Feb. 26. 2013
Articles
McKel Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

McKel Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

Dietitian, Founder and CEO

Cha-cha-cha-chia! Yes, I’m referring to chia seeds, the grass-head plants you may remember watering in your home and watching sprout up in amazement.

Although many may know them from chia pets, the edible variety of this nutritious seed is loaded with important nutrients and health benefits. Besides supplying lots of fiber, protein, and heart-healthy fats, chia seeds may also help promote digestive health, strengthen the bones, balance blood sugar levels, and more.

What Are Chia Seeds?

So what exactly are chia seeds and where do chia seeds come from? 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. They were especially popular among ancient warriors for their small size and significant nutrient density, which helped to nourish and fuel the body 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 the fantastic chia nutrition profile), is their ability to completely transform in size and volume. These tiny seeds are very hydrophilic (they love water!) and soak up any form of liquid they’re surrounded by, up to ten times their weight. For this reason, they’re great for adding more fiber into your diet, boosting satiety, and keeping you hydrated.

The fiber that allows these seeds to swell up with water and create this “gel” is soluble fiber, and these seeds are loaded with it! Soluble fiber is great because it promotes overall gut health, feeds the gut flora, ferments in your intestines to form short-chain fatty acids, and stabilizes blood sugar levels (1). Imagine chia seeds are like the soft bristles of a broom or brush that are “brushing” your intestines, which is important for digestive health to help keep things moving.

Chia Seed Health Benefits

1. Balances blood sugar levels

Thanks to the nutritional value of chia seeds, these tiny seeds can have a big impact on blood sugar levels. They’re rich in soluble fiber, which helps slow the absorption of sugar in the blood to prevent sudden spikes and crashes. Interestingly enough, one study actually found that adding whole or ground chia seeds to white bread helped protect against changes in blood sugar levels after consumption (1). Some of the most common side effects of unstable blood sugar levels include fatigue, hunger, anxiety, and shakiness — all of which are symptoms you definitely want to avoid.

2. Upgrades your workout

Looking for a way to help bring your workout routine to the next level? Give chia seeds a try! Chia is great for carb loading, a practice used by athletes to help maximize glycogen storage and boost endurance and energy levels. One study actually found that chia seeds were just as effective at enhancing exercise performance as sports drinks, but with significantly less sugar and an added burst of protein, fiber, and important vitamins and minerals (2).

3. Supports weight control

Each serving of chia contains a hearty dose of protein and fiber, both of which are incredibly important when it comes to weight management. Protein works by slowing the emptying of the stomach to help curb cravings and keep you feeling fuller for longer (3). It’s also involved in tissue repair and muscle growth, which is especially important on any weight loss diet. Meanwhile, fiber also supports feelings of satiety and helps stabilize blood sugar levels. This can keep your appetite in check and enhance energy levels throughout the day.

4. Promotes digestive health

Chia seeds are jam-packed with fiber, an important nutrient that moves slowly through the intestines to help keep things moving. Not only can this be incredibly beneficial for relieving constipation and boosting regularity, but it can also be useful for treating several other digestive conditions as well. In fact, according to one review, increasing your intake of fiber from foods like chia seeds could help protect against hemorrhoids, acid reflux, diverticulitis, and more (4).

5. Strengthens bones

A single serving of chia seeds can knock out a huge chunk of the calcium, manganese, and phosphorus you need for the entire day, which can bring big benefits for bone health. Calcium forms the main structural component of the bones and works together with phosphorus to build new bone tissue. Meanwhile, manganese plays a key role in bone metabolism and is integral to keeping bones healthy and strong.

6. Rich in antioxidants

Chia seeds are a great source of antioxidants, which are powerful compounds that help neutralize free radicals in the body and protect against cell damage. Studies show that the antioxidants found in chia are incredibly effective at fighting free radicals to reduce oxidative stress and prevent chronic disease (5). In fact, one review reported that these beneficial compounds could aid in the prevention and treatment of chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and cancer (6).

7. Good source of omega-3 fatty acids

In addition to supplying a high amount of protein and fiber in each serving, chia seeds are also loaded with omega-3 fatty acids. These heart-healthy fats are integral to health and provide benefits for fetal development, heart health, and cognitive function. They’re also involved in regulating inflammation, immune function, and even eye health as well (7). Although fatty fish varieties like salmon or sardines are often considered some of the best sources of this important form of fat, chia seeds are a great vegan alternative that can ensure you’re meeting your needs on a plant-based diet.

Chia Seeds Nutrition Facts

Chia seeds pack quite a punch when it comes to nutrition. Each serving is loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, protein, calcium, phosphorus, and manganese, plus several other important micronutrients.

One ounce of chia seeds contains the following nutrients (8):

  • 137 calories
  • Carbohydrates: 12.3 grams
  • Protein: 4.4 grams
  • Fat: 8.6 grams
  • Fiber: 10.6 grams
  • Manganese: 30% of the DV
  • Phosphorus: 27% of the DV
  • Calcium: 18% of the DV
  • Zinc: 7% of the DV
  • Copper: 3% of the DV

How to Use Chia Seeds

There are plenty of options for how to eat chia seeds to enjoy the many benefits that this power-packed seed has to offer. For starters, you can use it as a natural thickener by adding it into smoothies for a thicker, creamier texture. It also works well as an egg replacement in certain recipes by helping ingredients bind together. Try making a “chia-egg” for your favorite egg-free recipes by combining one tablespoon of ground chia seeds with three tablespoons of filtered water.

Alternatively, beat the heat and stay hydrated by whipping up a delicious chia seed drink. Soak chia seeds in a liquid of your choice to transform it into a more filling beverage almost instantly. Almond milk, coconut milk, fresh-pressed fruit or vegetable juice, and coconut water are all excellent choices that you can experiment with.

You can also use this versatile seed to top off oatmeal, hot cereals, granola or fresh fruit. Or, try making a tasty chia seed pudding by soaking it in coconut milk and adding your favorite fruits, veggies and spices for a guilt-free dessert.

For best results, be sure to soak chia seeds prior to consumption. If you do use these seeds without pre-soaking, I recommend you drink more water about 30 minutes before or after that meal. Remember, 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.

Chia Seeds Recipes

Need some ideas for how to take advantage of the many potential chia seeds health benefits? Here are a few tasty recipes you can use to help get you going:

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Chia seeds are equal parts versatile, delicious, and nutritious, making them a stellar addition to a healthy diet. From desserts to baked goods to breakfasts and beyond, there are tons of different ways to incorporate this powerful ingredient into your daily diet.

If you’re looking for more support and ways to integrate more chia seeds (and other healthy seeds) into your life, then check out our best-selling Online Education Programs. We offer programs to give you the tools you need for meal planning, learning how to stock your kitchen, give your body a reset with whole foods, and more. Click here to explore what programs are right for you. Or if you’re ready to get started now with making Healthy Eating Simple, then take our free 4-part series, click here to join!