Chia vs Flax

photo from ThinkStock via Tri County Health Dept

photo from ThinkStock via Tri County Health Dept

In recent years, consumption of seeds has increased in the United States. This is likely due to increasing awareness of perceived health benefits and nutrient composition of these foods. Some popular seeds include sunflower, pumpkin, hemp, flax and chia. Due to the many similarities between chia and flax seeds including size, flavor and nutrient composition, one may wonder, “Which is better?”

Chia

Chia seeds come from the Salvia Hispanica plant, which is a member of the mint family. This seed originated in Central America and was an integral part of the Aztec diet. Salvia Columbariae or Golden Chia is another, similar, plant native to western North America and widely consumed by Pacific coast groups. These seeds are very small (slightly larger than a poppy seed) and are generally black to brown in color. Chia seeds tend to have a very mild nutty flavor although this is often unrecognizable due to the gelatinous texture the seed takes on once exposed to moisture. These seeds are unique in that they are easily absorbed in the whole seed form by the body without compromising nutrient availability. There are many recipes using chia seeds online, many of them focus on smoothie/pudding type applications.

Claims have surfaced in recent years regarding the consumption of chia seeds and their role in a variety of health related conditions including:

  • Weight loss/ improving body composition
  • Reducing risk of developing heart disease for those with diabetes
  • Improving exercise performance
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Itching
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke

Currently, there remains insufficient evidence to link the consumption of chia seeds to improvement of any of the above conditions.

Flax:

Flaxseed (also known as linseed or Linum usitatissimum L.) is the seed of the flax plant. Historically, the ancient Egyptians used this seed as a food source and for medicinal purposes. These seeds are light brown in color and slightly larger than a chia seed. Flax has a nutty flavor when consumed and expands when in contact with moisture similarly to a chia seed. Consuming flax seeds in ground form is easier for humans to digest and increases nutrient availability when compared to consumption of the whole seed. Recipes using flax seeds are also very similar to recipes using chia seeds.

There have also been many claims regarding the role of flaxseed in different health conditions. While many of these claims still have insufficient evidence to support or deny them, there have been studies that suggest flax does indeed have an impact on said health condition(s). Below is a list of these conditions and the possible impact consumption of flaxseed may have on them. See this Web MD article for more information.

Likely effective for:

  • Lowering cholesterol in those with high cholesterol

Possibly effective for:

  • Lowering average blood sugar levels in those with diabetes
  • Lowering total cholesterol in those with normal cholesterol levels

Possible ineffective for:

  • Improving bone density in women with osteoporosis

Insufficient evidence for:

  • Reducing incidence of constipation
  • Reducing high blood pressure
  • Improving symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome
  • Reduction of menopausal syndrome
  • Weight loss

Nutrient comparison: The table below is a direct nutrient comparison of flaxseed and chia seeds according to the USDA’s Food-A-Pedia.

Nutrient content
(Per 1 Tablespoon serving)
Flaxseed
Chia Seeds
Calories
48
69
Protein
2g
2g
Carbohydrate
3g
6g
Fiber
2g
5g
Fat
4g
4g
Unsaturated fat
4g
3g
α-Linolenic Acid (Omega-3)
2.1g
2.5g
Calcium
23mg
89mg

 

While both seeds have very similar nutrient profiles, I would note the differences in fiber and calcium content to be significant. Chia seeds are a great source of calcium, especially for those who avoid or limit dairy products. While flax seeds also contain a notable amount of calcium per 1 tablespoon serving, when comparing the two, chia seeds prevail. The same can be said for fiber content. Dietary Guidelines 2010 recommend daily fiber intake of 25 grams per day for women and 38 grams per day for men. Just one tablespoon of chia seeds contains 5 grams of fiber, or 20% the recommended daily intake for women and 13% the recommended daily intake for men. This is noteworthy as the US average daily intake of fiber according to NHANES is 16 grams per day, which is below the recommendation for both men and women making fiber a nutrient of interest. Lastly, both seeds contain a significant amount of Omega-3 fatty acids (well over 100% of the daily-recommended target per 1 tablespoon serving). Although both seeds are great sources of these fatty acids, chia seeds provide 0.4 grams more per 1 tablespoon serving. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids meaning that your body is unable to produce them. Research has linked consumption of these fatty acids to a reduction in the risk for development of diseases such as heart disease, cancer and arthritis.

Take Away Message

Almost anyone can easily incorporate chia and/or flax seeds into their diet. In my opinion, I believe chia seeds pack a nutritional punch superior to flax while also having superior nutrient availability in seed form. I also prefer the texture and flavor from chia better than flax. Whatever you choose, chia or flax, both seeds can be a great addition to your dietary routine.

Copyright: All content © 2010-2017 Nutrition Strategy Advisors LLC. Photographs © Donna P Feldman, unless otherwise attributed. Reproduction or use without permission is prohibited.