Feb. 26. 2013
Nutrition Articles
McKel (Hill) Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

McKel (Hill) Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

Dietitian, Founder


Cha-cha-cha-chia! Yes, I’m referring to the grass-head plants you water in your home and watch them grow in amazement. No, the seeds contained in a kit you may buy are not edible grade nor are the type I’m suggesting you eat; always try to consume the organic varieties when possible. Today I want to share with you all the great health benefits and nutrition of chia seeds.

What are chia seeds? Let’s start with a brief yet formal introduction. Salba grain or salvia hispanica a.k.a. chia seeds are native to Southern and Central Mexico and Guatemala. These seeds (derived from the whole plant/flower) were an important crop grown and used by the Aztecs for their long lasting energy, fiber, amino acids, and nutrients. You could imagine why these were so popular and widely used with the Aztecs- the small size lead to easy transportation while packing significant nutrient density to nourish and fuel their bodies for long periods of time.

If you’ve ever had a chia-pet you know exactly what the seeds looks like, if not they are small black, white, and grey spherical seeds about the size of the tip of a pen or pencil.

What’s amazing about these seeds (other than their fantastic nutrition profile), is their ability to completely transform in size and volume. These little ones are very hydrophilic (they love water!) and because of this, they take every opportunity to soak up any form of liquid they’re surrounded by, up to 10 times their weight. This physical attribute to these seeds gives special interest to those of you who are looking to add more fiber into your diet, a filling component to a meal, or hydration.

The fiber which allows these seeds to swell up with water and create this “gel” is soluble fiber and these seeds are loaded with it! Quick side note on why soluble fiber rocks: 1) promotes overall gut health, 2) feeds your gut flora, and 3) ferments in your intestines and forms short chain fatty acids, and 4) stabilizes blood sugar. Imagine chia seeds are like the soft bristles of a broom or brush that are “brushing” your intestines, which is important for digestive health (and keeping things moving).

»Keep in mind, when you’re increasing the fiber intake in your diet, be gradual and gentle with it. Allow your body to adjust to the changes and be aware of how your body is tolerating it. The two pictures below show just how absorbent chia seeds are. On the left is 2 tablespoons of dried chia seeds, on the right is the same 2 tablespoons hydrated with about 1/2 cup of water! Amazing huh?


Nutrient breakdown of CHIA |

  • Omega-3 fatty acids | 4.9g/ 1 oz. Specifically in the form of alpha-linoleic acid (ALA). In humans, ALA is not as easily converted (in most circumstances) to EPA/DHA as from animal sources. This is whole other topic for a later post.
  • Omega-6 fatty acids | 1.6g/1 oz.
  • Fiber | 11g of fiber/1 oz. Soluble form of fiber
  • Protein | 4g of protein/ 1 oz. A complete form of plant protein as it contains all the essential amino acids.
  • Calcium | Most known for bone health, but also muscle function, nerve transmission, hormonal secretions, and vasodilation/vasoconstriction (fancy way to say it helps blood vessels move blood throughout the body).
  • Phosphorus | Plays a primary role in the formation of bones and teeth, helps the body utilize carbohydrates, fats, and synthesize proteins for cell and tissue repair/growth. Also needed for the body to metabolize nutrients to produce ATP (basically energy for our bodies/muscles).
  • Manganese | Plays a role in bone formation, processing cholesterol, fat, protein, and carbohydrate metabolism;  blood sugar regulation, and thyroid health.

Notice these minerals contained in chia seeds is natures perfect way of delivering nutrients in an optimum way for absorption (exciting huh?).  You see, calcium, phosphorus, and manganese have nice marriage (love triangle?) in all things bone health and work in harmony to maximize bone health.

How to use chia seeds…

  • Chia puddings
  • Chia jams 
  • Thickener // Addition into smoothies for a thicker, creamier texture
  • Hydrate // Soak in a liquid of your choice for a more filling drink such as almond milk, coconut milk, fresh pressed vegetable/fruit juice, coconut water, etc.
  • Baking // Typically used in vegan or “egg-free” baking as a substitute for an egg or another binding agent
    • TIP: How to make a “chia-egg” Combine 1 Tbs. of ground chia seed with 3 Tbs. of filtered water and use as an egg/thickener.
  • Top oatmeal, yogurt, fresh sliced fruit, etc.
  • If you do use these seeds without pre-soaking, I recommend you drink more water before or after that meal (30 minutes before or after). Remember, as we discussed earlier, chia seeds love water so they will likely end up “soaking” up any surrounding water in your digestive system and it will be pulled into the seeds for absorption. If there isn’t enough surrounding liquid, chia seeds could give you uncomfortable and unpleasant digestive issues… and no one wants that.

My favorite recipe for chia seeds is coming up soon. Have you ever tried chia seeds? If, so how have you used them?

Cha-cha-cha- Ciao bellas!