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. But aside from these distinctions there's a lot to know about flax seeds vs. chia seeds. Ahead we delve into their differences and similarities.
- Whitney English, MS, RDN, plant-based registered dietitian nutritionist and NASM-certified personal trainer
A little history about these small but mighty seeds
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 in food and for medicinal uses for many centuries.
"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 flaxseeds vs. chia seeds.
Flaxseeds vs. chia seeds nutritional comparison
Chia seeds (2 tablespoons)
- 140 calories
- 11 grams of fiber
- 7 grams of unsaturated fat
- 18 percent of the recommended daily value for calcium
- Trace minerals including zinc, copper, magnesium, and potassium
- Omega-3s fatty acids
- 4.4 grams of protein (chia seeds are considered a complete protein since they contain all nine 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
Which is healthier, chia or flaxseeds?
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 slightly more nutrient-dense by many experts.
But flaxseeds are packed with heart-healthy nutrients, too, and have their own set of good-for-you benefits. For starters, they can help with managing blood pressure, cholesterol, and even play a role in cancer prevention. Plus, flaxseeds contain potent antioxidant benefits, primarily thanks to nutrients called phenolic compounds found in the seeds.
What are the pros and cons of chia seeds and flaxseeds?
English notes that while both chia and flax seeds are awesome sources of fiber, chia provides about double that of flaxseeds. "They are both great 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. That said, keep in mind that consuming too much fiber from chia seeds can cause GI-related distress.
Chia seeds also beat flaxseeds out in terms of their protein content, though the margins are much 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 milligrams per tablespoon. That said, it's important to eat iron-rich foods with the appropriate foods to reap the most health flaxseeds and chia seed benefits."Pair chia seeds with a good source of vitamin C, like strawberries or citrus, to maximize absorption of non-heme iron," English says.
Finally, chia seeds also come out on top as a better source of calcium, providing about 63 milligrams per tablespoon. "A chia pudding made with a quarter cup of chia seeds would provide almost a quarter of your daily calcium needs," English says.
How to eat and prepare chia seeds and flaxseeds
Wondering how to use flaxseeds and chia seeds? We've got you covered.
- Add a sprinkle of chia seeds to oatmeal, cereal, smoothies, or top yogurt or salads
- Bake chia seeds into baked goods like zucchini bread, muffins, and desserts
- Toss together raw chia seed bars, using dried fruit as a base
- Make chia pudding for a healthy breakfast, dessert, or snack
- Mix flaxseeds into oatmeal, cereal, smoothies, and yogurt
- Bake it into muffins, bread, and pancakes
- Blend it into smoothies
- Make a flax "egg" replacement and use as a vegan egg substitute in recipes
Recipes with chia seeds
1. Matcha Chia Pudding
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.
Get the recipe: Matcha Chia Pudding
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.
Get the recipe: Chocolate Chip Cashew Cookie Dough Protein Bites
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 or make smoothies?). One yummy decision would be to whip up this healthy loaf, which could make a great breakfast, or anytime snack.
Get the recipe: Seeded Lemon-Blueberry Banana Bread
4. Healthy Pear Ginger Smoothie
Switch up your smoothie game with this pear ginger recipe that includes chia seeds for added-nutrient boost. Plus, promotes healthy digestion thanks to ingredients like ginger.
Get the recipe: Healthy Pear Ginger Smoothie
Mango is as healthy as it is delicious. It contains 50 percent of the recommended daily intake of Vitamin C and has two grams of fiber. While this recipe by English was designed for kids, it's no less yummy or healthful for adults.
Get the recipe: Mango Chia Pudding
Recipes with flaxseeds
1. Norma Kamali's "Cleanse" Bread
If you want to reset but don't want to give up avocado toast, this hearty 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.
Get the recipe: Norma Kamali's Hearty Bread
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. A win-win.
Get the recipe: One Bowl Vegan Chocolate Zucchini Banana Bread
3. Raw Flaxseed Crackers
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.
Get the recipe: Raw Flaxseed Crackers
4. Flaxseed Cinnamon Bun Muffins
Cinnamon buns and flaxseeds aren't usually used in the same sentence, but thanks to Leanne Vogel from the Healthful Pursuit, these flaxseed cinnamon buns are hearty and healthy. These muffins are made without any gluten or grains, making them a perfect treat for all types of cinnamon bun lovers, or if you're looking to serve up a healthier take on the brunch classic.
TL;DR? 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?
Get the recipe: Flaxseed Cinnamon Bun Muffins
This black bean brownie recipe is a delicious way to use flaxseeds:
- Kajla, Priyanka et al. “Flaxseed-a potential functional food source.” Journal of food science and technology vol. 52,4 (2015): 1857-71. doi:10.1007/s13197-014-1293-y
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