Flax vs. Chia – The Breakdown.

chia_flax1If you are looking for natural plant based sources of healthy Omega 3s, chia seeds (salvia hispanica) and flax seeds top the list of “superfoods” (be wary of anything claiming to be “super” – it’s simply not true.  But, I degress). Both chia and flax are good sources of fiber, vitamins and other important nutrients. Flaxseeds are more well–known than chia, and have been studied longer. So which one is better – and, particularly, which one is better for women with PCOS? The only way to find out was to do a side–by–side comparison of their nutrition, protein, and fiber content, along with their calories, taste, and cooking versatility – and then break that information down for women with PCOS. 

Chia seeds vs. flax seeds: Calories and protein.

A two tablespoon serving of flax seeds has 80 calories and 3 grams of protein. Chia seeds have 122 calories and 4 grams of protein per two tablespoon serving.

Chia vs. flax seeds: Omega 3 Essential Fatty Acids

Both chia seeds and flax seeds are good plant based sources of Omega 3 essential fatty acids, or EFAs. Two tablespoons of chia seeds (salvia hispanica) have over 5000 mg Omega 3, plus the highest combined alpha-linolenic (ALA) and linoleic fatty acid percentage of all crops. Two tablespoons of flax seeds have only 2700 mg Omega 3– plus 98-266 mg of lignans (a powerful phytoestrogen – which is not good for women with hormonal imbalances like PCOS), which chia does not have.

Chia vs. flax seeds: Fiber

Fiber is more than nature’s whisk broom; fiber keeps you feeling full longer, which is important if you are watching your weight. One ounce of flaxseeds contains 5.6 grams while the same amount of chia seeds contains 10.7 grams. Score one for chia seeds.

Flax vs. chia seeds: Other nutrients and antioxidants

According to the nutritional information on my packet of organic flax seeds, 2 tablespoons have 13% of your RDA of magnesium. Chia seeds are good sources of calcium, phosphorus, iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc, and copper. Chia seeds are also high in antioxidants, much higher than flax seeds. In fact, chia seeds have more antioxidants than fresh blueberries.

Both chia seeds and flax are gluten free.

Chia vs. flax seeds: storage and usage

It is in the area of usage and storage that the advantages of chia seeds over flax seeds really add up.

One of the big disadvantages to adding flax seeds to your diet is that they tend to spoil quickly. You must keep flax seeds in your fridge or freezer, and use them up in a short period of time before they go bad. In addition, flax oxidizes very quickly so it starts to loose nutritional value as soon as its ground– and you must grind flax seeds before eating them or your body will not be able to digest them.

Chia seeds, on the other hand, can be digested either ground or whole. Because of their high antioxidant content, you do not have to keep chia seeds in the fridge. You can store them in the cupboard if you want to, where chia seeds will keep for about 2 years. You can sprinkle whole or ground chia seeds on your salads, yogurt and cottage cheese. You can also add either ground or whole chia seeds to smoothies, and they won’t get gummy like flax seeds often do.

Chia seeds vs. flax seeds: Taste and versatility

Chia seeds do not taste like much of anything, although they have a faintly nutty flavor when used whole, as in salads. Flax seeds have an earthy, whole grain flavor. Some people say the taste of flax is nutty, too, although I think it tastes more like wheat germ.

Chia is more versatile than flax. You can bake with it, or mix it with water to make a gel you can use to bake, thicken sauces and salad dressings and use in smoothies. Chia gel is virtually tasteless. You do not have to make chia gel to use chia seeds, however; chia seeds can be mixed into salads, smoothies and other items as is, just like flax. Unlike flax seeds, chia seeds do not have to be ground before you eat them.

The gel-forming quality of chia makes them valuable for dieters. The gel makes you feel full longer, helping you to stick to a healthy nutrition plan. Chia seeds also help with hydration, as they soak up water when they form a gel (absorbing up to 9x their weight) – making them helpful for endurance athletes.

ribbonThe PCOS Angle – Why Chia is the Obvious Winner

Given the information above, it’s pretty clear that both flax and chia seeds have the potential to be valuable additions to anyone’s nutrition plan.  However, we know that women with PCOS aren’t just “anyone”.  Because of our hormonal imbalances, we must be extra vigilant when it comes to what we allow to enter our bodies.  If our love of chia seeds weren’t made clear from what we’ve already posted, let us make it clear now – for women with PCOS, chia seeds are the best option. Why?  Simple – estrogen dominance.

Estrogen dominance is becoming a huge problem all over the world. We’re consuming way too many estrogens from both obvious and hidden sources which are elevating our estrogen levels way too much.  And it’s not just a female problem either – this is a problem no matter what gender you are because men naturally have the estrogen hormone, too.

Estrogen dominance describes a condition where you can have normal or excessive estrogen, but have too little progesterone to balance estrogen’s effects in your body.

An important cause of low progesterone occurs when the follicle does not release the egg. The follicle becomes a cyst and the normal progesterone surge does not take place. The lack of increase in progesterone signals the hypothalamus to produce more LH and FSH, which stimulates the ovary to make more estrogen and androgens, which in turn stimulates more follicles toward ovulation. If these additional follicles are also unable to produce a matured ovum and make progesterone, the menstrual cycle is dominated by estrogen and androgen production without progesterone. This failure to ovulate contributes to a condition called “estrogen dominance.”

Estrogen dominance also leads to an increased risk of insulin resistance/diabetes, and an increased tendency to be overweight – as fat cells LOVE estrogen.

Women with PCOS  frequently do not produce enough progesterone – which is why the vast majority of us can, in fact, be considered estrogen-dominant.

What does flax have to do with estrogen dominance?

Flax seed is in fact “linseed” which is what linen is made out of. Linseed contains a very high amount of plant-based estrogen and phytoestrogens.  Phytoestrogens are a group of chemicals found in plants that, when consumed, act like the hormone estrogen. The two most studied phytoestrogen groups are lignans and isoflavones. Lignans are products of intestinal microbial breakdown of compounds found in whole grains, fibers, flax seeds and some fruits and vegetables. Enterodiol and enterolactone are examples of lignans. Isoflavones, such as genistein and daidzein, occur in soybeans and other legumes.

Since scientists have found phytoestrogens in human urine and blood samples, we know these compounds can be absorbed into our bodies. In fact, phytoestrogens have one of several fates after being eaten: they can be excreted; they can be absorbed into our bodies; or they can be broken down into other compounds that can also be potent phytoestrogens.

Consuming high levels of phytoestrogens may pose health risks. Studies with laboratory and farm animals, as well as wildlife eating high amounts of phytoestrogen-rich plants, have documented reproductive problems, and there have been multiple studies performed that link higher exposure to estrogens over a lifetime with increased breast cancer risk.

The fact of the matter is that, while the medical community has yet to understand and come to grips with phytoestrogen biochemistry, it is clear that phytoestrogens can cause unnatural hormonal disruptions.  This is especially problematic for people with high  estrogen levels or other reproductive issues – like women with PCOS.

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