When we think of those ultra-healthy foods known as “superfoods,” seeds are one of the least talked about. That’s a shame because they are among the most nutrient-rich foods you can consume. But with literally dozens of health-promoting seeds to choose from, does it really matter which ones you add to your diet?

Well, yes. When it comes to research supporting health benefits, two of the heaviest hitters are chia seeds and flaxseeds. Both are spectacularly heart-healthy. But in terms of convenience, chia seeds win hands down. These seeds are more stable than flaxseeds, so you don’t have to worry about them going rancid. Chia seeds can also be eaten whole or ground, and you’ll still get all the health benefits. Flaxseeds, on the other hand, must be ground before the nutrients are released. Chia seeds also win points because they don’t need refrigeration, while flaxseeds must be stored in a preferably dark, airtight container in the fridge or freezer so the nutrients aren’t destroyed.

Now, for the nitty-gritty nutritional comparison. Here’s what you’ll get from a serving (one ounce) of chia seeds versus one ounce of ground flaxseeds (the calorie count is roughly the same—138 in chia seeds…and 148 in flaxseeds)…

  • Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Chia seeds and flaxseeds are virtual storehouses of the super-heart-healthy anti-inflammatory omega-3 fat known as ALA. Chia seeds contain 5 g and flaxseeds have 6 g.
  • Fiber. There’s lots of fiber—insoluble and soluble—packed in both of these tiny seeds. Chia seeds edge out flaxseeds—10 g versus 8 g.
  • Protein. Both seeds contain a respectable amount of vegetable protein (4 g in chia seeds…5 g in flaxseeds). But chia seeds are a “complete” protein because they have all nine of the essential amino acids while flaxseeds do not.
  • Vitamins and minerals. Both seeds are bursting with vitamins and minerals such as iron, manganese, copper, zinc and niacin, to name just a few. Flaxseeds are higher in folate, magnesium and potassium. But chia seeds, unlike flaxseeds, are a potent source of calcium.
  • Lignans. When it comes to lignans, a disease-fighting phytochemical, flaxseeds are a much richer source than chia seeds. Lignans may protect against cardiovascular disease and breast and prostate cancers.

Since the nutritional benefits of these two seeds do differ somewhat, how do you choose? To get the best of both worlds nutritionally, I suggest adding both types of seeds to your diet, perhaps alternating days. Both chia seeds and flaxseeds can be sprinkled on yogurt, cereal, oatmeal or salads. Either seed can also be sprinkled on top of one of my favorite snacks—a slice of whole-grain toast topped with peanut butter and banana slices. If you like to bake, replace one-half cup of flour with one-half cup of ground chia seeds or flaxseed meal in muffins, pancake mix or breads. And for a delicious treat…

Raspberry chia seed pudding: This festive-looking dessert is perfect for the holidays. Ingredients for a single serving: One cup of light vanilla soy milk…one-half cup of fresh (or frozen and defrosted) raspberries…one-quarter cup of chia seeds…and mint leaves. What to do: Mix the raspberries with milk in a blender until smooth. Pour into a mason jar, add chia seeds, cover tightly, give it a good shake and refrigerate overnight. The chia seeds will “gel” to create a pudding-like consistency. (You can add a sweetener of your choice, if desired.) Garnish with mint leaves and enjoy!

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