes, or if you're looking to serve up a healthier take on the brunch classic.
Whether you decide to try flax or chia seed (or both) these small seeds pack a powerful nutrition punch. There's an entire world out there beyond chia pudding, so this is the perfect excuse to break out the fall baking ingredients and get to work. Flax pumpkin spice muffins, anyone?
This black bean brownie recipe is a delicious way to use flaxseeds:
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