by Jennifer Benedetto RD,LD,CNSC at LMC
Frozen fruit and protein powder aren’t the only popular ingredients in smoothies. Seeds, which have been promoted as nutritional powerhouses, are frequently added. Two of the most popular seeds, chia and flax, are now easily found on grocery store shelves. What are the benefits of these tiny seeds and is one seed more beneficial than the other?Chia is an edible seed from the desert plant Salvia hispanica. Chia seeds contain high concentrations of healthy omega-3 fatty acids, protein, fiber, and antioxidants. Chia seeds are able to be digested as a whole seed with no pre-processing necessary. Two tablespoons of chia seeds (~ 1 ounce) contains 139 calories, 4 g protein, 9 g fat (5 grams of heart healthy omega-3’s) and 11 g of fiber. An effortless and mostly undetectable food additive, chia seeds can simply be sprinkled on yogurt, hot cereals, sauces, vegetables and rice dishes or added to smoothies or baked goods. There are a few preliminary studies suggesting possible health benefits (heart health, cancer prevention) from the consumption of chia seeds, but no benefits have been conclusively established. Flaxseeds, unlike chia seeds, can pass through the digestive tract undigested if consumed whole. To absorb the nutrients found in flaxseeds, they should be ground prior to consumption. Pre-ground flaxseeds are available in most grocery stores as “ground flaxseed”, “milled flaxseed”, or “flaxseed meal”. Ground flaxseed is best stored in the freezer to prevent oxidation. One tablespoon of ground flaxseed contains 4 g of fat and 2 grams of fiber. Over half of the fat is alpha-linolenic acid which the body can convert to anti-inflammatory and heart healthy mediators. Flaxseeds also contain 100 to 800 times more lignans than other seeds. Lignans are a type of phytoestrogen that have antioxidant, antitumor, and antiestrogenic properties. Despite their promising nutrient profile, experts on flaxseed point out that none of the proposed health benefits have been conclusively established.
Both chia and flaxseeds have a promising nutrient composition when it comes to promoting health. Unfortunately, conclusive studies are lacking at this time. But be on the look out for more definitive research. For the time being, choose either seed based on your taste preference. But since both contain fiber, introduce them gradually to your diet and be sure to consume adequate fluid daily.