Chia Seeds Vs. Flax Seeds: What’s the Difference?

Chia Seeds Vs. Flax Seeds: What's the Difference?

We hear a lot about the benefits of eating seeds. But when it comes to the goodness of chia seeds vs. flax seeds, do you know the differences? I’m learning, and here’s what I’ve discovered.

What The Heck Are Chia And Flax Seeds?

Chia Seeds

More than just a festive way to grow hair on a terracotta animal, chia is an annual herb cultivated for its seeds, which are very small, dark, and highly nutritious. Native to Mexico and South America, evidence shows that chia was grown as far back as Pre-Columbian times by the Aztecs.

The chia plant can grow to almost 6 feet tall and presents purple or white flowers in clusters. And apparently, you can grow your own here in the U.S. (Farming challenge accepted!) If you dry the flowers, you can harvest the seeds inside. You can also use the leaves to steep a warm, relaxing tea.

Flax Seeds

Larger than chia seeds, flax seeds come from a crop cultivated not only for food, but also for fiber. In fact, spun, dyed, knotted flax fibers have been dated as far back as 30,000 years ago! Flax was cultivated in ancient Egypt where its fibers entombed mummies and dressed Egyptian priests. And we use it today to make linen for our crispy sheets, tablecloths, and fashionable outfits.

As with chia plants, you can apparently grow your own flax and harvest the seeds from its dried flowers. There are two basic varieties of flax seeds — brown and yellow or golden. You can eat both, but you’ll find the golden flax seeds to be the most common in markets. We also cultivate flax for its oil — known as both “flaxseed oil” and “linseed oil” — which is considered to be a healthy, edible oil.

Chia Seeds Vs. Flax Seeds: Why You Should Eat Them Both

Chia and flax seeds are considered “superfoods,” because they are both very high in omega-3 fatty acids, the “good” fats that come with a wealth of health benefits. They improve heart health, regulate triglycerides, and may provide relief to those with conditions including inflammatory diseases, rheumatoid arthritis, ADHD, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Nutritionally, both are rock stars — and they’re neck and neck when it comes to comparing health benefits. A one-ounce serving (about 2 tablespoons) of each contains a healthy dose of the recommended daily amount (RDA) of fiber, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and the antioxidant selenium.

Bottom line, both are wholesome choices. They’re also easy to integrate into your diet. Keep reading to learn more.

Chia Seeds Vs. Flax Seeds: How They Differ

I found a helpful infographic from Prevention Magazine which compares chia seeds vs. flax seeds across a number of nutritional categories. They’re really close! Here’s what I’ve learned (based on a 2-tablespoon serving):

  • Flax seeds have a few more calories and a bit less fat than chia seeds.
  • Protein content is close, but flax seeds have fewer carbs than chia seeds.
  • Chia seeds have 25% more fiber and phosphorus and more than double the calcium of flax seeds.
  • Flax seeds have 15% of the RDA of brain-boosting vitamin B1 versus 6% in chia seeds.

A few additional distinctions:

  • While chia seeds can be eaten whole with all the nutritional benefits intact, you must grind flax seeds to get all the good stuff held within.
  • Chia seeds are virtually tasteless, while flax seeds boast a nutty flavor.
  • When you mix chia seeds with liquids, they become gelatinous — which sounds unpleasant, but I promise you it’s not! Flax seeds don’t work the same way. In certain uses, that textural difference matters.

Oh, And On The Topic Of Egg Substitutes…

Chia and flax seeds can both be used as egg substitutes for those on a vegan diet. Disclaimer: I’m not vegan and haven’t tried this technique yet, but many online resources and my vegan friends have used chia and flax seeds to replace eggs in a variety of recipes. I found an article from Better Nutrition which provides the following egg-substitute techniques:

  • Chia seeds: Soak 1 tablespoon of chia seeds in 3 tablespoons of water for 5 minutes until the mixture has the texture of a raw egg.
  • Flax seeds: Mix 1 tablespoon of ground flax seeds with 3 tablespoons of hot water and let stand for 5 minutes until it has an egg-like consistency. Alternatively, blend whole flax seeds to a fine meal, add warm water, and blend again.

Where To Find Chia And Flax Seeds

Chia and flax seeds are marketed as both health supplements (near the vitamins) and as cooking ingredients (commonly in the baking aisle). Look for the seeds packaged as cooking ingredients — they are much less expensive. These days, many grocery stores have both varieties of seeds. My Tom Thumb (owned by Safeway) has them in small bags near the flours and other baking ingredients. In stores that sell from bulk bins — like Whole Foods and Sprouts — you will almost surely find them.

And if those options don’t work for you, go online. Bob’s Red Mill sells chia seeds and brown and golden flax seeds in organic and non-organic varieties. It also sells flaxseed meal if you’re not in the mood to grind your own. Amazon carries a number of options, including some from Bob’s Red Mill.

5 Simple Ways To Work Them Into Your Diet

Here are just a few everyday techniques you can use to up your intake of chia and flax seeds. Don’t forget to grind the flax seeds for maximum health benefits!

  1. Toss a spoonful of whole chia or ground flax seeds into your morning smoothie or bowl of oatmeal.
  2. Add them to your homemade granola or granola bars. (Here’s the super simple, delicious, recipe I use.)
  3. Add whole chia or ground flax seeds to breads and muffins for texture and nutrition.
  4. Make a chia seed pudding. This can be as simple as soaking seeds in milk or nut milk for a couple of hours or overnight. Add a drizzle of honey, and it makes a great breakfast. Or chocolate it up for a tasty dessert.
  5. Toast either seed over medium-high heat until dark and toss on top of soups and salads for a nice crunch and a boost of nutrition.

Bottom line, when it comes to chia seeds vs. flax seeds, why limit yourself to just one? Both are nutritious, delicious, easy-to-find, and waiting for you to give them a try.

How do you use chia and/or flax seeds? Let us know!

Image Credit: Chia Seeds and Flax Seeds via Shutterstock

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