Flax and Chia seeds: better Whole, Ground, or soaked?
Benefits of flax and chia seeds
- Source of protein: flax 22% and chia 19%
- Chia: great source of calcium and selenium
- Great source of ALA omega-3: flax 2,430 mg/tbsp and chia 1,900 mg/tbsp, which help reduce the risk of heart disease
- High in fiber: flax 27% and chia 35%, which improves digestion
- Full of antioxidants
- Improve insulin sensitivity and stabilize blood sugar
- Keeps you full for longer due to their higher fat/protein/fiber content
Should you eat flax seeds whole, ground, or soaked?
It is quite widespread that whole flax seeds tend to pass undigested through the body, making it impossible to extract the nutrients within. The best solution is to grind flax seeds. Nowadays, you can buy ground flaxseeds in stores or even flax flour.
However, not so fast!
When flax seeds are broken down, the oils get rancid (oxidized) very quickly.1 We don’t want to be eating oxidized oils as they generate free radicals that result in detrimental health effects.2
What about flaxseed oil that we can buy at the store? You may be thinking. These oils usually come in dark bottles (to protect the oils from the damaging effects of light) and are supplemented with lipid-soluble vitamins A and E, which have antioxidant capacity.1 At least, if they are from a good company!
Therefore, it is better to buy whole flax seeds and grind them at home. I use a coffee grinder that works perfectly, but you can also use a high-speed blender or a food processor. Then, add them into a jar and store them in the fridge (since warmer temperatures also affect the stability of these oils). You can also freeze them.
does the same rule apply to chia seeds?
There is not a lot of research yet but is already pointing out that this is the same for chia seeds. Nutrients get better extracted when chia seeds are ground.3
For example, this study found out that milled/ground chia seeds increase ALA and EPA omega-3 levels in the blood more than when compared to whole chia seeds.4 Another study showed similar results for ground chia seeds, although they did not compare them with whole seeds.5
Lastly, flax and chia seeds can be soaked or “sprouted” by putting them in water for some time (30 mins or overnight). During this process, seeds release the enzyme inhibitors and anti-nutrients (like phytic acid) that are used to protect the seed. Soaked seeds will become much easier to digest, thereby increasing nutrient absorbability. Did you know that soaked flax and chia seeds are used as an egg replacement in vegan baking?
It is already very hard to find ground chia seeds in the store anyway, and knowing the potential oil oxidation, I rather buy them whole. I shifted to grind both flax and chia seeds at home with a coffee grinder.
In terms of how much I eat daily, I increased my dose over the years. Currently, I don't take Omega-3 supplements so I decided to eat about 2 tbsp from each daily to ensure I convert enough ALA into DHA and EPA, the Omega 3 that provide the health benefits.
I like to add them to my morning oats, but also to smoothies to give a thicker consistency. Sometimes, however, I go wild and prep a chia pudding the night before (like in the picture). In this case, I use whole chia instead of ground!
What about you? Feel free to catch up with me through social media (Instagram, LinkedIn, or Email). I would be happy to answer any questions or get ideas for future blog posts!