This entry is about why I am over flax seed and why chia seeds seem to be a much more enjoyable option.
Backstory , or “Flax, yawn”
A large part of the last year of my college life was spent trying to optimize healthful eating with little time for food preparation and little money. My staple breakfast became a super nutritious, but almost always underwhelming stovetop oatmeal with flax seed.
I included flax seed into my morning routine as way to introduce more fiber into my diet. Fiber is really great at the beginning of the day, because it slows down the body’s process of converting carbs into sugars, leaving us feeling more full throughout the day and less likely to snack. The omega-3s that flax seed is praised for only later became important to me.
Those of us who have tried and enjoyed many breakfast cereals, oatmeal mixes, breads, and other foods that claim to be “fiber-rich” through the addition of flax seed may be wondering why my particular staple breakfast was usually unsatisfying. The reason for this is (and the reason for my above quotations around “fiber-rich”) that flax seed really needs to be ground up in order to be substantially beneficial. The shell on the seed is too hard for our bodies’ digestive systems to gain access to the fiber, omega-3s and other nutritious elements contained within the seed. Most commercial cereals do not actually grind their flax seed, but rather simply throw them into the mix to say “Hey – look how healthy we just made this!” After grinding the flax seed, however, the flavor becomes very earthy and a dominating presence, no longer a nice subtle addition to the flavor of a dish.
The New Favorite
If only College Steve knew about chia seeds. Chia seeds have been most famous in the U.S. for producing cute planty pals for kids (see the fuzzy Head of State.) However, they are also super nutritious in ways very similar to flax seed. Why do I much prefer them to their kin, the flax seed? Well, chia seeds have a much softer shell that allows for our digestive systems to easily access all the awesome nutrients the seed contains. Better yet, the result is a very mild flavor. I take them in the morning after soaking them in water and just chug them. However, they are also an awesome addition to oatmeal, baked goods, smoothies, and a bunch of other things.
Furthermore, chia seeds, contain more omega-3s per ounce as well as nearly twice the amount of fiber as flax seeds. Chia seeds also have a bunch of other fun thingies .
One important warning: all soluble fiber needs to be taken with water. I highly recommend soaking the seeds in some way before you consume them, or the puffing up that takes place when fiber gets soaked in water happens in your stomach, which can cause bloating or painful gas. I made this mistake the first time I tried them – not fun. Start off introducing them slowly into your diet, and make sure you soak them until they puff up (see picture below). Try ½ T or 1-t soaked in water the first time you try them. I now do a whole tablespoon in about 1 ½ cups of water every morning.
Most health stores or local food co-ops sell chia seeds. I know Wegman’s has them for us New Yorkers.