Thanks to the sheer range of products available to us, humans can enjoy a wide variety of different seeds as part of a typical diet. Two in particular, however, have gained a lot of attention lately due to their possible health benefits.
Chia seeds, which come from the Salvia hispanica plant, are grown and traditionally consumed by people in South America, Central America, and Mexico. Flax seeds, which are grown in many different parts of the world, are cultivated for both food and non-food purposes, including medicines and even clothes. They are both commonly referred to as superseeds, so let’s take a deeper look to see if they’re as special as they sound.
Nutrients in Chia seeds
To understand what makes chia seeds so noteworthy, we need to understand what nutrients are present. Chia seeds are a good source of alpha-linolenic acid ( ALA), a plant-based omega-3 polyunsaturated fat. Our body can convert a small amount of this into other omega-3 fats that our body needs, including EPA and DHA. Omega-3 nutrients are linked with various benefits for the heart, as they are known to lower cholesterol, regulate the heartbeat and blood pressure, and decrease inflammation.
So what else does a chia seed contain? It’s worth noting its protein composition, as chia seeds contain all of the essential amino acids, which are the elements of protein that our body cannot make. Chia seeds are also a great source of fiber; just two tablespoons of the stuff provides around 10-11 grams.
(For reference, adults up to the age of 50 need about 25-38 grams of fiber per day.) Chia also contains antioxidants and minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, and zinc.
Chia seed benefits
Nutrients are great, but what about the actual health advantages of this seed? Some potential health benefits include lowering triglycerides, blood pressure, and LDL (bad) cholesterol. Chia seeds might also play a role in improving blood sugar levels and suppressing appetite.
Nutrients and benefits of Flax
Like chia, flax seeds are also a great source of fiber, ALA, antioxidants, protein, and minerals. With all of these wonderful nutrients, flax seeds might be linked to benefits such as lowering total blood cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels, reducing blood pressure among those with hypertension, and potentially even reducing the growth of tumors. Flax seeds are also known to be the richest plant source of lignans, a substance that may offer some antioxidant properties. Yum!
Chia and flax seeds both seem to show some promising benefits for our heart and overall health. Although more studies are needed to confirm these suggested benefits, the wonderful amount of nutrients in these seeds means they can certainly be included as part of most people’s diets.
How to include chia in your diet
They’re full of nutrients and hold some potentially brilliant benefits, but how can you include chia and flax seeds in your diet? Let’s start with the former. Chia seeds can be eaten whole or ground, and since they don’t have a particular taste, adding them to food and drinks will not change the flavor. When chia seeds and liquid mix, the chia will absorb the fluid and expand to form a gel in about 15 minutes. You can add this gel into foods or drinks for extra nutrients or to thicken the texture. This gel-forming ability means chia seeds work well in puddings, but they can also be used in salads, hot or cold cereals, yogurt, juice, soups, stews, or even plain water! When baking, you can include them in your cake, muffin or bread recipes for some bonus nutrients.
Tips for eating Flax seeds
Unlike chia seeds, which are well-absorbed by our body when eaten ground or whole, the nutrients in flax are easier to digest and better absorbed when ground. Buy pre-ground flax seeds or purchase them whole to grind yourself at home. You can add ground flax seeds to foods such as yogurt and cold or hot cereal, as well as sandwich spreads, cookie dough, bread dough, or other baked goods for an additional, nutty texture. Once opened, a container of flax seeds should be kept refrigerated.
Chia and flax seeds are easy to include in our diet and come with many great nutritional benefits, but there are some things to keep in mind when consuming them. Here are some safety guidelines to consider.
Stick to eating chia seeds that have already been soaked in liquid and have expanded, and avoid eating dry chia seeds. Consuming dry chia seeds followed by drinking fluid could cause the chia to expand in the esophagus, which could lead to a blockage and become a choking hazard.
To avoid this, make sure to pre-soak your chia seeds, and be extra cautious when consuming chia if you have swallowing problems.
Don’t eat raw Flax seeds
Don’t eat raw or unripe flax seeds as they may contain toxic substances.
If you decide to up your intake of flax or chia seeds, do so slowly. Make sure to also increase your fluid intake to avoid any abdominal discomfort or constipation.
Check with your doctor
People with colitis and Crohn’s disease, or others intolerant to high fiber foods, may need to avoid seeds. If you have been told not to consume seeds but want to include chia or flax seeds in your diet, check with your doctor first.
Mind the portion
Calories are calories, even if they are from healthy foods. Watch your portion size when eating seeds, as too much will provide extra calories which could lead to weight gain. Try cutting back some calories from other, less healthy foods to balance out your seed intake.
Consider drug interactions
Too many flax or chia seeds may interact with certain medicines such as heart and diabetes medications. So if you take any medications, be sure to check with your doctor before consuming flax and chia seeds, as some people may need to limit their intake of these two seeds.
What do you think?
What’s the verdict on chia and flax seeds? Are you interested in including some in your diet? There are thousands of recipes available online with tasty ways to include these seeds into your meals and snacks. Check them out and try a few that sound good to you!
Liz is passionate about helping people improve their health and wellness through lifestyle and nutrition changes, and she is especially interested in diabetes prevention and management. Liz enjoys working with clients to find individualized strategies to improve their health in ways that last. Outside of work, you will likely find her rock climbing, biking, or spending time with her family.
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