Chia seeds and flaxseeds pack a healthy punch

Chia Seeds vs. Flaxseeds: Which One Is Better? (+ Noatmeal Recipe)

By: Mia Syn, MS, RDN

Chia seeds and flaxseeds may be small in size, but they both pack their own unique nutritional punch. What's more, both seeds are incredibly versatile and can be used in a range of both sweet and savory recipes—including "noatmeal," an oatmeal-like breakfast made with a base of seeds instead of oats.

But is one of these seeds healthier than the other? Here's what you need to know about chia and flaxseeds and the best way to reap their health benefits.

What are chia seeds?

Chia seeds are small, flat, oval-shaped black seeds that come from the chia plant (Salvia hispanica), which is native to Mexico. According to the USDA, a one-ounce serving of chia seeds provides 138 calories, 12 grams of carbohydrates, 5 grams of protein, 9 grams of fat, 10 grams of fiber, and important nutrients including calcium, zinc and copper.

Chia seeds are unusual in the plant world. Unlike most plant-based foods, chia seeds are a source of complete protein, meaning they contain all nine essential amino acids. This makes them a good source of protein for those who don't eat animal products.

Chia seeds are also a significant source of healthy fats. Their fat content is about 60% omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) and 20% omega-6 fatty acids, which support energy, cellular function, heart and brain health, and more.

The fiber in chia seeds is mainly soluble fiber, which may help support LDL cholesterol levels and support heart health. That fiber also helps slow digestion, which can help support already-healthy blood sugar levels, promote feelings of fullness and support healthy weight management.

You might have seen chia seeds used in recipes. One reason why is because chia seeds can absorb up to 10 times their weight in liquid to create a gel-like consistency. This allows them to work well in puddings or to thicken smoothies and soups.

What are flaxseeds?

Flax, or Linum usitatissimum, is a flowering plant native to West Asia and Mediterranean coastal lands. Like chia seeds, flaxseeds are nutrient-dense, naturally gluten-free, protein-rich and a good source of healthy fats, including heart-healthy α-Linolenic omega-3s. A 1-ounce serving of whole flaxseeds provides 149 calories, 8 grams of carbohydrates, 5 grams of protein, 12 grams of fat, 8 grams of fiber, and other important nutrients, including calcium, magnesium and iron.

Flax has a nutty flavor and is sold as flaxseed oil, whole seeds, and ground or milled flaxseeds. Whole flaxseeds pass through the digestive tract intact because the outer shell of the seed contains insoluble fiber that does not dissolve in water. That means you are not likely to reap the nutritional benefits of whole flaxseeds as you would with ground flaxseeds. Ground flaxseeds can be added to a variety of sweet and savory meals and can even be used as a vegan egg substitute in baked goods.

Flaxseeds are particularly rich in lignans, a group of phytonutrients that research suggests may help support already-healthy blood pressure, promote bone strength, encourage heart health and more.

Flaxseeds also shine in their fiber content. They contain a mix of soluble and insoluble fiber, which helps promote feelings of satiety, supports your digestive tract and encourages healthy weight management.

Chia seeds or flaxseeds, which one is healthier?

Both chia seeds and flaxseeds are superfoods in their own right and offer similar and significant benefits from a nutrient standpoint. Although flax has lignans and chia does not, the seeds are pretty much equally healthful. They can both be added to your diet to promote a wealth of health benefits.

On the other hand, flax and chia serve different roles in some meals and recipes. While chia seeds can serve as a nutrient-rich thickening agent in puddings, smoothies and soups, they have less flavor. Flaxseeds can add nutty flavor to savory dishes or be used as an egg substitute in baked goods. 

Could you eat chia seeds and flaxseeds together?

You can eat chia and flax together, as they both provide a wide array of nutrients including fiber, plant protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Adding flaxseeds to chia adds the benefits of lignans, which chia seeds do not have. Because chia and flaxseeds are high-fiber superfoods, it is important to add them to your diet a little at a time to help avoid potential side effects, namely digestive discomfort.

How to get more seeds in your diet?

Want more healthy seed benefits? When perusing the grocery store aisles, look for products that already contain visible seeds, such as whole-grain loaves of bread, sesame seed buns or crackers.

Better yet, keep a variety of seeds in your kitchen, including flaxseeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds and sesame seeds. Adding seeds to your meals can be as easy as sprinkling them into a stir-fry, salad, quinoa bowl or yogurt bowl. They make great additions to baked goods, homemade trail mixes, puddings and smoothies.

Seeds are also good replacement ingredients in classic recipes. "Noatmeals" are a delicious take on classic oatmeal, but without the oats, where super seeds are the star. They can contain chia seeds, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, heart-healthy nuts and more. Because they are a mild-tasting breakfast, they serve as the perfect blank canvas for your favorite spices and in-season fruit.

How to make a healthy noatmeal recipe

Ready to try a healthy seed swap in your own kitchen? This recipe can get you started:

Super Seed Noatmeal 3 Ways

Serves: 1
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 5 minutes
Total time: 10 minutes

Ingredients 

Base:

3 tbsp hemp seeds 
3 tbsp unsweetened coconut flakes
1 tbsp flaxseed meal
1 tsp chia seeds
1 tsp pure maple syrup
½ cup unsweetened almond milk

Almond Butter Chocolate:

1 tsp almond butter
1 tsp mini chocolate chips
1 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder

Raspberry Lemon:

½ cup raspberries
½ tsp lemon zest

Banana Bread:

½ banana, sliced
1 tsp chopped walnuts
½ tsp cinnamon

Preparation

First, place all of the base ingredients in a small saucepan. Add seasoning if needed based on your flavor of choice. Then place the saucepan on stovetop over medium heat and whisk ingredients until smooth and thickened, about 3 minutes.

  • For Almond Butter Chocolate

    : Add cocoa powder to the saucepan before whisking over heat. Transfer to a serving bowl and top with almond butter and chocolate chips.
  • For Raspberry Lemon

    : Whisk base over heat. Transfer to a serving bowl and top with raspberries and lemon zest.
  • For Banana Bread

    : Add cinnamon to the saucepan before whisking over heat. Transfer to a serving bowl and top with walnuts and sliced banana.

Nutritional Value for Almond Butter Chocolate Noatmeal:

Calories: 478
Carbohydrates: 24 g
Protein: 16 g
Fat: 36 g

Nutritional Value for Raspberry Lemon Noatmeal:

Calories: 451
Carbohydrates: 28 g
Protein: 16 g
Fat: 32 g

Nutritional Value for Banana Bread Noatmeal:

Calories: 473
Carbohydrates: 32 g
Protein: 16 g
Fat: 33 g

Do I get enough omega-3 fatty acids from chia seeds and flaxseeds?

Omega-3 fatty acids exist in many forms, but most research focuses on three: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). While it is easy to meet your ALA needs from plant foods, including seeds like chia and flax, DHA and EPA are present primarily in animal foods such as fish. Because of this, supplements may be helpful if you follow a mostly plant-based diet.

Life Extension's Vegetarian DHA provides omega-3s from algae. If you aren't vegan or vegetarian, high-quality fish oil supplements can help you fill nutritional gaps and support your heart health, brain heath and more. Life Extension's Super Omega-3 EPA/DHA Fish Oil, Sesame Lignans & Olive Extract is an IFOS™ 5-star certified fish oil packed with the EPA and DHA fatty acids that are so good for your cardiovascular and cognitive health.

Don't know what type of support you need for optimal heart health? A Supplement Quiz can help you determine what nutrition might be right for you.

About the Author: Mia Syn, MS, RD is a national on-air nutrition expert, host of Good Food Friday on ABC Charleston and one of the most recognized and trusted young dietitians in the media. With a master's degree in human nutrition from Columbia University and over 500 TV appearances, she has helped millions of viewers, readers and clients learn and implement healthier, sustainable eating habits. NutritionbyMia.com

References

IFOS™ certification mark is a registered trademark of Nutrasource Diagnostics, Inc. These products have been tested to the quality and purity standards of the IFOS™ program conducted at Nutrasource Diagnostics, Inc.

Scientifically Reviewed By: Holli Ryan, RD, LD/N

By: Mia Syn, MS, RDN