Serious About Super Seeds—Flax and Chia

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The latest buzz in the super food world involves two tiny nutritional powerhouses—flax and chia seeds. Touted for their health benefits and versatility, these seeds have quickly become a pantry staple in many kitchens. What is even more impressive is that ounce for ounce, flax and chia seeds contain more levels of certain nutrients than many other well known super foods. Both seeds are considered super seeds by nutritional standards, but they each have unique characteristics that distinguish one from the other.

chia2The first super seed to enter the nutritional scene is the flax seed. Flax seeds can now be found in products ranging from cereal bars to crackers to breads. Cultivated in Babylon as early as 8000 BC, these tiny powerhouses have shown to decrease the risk of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Flax seeds are perhaps most well known for their contributions of omega-3 essential fatty acids, lignans, and fiber. Each two-tablespoon serving of flax seeds provides a healthy dose of heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids, which play a critical role in anti-inflammation. Our bodies are not capable of producing these short chain ALA fatty acids, which means that we have to eat them instead. Each ounce of flax seeds provides approximately one-third of the daily value of soluble fiber, which regulates your digestive system. A diet rich in soluble fiber has shown to improve levels of bad (LDL) cholesterol. Flax seeds are also a great source of lignans, which are phytochemicals that can help reduce the risk of breast and prostate cancers.

Just like flax seeds, chia seeds have their own set of nutritional attributes that make them a super seed. For vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike, chia seeds are a great source of plant protein- in fact, they are one of the very few plant sources that provide a complete protein. Additionally, one ounce of chia seeds is a good source of calcium. Although not as rich a source of omega-3 fatty acids as flax seeds, chia seeds still provide a substantial amount of these essential healthy fats in a very small serving. One benefit that chia seeds have over flax seeds is that they do not need to be ground before you eat them. It is important to note that flax seeds must be ground in order to reap their maximum nutritional benefits. When the whole flax seed is consumed, it will most likely pass through your system undigested, meaning your body won’t be able to absorb any of the nutrition from the seed.flax1

In an attempt to drive up sales, companies have started to add chia and flax seeds to many of their products. However, just because a product contains these super seeds doesn’t necessarily mean that they are healthy or can be eaten in unlimited quantities, and even for these super seeds, moderation is key. Although they contain diverse health benefits, the calories can add up quickly in these super seeds if you eat too many of them.

Flax and Chia seeds may be pack a big nutritional punch in their tiny shell, but just like any other food, balance and moderation are key to their consumption. Both seeds possess their own unique health qualities that make them nutritional powerhouses and great additions to a healthy lifestyle.

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