Chia seeds versus flax seeds: What’s the big difference?


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The F word gets throw around a lot in the wellness world. (That would be fiber. Why, what were you thinking?) A run-down of some of what it does for you: helps boost gut health, lowers inflammation, supports heart health, and even speeds up metabolism.

Fruits and veggies are great primary ways to get your fill, but one easy way to up your intake: Pour on the seeds (chia and flax seeds, that is).

Besides being a great source of fiber, chia and flax are nutritional powerhouses in their own right. So what exactly is the difference between chia and flax? 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. Flax seeds are most often found ground (although you can buy ground chia too if you don’t want the seed texture) and have more of a nutty flavor.

Chia vs Flax Seeds
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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 3500 BC in fact, when they were considered food of the gods. Like chia, flax goes back to ancient times and has been used forever in food and for medicinal uses.  When it comes to their nutrient breakdown, they have some similarities and differences. Here’s the 411 on what you need to know about the nutrition in flax versus chia seeds:

Nutrition breakdown

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)
Chia vs Flax Seeds
Photo: Stocksy/Magida El=Kassis

Flax seeds (2 tablespoons)

  • 78 calories
  • 4.2 grams fiber
  • 6.3 grams fat
  • Minerals including calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc, and folate
  • 2.76 grams protein

Health benefits

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.

Flax seeds 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 flax seeds come mainly from nutrients called phenolic compounds.

Flax seeds 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.)

How to eat and prepare chia seeds and flax seeds

You’ll most likely find recipes that call for ground flax seeds 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 flax seeds. 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 in 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
Photo: Be Well by Kelly

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.

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.

 

Norma Kamali shares her recipe for nut and seed bread.
Photo: Instagram/@normakamali

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.

3. Raw Flax seed 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.

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?

Originally posted October 3, 2018. Updated June 26, 2019.

For more fiber-rich goodness, Antoni from Queer Eye wants you to try this fiber-rich grain. And these chia pudding recipes are (almost) too pretty to eat.

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