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The question

What's the difference between flaxseed and chia seeds? Is one better for you?

The answer

Both flax and chia seeds are healthy additions to your diet. They're both good sources of plant-based omega-3 fatty acids, fibre and minerals. But they do have some differences, which is why I recommend including a variety of seeds in your diet.

For a nutritional standpoint, flax owes its healthy reputation to three main ingredients: omega-3 fats, fibre and lignans. Flax contains an omega-3 fat called alpha linolenic acid (ALA), which has anti-inflammatory properties in the body. Some research suggests a regular intake of ALA can help protect from heart disease.

The fibre in flax is mainly soluble, the type that helps lower LDL (bad) cholesterol. In fact, studies have shown that eating flaxseed daily helps lower blood cholesterol. The fibre in flaxseed may also help improve blood sugar in people with Type 2 diabetes. Flaxseed is also a good source of lignans, phytochemicals that possess anti-cancer properties. Studies hint that a regular intake of flax can guard against breast and prostate cancers.

It's important to add ground flaxseed to your diet instead of whole seeds. That's because whole flaxseed may pass through your intestine undigested, and you won't absorb their nutrients and phytochemicals.

To date, researchers have looked more closely at the nutritional profile and health benefits of flaxseed than chia seeds. But that doesn't mean chia seeds aren't worth adding to your diet.

Like flax, chia seeds are also a good source of ALA and fibre; in fact, they contain a little more of each per serving. They're also rich in antioxidants and minerals. Unlike flax, chia seeds do not have to be ground to make their nutrients available to the body. Chia seeds don't, however, contain lignans like flaxseed does.

Whether you decide to use flaxseed or chia seeds – or both – neither are "superfoods." Keep in mind the omega-3s in flaxseed and chia seeds can not be compared with the omega-3 fats in oily fish (DHA and EPA), which have been extensively studied for their potential heart benefits.

As well, don't fall for claims pitting the nutrient content of chia seeds or flaxseed against other healthy foods on a gram per gram basis. For example, one company's website states that gram per gram, chia has more calcium than milk. While that may be true, it's not a realistic comparison. (Who drinks one gram of milk?) You need to compare serving sizes that are typically consumed. For example, one cup of milk (244 grams) has 310 milligrams of calcium whereas one tablespoon whole chia seeds (7.5 grams) has 47 milligrams.

That said, both chia and flaxseed are nutritious, and I recommend adding them to your diet. Sprinkle ground flaxseed or chia seeds on cereal, yogurt and salads, and add them to smoothies. Mix ground seeds into pancake and muffin batters or mix them with flour when making other baked goods.

Chia seeds, ground (1 tbsp); flaxseed, ground (1 tbsp)

Calories 52 37

Fibre (g) 3.3 2.0

ALA* (g) 2.1 1.8

Calcium 71 18

Magnesium 35 27

*Women require 1.1 grams of ALA per day; men need 1.6 grams.

Send dietitian Leslie Beck your questions at She will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on the Globe website. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

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