Flaxseed, also known as linseed, is a highly nutritious plant. It's commonly used as a thickener, binder or crust in vegan and vegetarian cooking. If you can't use flaxseed meal but want to cook with a similar product, there are several flax meal substitutes and alternatives you can turn to.
What Is Flaxseed?
Flaxseed is an incredibly nutrient-rich seed. According to the USDA, one ounce of flaxseed has 152 calories, 5.2 grams of protein and 8.2 grams of carbohydrates. Nearly all of these carbohydrates (7.8 grams) come from dietary fiber.
One ounce of flaxseeds also contains 12 grams of fat — and fortunately, these fats are mostly healthy. An April 2015 study in the Journal of Food Science and Technology reported that 71.8 percent of the fats in flaxseed come from polyunsaturated fats, while 18.5 percent are monounsaturated and 10 percent are saturated.
In addition to these macronutrients, one ounce of flaxseed also has:
- 6 percent of the daily value (DV) for calcium
- 9 percent of the DV for iron
- 5 percent of the DV for potassium
- 27 percent of the DV for magnesium
- 15 percent of the DV for phosphorus
- 11 percent of the DV for zinc
- 38 percent of the DV for copper
- 31 percent of the DV manganese
- 13 percent of the DV for selenium
- 39 percent of the DV for thiamin (vitamin B1)
- 5 percent of the DV for niacin (vitamin B3)
- 6 percent of the DV for vitamin B5
- 8 percent of the DV for vitamin B6
- 6 percent of the DV for folic acid (vitamin B9)
Flaxseeds are also rich in lignans, lutein and zeaxanthin, and antioxidants like phenolic compounds, according to the 2015 research in the Journal of Food Science and Technology. They also contain small amounts (between 1 and 4 percent) of B-complex vitamins, vitamin E, vitamin K and choline in each ounce of flaxseeds.
Flaxseed isn't only popular because of its impressive nutrition; it also has a variety of uses in the kitchen. When mixed with water, flaxseed meal can be used as a thickening agent or as an alternative to eggs. Toasted flax meal can also provide you with a nutty crust on fried foods or a coating on desserts. While flaxseed is perhaps most popular among vegans and vegetarians, you might it in anything from baked goods to chicken nuggets.
Choosing Flaxseed Alternatives
If you're trying to find a flaxseed meal alternative for a recipe, you'll first need to ask yourself how the flaxseed is being used. For instance, if you're just looking for a binder or thickening agent, you could use xantham gum or guar gum as your flax meal substitute. However, if you're looking for foods that can provide some of the same nutritional benefits that flaxseed has, your options become more restricted.
Psyllium: A Fibrous Flax Substitute
Flaxseed is notably rich in fiber, which makes it particularly beneficial for your gastrointestinal tract. Psyllium seeds and husks, which are also rich in fiber, can work as a flaxseed meal replacement in this regard. According to a November 2018 study in the Journal of Food Process Engineering, psyllium seeds are 74 to 79 percent fiber, making them much richer in fiber than flaxseeds.
Although psyllium is best known for its ability to relieve gastrointestinal issues, it can also be ground into meal and used in cooking. Like ground flaxseed, psyllium can be used in gluten-free baking too. However, while it is a good flax meal substitute if you're looking for fiber, it isn't nearly as nutrient-rich as flaxseed.
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Hemp: A Protein-Rich Flaxseed Substitute
Hemp seeds are another commonly used flaxseed meal substitute. Hemp seeds have the most calories out of all flaxseed meal alternatives listed here, as well as the most fat and protein — with 13.8 grams and 9 grams per ounce, respectively, according to the USDA. They're also very low in carbohydrates and fiber. One ounce of hemp seeds has just 1.1 grams of fiber and a total of 2.5 carbohydrates.
Hemp seeds are much more nutrient-rich than psyllium. According to the USDA, one ounce of hemp seeds contains:
- 30 percent of the daily value (DV) for thiamin (vitamin B1)
- 6 percent of the DV for riboflavin (vitamin B2)
- 16 percent of the DV for niacin (vitamin B3)
- 10 percent of the DV for vitamin B6
- 8 percent of the DV for folate (vitamin B9)
- 13 percent of the DV for iron
- 7 percent of the DV for potassium
- 47 percent of the DV for magnesium
- 37 percent of the DV for phosphorus
- 26 percent of the DV for zinc
- 50 percent of the DV for copper
- 94 percent of the DV for manganese
While these seeds are nutritious, their macronutrient profile is virtually the opposite of psyllium and very different from flaxseed. Their lack of fiber means that hemp seeds aren't suitable for all of the same culinary uses.
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Chia: A Flaxseed Meal Alternative
Chia seed nutrition is the most similar to that of flaxseeds. Chia seeds can also act as thickening agents and binders, making them ideal flaxseed meal replacements in various dishes. According to the USDA, an ounce of chia seeds has:
- 14 percent of the daily value (DV) for calcium
- 12 percent of the DV for iron
- 23 percent of the DV for magnesium
- 20 percent of the DV for phosphorus
- 12 percent of the DV for zinc
- 29 percent of the DV for copper
- 34 percent of the DV for manganese
- 29 percent of the DV for selenium
- 15 percent of the DV for thiamin (vitamin B1)
- 16 percent of the DV for niacin (vitamin B3)
Chia seeds' macronutrients are also similar to flaxseeds', per the USDA. One ounce contains 4.7 grams of protein and 12 grams of carbohydrates. They are slightly higher in net carbs compared to flaxseeds, with 9.8 grams of fiber in an ounce.
One ounce of chia seeds also has 8.7 grams of fat, in which all but 0.9 grams are made up of healthy unsaturated fats. Chia seeds have more essential polyunsaturated fats than flaxseed, per a July 2013 study in the Journal of Food Science and Technology. They specifically have more of two essential fats your body isn't able to produce: alpha-linolenic acid and linoleic acid. Chia seeds may also have more beneficial bioactive compounds than flaxseeds.
- MyFoodData: "Nutrition Comparison of Flax Seeds, Chia Seeds, and Hemp Seeds"
- Journal of Food Science and Technology: "Flaxseed—a Potential Functional Food Source"
- Journal of Food Process Engineering: "Seeds of Plantago psyllium and Plantago ovata: Mineral Composition, Grinding, and Use for Gluten‐Free Bread as Substitutes for Hydrocolloids"
- Food Science and Technology Journal: "Antioxidant Capacity and Chemical Composition in Seeds Rich in Omega-3: Chia, Flax, and Perilla"
- Biochimie: "Linoleic Acid: Between Doubts and Certainties"