1. Chia seeds are packed full of antioxidants
One of chia’s top benefits is its impressively high antioxidant profile (1). Because chia seeds are also loaded with healthy fats, these antioxidants are particularly valuable from protecting these delicate fats from oxidation (2) (which occurs when certain fats are exposed to heat and light). Oxidation of fats causes them to become rancid, which can produce dangerous free radicals in the body, and free radicals have been linked to a long list of chronic diseases and cancers (3). Obtaining antioxidant from food sources (such as chia seeds) is preferred over their supplement counterparts, as the body can more readily absorb and assimilate nutrients from foods.
2. Chia seeds are low in calories and high in nutrients
The definition of a superfood is the relative amount of nutrients per calorie. Chia seeds contain only 127 calories per ounce, but in just that one ounce they offer 11 grams of fiber, 4 grams of protein, 9 grams of healthy fat, 18% of the RDA for calcium, 30% of the RDA for manganese and magnesium, and
3. Most of chia seed’s carbs come from fiber
11 of chia seed’s 12 grams of carbohydrate come in the form of indigestible dietary fiber, which does not affect blood sugar or require an insulin response from the body. For this reason, chia seeds are considered a very low carbohydrate food, as they actually only contain 1 gram of digestible carbohydrate. All of this fiber content allows chia seeds to absorb a large quantity of water, therefore expanding in your stomach and increasing fullness and satiety, potentially setting you up to eat fewer total calories (4). Fiber is also crucial for proper gut function and health, and ensures that your digestive tract remains balanced with healthy gut flora (aka, probiotics). (5)
4. Chia seeds are a great plant-based source of protein
By weight, chia seeds are actually 14% protein, which is quite high. Furthermore, the specific combination of amino acids of chia seed protein is easily used by the body (6), making it an even better plant based protein source. Protein is essential for weight loss, as it helps to control appetite and reduce cravings (7). Especially for vegetarians or vegans, chia seeds should be part of your daily diet.
5. Chia seeds could lower your risk of heart disease and diabetes
Due mainly to their exceptional protein and fiber content, chia seeds are thought to be effective in regulating blood sugar levels, which is key for reducing your risk of heart disease and diabetes. However, more studies are needed, and experts do know that in order for chia seeds to reduce this risk of cardiovascular disease, they must be part of a diet high in other nutrient dense foods. In the case of diabetes, studies have shown that chia seeds can dramatically help (8).
[Related: 12 Nutritional Benefits of Chia Seeds for Your Health]
Chia seeds are quite versatile in their uses, and can be added to just about anything, therefore boosting the nutrient value of your meal or snack. Unlike flax seeds, which need to be ground, chia seeds can simply be added whole or (better) soaked in water beforehand. Check out these ideas for how to incorporate chia seeds into your diet.
1. Chia porridge or pudding
Whether you prepare this for breakfast or an afternoon snack, a chia porridge or pudding is a filling, nutrient dense, and delicious meal or snack. For one serving, mix about 3 tablespoons of chia seeds with 3/4 cup of unsweetened coconut or almond milk, a pinch of cinnamon, 1/2-1 tsp. of organic vanilla, a dash of honey and fresh fruit of your choice. Allow everything to sit for about 20 minutes after being mixed, as this lets the chia seeds expand.
2. Use as an egg alternative
If you can’t (or prefer not to) eat eggs, chia seeds can actually be used as an egg replacement in cooking. Because they form a thick gel with combined with liquid, they are great as a binding agent, similarly to eggs. Try using them in baking when eggs are called for.
3. As a thickener for soups
Especially if you are gluten free (as gluten can be quite inflammatory for many people), try using chia seeds instead of flour when called for to thicken soups or stews. Simply add 1-3 tablespoons of chia seeds (depending on how much soup you are making), and mix well.
4. Make your own sports gel
Instead of opting for sports enhancing gels that are often packed full of chemicals and coloring agents, make your own with chia seeds. Simply add 2-3 tablespoons of chia to 1 cup of coconut water, and allow the mixture to sit for about 20 minutes. Your end product will be equally as effective as store-bought versions, and much higher in nutrition and no toxins.
5. Add chia seeds to smoothies
Perhaps the easiest way to incorporate chia seeds into your diet is adding them directly to your favorite smoothie. You can add them ground or whole, or soak them overnight beforehand in water, allowing them to expand. This superfood will seriously up the nutrient value of whatever smoothie you are preparing.
Chia seeds are quite low in possible side effects, but as with any food, they could elicit a reaction in certain individuals. Keep the following in mind:
- Gastrointestinal upset: Due to their high fiber content, some people might find some digestive symptoms when beginning to incorporate chia seeds (especially if the previous diet was low in fiber). To avoid symptoms such as excessive gas, bloating or general discomfort, start with just a teaspoon of chia seeds added to dishes, and slowly work your way up to 1-2 tablespoons.
- Low Blood Pressure: If you are someone who already has very low blood pressure, it is possible that chia seeds could further lower your blood pressure. Again, take it slow, and consult your doctor or trusted healthcare practitioner if you suspect this could be a problem.
- Allergic Reaction: Although an allergic reaction to chia seeds is very uncommon, symptoms of an allergy could include a rash, hives, and watery eyes. While rare, people can react to just about any food, so be on the lookout for signs and symptoms if you suspect you have an allergy to chia.
- Blood Thinning Effects: Due to its high omega 3 fatty acid content, those who are on blood thinning should play it safe and avoid chia seeds, as they could affect the activity of your medication.
- Prostate Cancer: Since chia seeds contain a high amount of alpha-linolenic acid, some research has shown that large amounts of this can increase the chance of developing prostate cancer. However, subsequent studies showed biases in this first study, and went on to suggest that chia seeds might actually reduce the risk of developing prostate cancer. Further studies are needed.
Q: What are chia seeds?
A: Chia seeds are small seeds that can white, black or brown in color, and come from the plant Salvia Hispanica, as is the mint plant. Chia seeds have been used as food by the ancient Mayans and Aztecs, and are now recognized for the superfood that they are in our modern day society. In fact, “chia” is the ancient Mayan word for “strength.” (9)
Q: What are the best ways to eat chia seeds?
A: Some of the best ways to enjoy chia seeds are in your smoothies, made into a chia pudding or porridge, on your oatmeal, mixed in with yogurt or sprinkled on top of a salad.
Q: What are chia seeds good for?
A: Chia seeds are an excellent source of fiber, protein, and omega-3 fatty acids. Chia seeds are thought to prevent cardiovascular disease (although further studies are needed), and have been proven to in the prevention and treatment of diabetes. Due to their high antioxidant content, they are potent free radical fighters, which are dangerous molecules that can damage our cells. Last but certainly not least, chia seeds can be a great post exercise snack, as they will replenish and boost energy levels.
Q: What do chia seeds taste like?
A: Chia seeds taste a bit like poppy seeds, they have an earthy taste to them. When they are used in water, or in a pudding they expand and create a gel-like consistency, also becoming slightly sweeter than just eating dry seeds.
Q: How do you sprout chia seeds?
A: To sprout chia seeds, you will need to place the seeds in a shallow dish with just a tiny bit of water. Store the seeds in a very warm place, around 75-80 degrees, and replenish the water regularly. Your seeds will be sprouted after about 1 week. If you’re not using them right away, be sure to store them in an air-tight container in the refrigerator. To learn more about the process of sprouting chia seeds, check out this article.
Q: Can you use chia seeds for weight loss?
A: Because of their high fiber and protein content, chia seeds are thought to be an effective weight loss tool (along with a healthy diet). Chia seeds expand in your stomach, and might help with your feeling of fullness, therefore causing you to eat fewer calories (10). Also, the specific fiber in chia seeds is called glucomannan, which in and of itself has been proven to support weight loss efforts (11).
Q: Do chia seeds help with constipation?
A: While further studies are needed, the type of fiber and bulking properties of chia seeds are thought to help soften stools and help with constipation.
Q: How much chia seed should I be consuming?
A: The appropriate amount of chia seeds to consume in a day depends on the individual, but there is no scientific research that has determined a specific amount. Some sources state that adults can safely consume 15-20 grams of chia seeds per day, which is about 2-3 tablespoons (8). A generally considered safe dosage is 20 grams, which is just under one ounce of chia seeds.
Q: Can I be allergic to chia seeds?
A: While very rare, it is always a possible that an allergy could occur. “Those most likely to have a reaction to chia are individuals who are allergic to sesame or mustard seed, or to other members of the salvia family, such as sage.” (9)
Q: If I am on medication, can I take chia seeds?
A: This depends on the medication, and it is always recommended to discuss with your healthcare professional if any doubts are present.
Q: Should I drink more water when consuming chia seeds?
A: Because of chia seeds high fiber content, drinking plenty of water is definitely suggested, as this will help regulate bowel movements.
Q: Will chia seeds really help my skin?
A: Due to their impressively high antioxidant activity (12), chia seeds are known to help cool generalized inflammation and improve skin health and aging.
Q: What is the difference between the colors of the chia seeds?
A: If confused as to whether you should purchase black, white or brown chia seeds, rest assured that there is actually no major nutritional differences. The differences in color mainly have to do with where the seeds were grown.
Q: How should I store chia seeds?
A: Chia seeds can be stored in a container with a tight fitting lid, in a cool dark place. The antioxidants in the chia seed will help to prevent oxidation for months. If you are using chia gel or ground chia seeds, it is best to keep them refrigerated.
Q: How many calories are in chia seeds?
A: There are approximately 135 calories in one ounce of chia seeds, which is the equivalent of just under 3 tablespoons (13). This include 9 grams of fat, 4 grams of protein and 12 grams of carbohydrate (but remember, 11 of those are dietary fiber that is not digested, so really you can think of chia seeds as a low carbohydrate food).