From "pets" to plates, chia has undergone a most impressive makeover since its debut on the Home Shopping Network a few decades ago.
The tiny seed that hails from Central America, has all but eclipsed it's Mediterranean cousin, flax; but is chia really better for you than flax, as everyone who's anyone in the food world seems to be saying nowadays?
We'll take a look at the facts and sample a few chia seed recipes to help you decide for yourself. (Scroll down to skip the review and get right to the recipes)
Chia vs Flax - Nutrition
Chia is higher in fiber than flax. In ground form, chia provides 2 grams of fiber, but whole chia seeds contain triple that amount!
Chia falls just short of flax with regard to healthy omega 3 fat content. Both seeds contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a precursor to omega-3 fats EPA and DHA. Consuming ALA and requiring that your body convert it is still healthy, but yields far less potent omega 3 benefits than obtaining EPA and DHA directly from marine sources such as wild cold-water fish or high quality cod liver oil supplements.
Chia is a decent source of "complete protein," meaning it contains all nine "essential amino acids" (relevant mostly to vegans who don't consume any animal proteins). Flax provides a similar amount of protein, but in an incomplete form.
Vitamins & Minerals
Chia seeds are an excellent source of calcium (about 170 mg in just 2 Tbsp - that's more than double the amount in flax). Chia and flax both provide similar amounts of phosphorus and manganese, but flax contains magnesium and the B vitamin thiamin that chia does not.
Chia vs Flax - Health Claims
Only one human study is available, and showed no effect of chia seed on weight reduction.
A small study in diabetic patients found that adding chia lowered blood pressure and C-reactive protein (a marker of inflammation). Flax has also been shown to positively affect heart health, possibly due to its fiber or lignan content.
Chia has been shown to significantly lower A1c (a marker of long-term blood sugar control), and resulted in better glycemic control after meals when compared to flax seed.
Chia vs Flax - Storage and Use
Chia has a long shelf life, thanks to its natural antioxidant content. Flax, on the other hand, goes rancid quickly and must be refrigerated or frozen.
Contrary to flax, the omega 3's in chia can be absorbed by the body in whole seed form without grinding.
Various sources report chia is stable at baking temperatures, but not at higher temps like sauteing and frying. Similarly, flax is stable in the oven, but not at higher temperatures.
The flavor of chia seed is a bit milder than flax. When ground, the two taste similar.
The Bottom Line
With regard to nutritional properties and health benefits, chia and flax are fairly comparable, with chia taking a slight advantage, in my opinion. Chia isn’t so finicky about being ground or stored – so it also wins out on ease of preparation.
I hope you enjoy these as much as I have this week. I've credited my inspirations for each of the following "twists" on existing recipes below each. Please enter a comment below if you have your own variations to share!
Berry Cherry Chia Jam
Prep Time: 20 min Total Time: 40 min
4 cups blend of mixed berries and pitted red cherries (fresh or frozen)
1/3 cup raw honey
1/3 cup chia seed
1. Combine fruit and honey in pot and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low and allow to simmer 20 minutes.
2. Remove from heat and use a fork or vegetable masher to break up any chunks of fruit (optional).
3. Stir in chia seeds and allow to rest about 20 minutes.
4. Divide into small jars so that some can be saved (freezes well) and some can be shared!
Makes: approx 16 oz
(Adapted from a recipe by Girl Makes Food)
Fluffy Lemon Peach Chia Pudding
Prep Time: 15 min Total Time: 35 min
1 1/2 cups coconut milk
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
1 tsp lemon extract (optional)
1/2 cup chia seed
Zest of 1 large lemon
3 ripe peaches
1/2 cup whipping cream
2-3 Tbsp pure maple syrup
1. Whisk together coconut milk and next three ingredients. Stir in chia seeds and all but 2 tsp lemon zest. Allow to rest 20 minutes or until pudding like consistency is achieved.
2. Meanwhile, whip cream and remaining maple syrup until stiff peaks form.
3. Fold cream gently into chia pudding mixture.
4. Chop 2 peaches into large chunks and place in serving glasses. Pour pudding mixture over the top.
5. Slice remaining peach and lay on top of each glass. Garnish with remaining lemon zest.
(Adapted from a recipe by Deliciously Organic)
Chia Oat-Soak with Fruit & Nuts
Prep Time: 5 min Total Time: 5 min (or as long as overnight)
1/3 cup rolled oats
1/4 cup chia seed (or ground chia if serving immediately)
1/3 cup plain yogurt
1/3 cup milk
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Cinnamon to taste (optional)
Honey for drizzling (optional)
Fruits and nuts of choice - two varieties pictured here:
1. 1/2 banana + 2 black figs + 4 pecan halves
2. 1 small peach + 1/4 cup blueberries + 4 walnut halves
1. Stir together all ingredients, reserving a portion of the fruit and nut mixture as a topping.
2. Can eat immediately or allow to "soak" in fridge overnight. Before eating add remaining fruits and nuts and drizzle with honey.
(Adapted from a recipe by Kath Eats Real Food)
4. Self's Nutrition Data
6. WH Foods