Despite their small size, chia seeds are full of important nutrients. They are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, which help to raise HDL cholesterol.
Chia seeds are also rich in antioxidants, and they provide fiber, iron, and calcium.
Remember the chia pets that were popular in the 1990s? Chia seeds are the same small seeds you used to grow an Afro in your Homer Simpson terracotta vase.
This is one of a collection of articles on the health benefits of popular foods.
It will look at the nutritional value of chia seeds and their possible health benefits, how to incorporate more chia seeds into the diet, and any potential health risks.
Contents of this article:
Nutritional breakdown of chia seeds
Chia seeds are packed full of important nutrients - they are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Nutrient Database, a 28-gram, or one-ounce serving of chia seeds contains:
- 131 calories
- 8.4 grams of fat
- 13.07 grams of carbohydrate
- 11.2 grams of fiber
- 5.6 grams of protein
- No sugar
Eating once ounce of chia seeds each day would provide 18 percent of daily calcium needs, 27 percent of phosphorus, 30 percent of manganese, and smaller amounts of potassium and copper.
Compared with flaxseed, chia seeds provide more omega-3s, calcium, phosphorus, and fiber. Most people do not consume enough of these essential nutrients.
Possible health benefits of consuming chia seeds
Plant-based foods have long been associated with a reduced risk of many adverse health conditions, including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and overall mortality.
Plant-based foods have been shown to support a healthy complexion, increased energy, and overall lower weight.
Chia and the power of fiber
The Food and Nutrition Board of the National Institute of Medicine suggest that men under the age of 50 years should consume 38 grams of fiber per day and women under the age of 50 years should consume 25 grams per day.
For adults over 50 years of age, the recommendation for men is 30 grams per day, and for women, it is 21 grams per day. Most people consume less than half of that recommendation.
The easiest way to increase fiber intake is to eat more plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and unprocessed grains. Just one ounce of chia seeds provides 10 grams of fiber, almost half the daily recommendation for a woman over 50 years.
Foods that are high in fiber help people to feel full for longer, and they are usually lower in calories. Increased fiber intake and a high fiber diet have been shown to help with weight loss.
Aside from chia seeds' fiber content, their high levels of omega-3-fatty acids and alpha-linoleic acid may be useful for weight loss.
However, evidence is scant. A review, published in the Journal of Obesity, concludes that "there is limited data to suggest the use of chia seeds for weight loss."
Another study, published in Nutrition Research, concludes that, in overweight adults, chia seeds have "no influence on body mass or composition, or various disease risk factor measures."
High-fiber diets have been shown to decrease the prevalence in flare-ups of diverticulitis by absorbing water in the colon and making bowel movements easier to pass.
Eating a healthful, fiber-filled diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables can reduce pressure and inflammation in the colon.
The exact causes of diverticular disease are not known, but the condition has repeatedly been associated with a low fiber diet.
Cardiovascular disease and cholesterol
Increased fiber intake has been shown to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
A review of 67 separate controlled trials found that even a modest 10-gram per day increase in fiber intake reduced LDL, or "bad" cholesterol, as well as total cholesterol.
Recent studies have shown that dietary fiber may play a role in regulating the immune system and inflammation. In this way, it may decrease the risk of inflammation-related conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and obesity.
High-fiber diets are associated with a lower risk of developing diabetes. Eating high-fiber meals helps to keep blood sugar stable.
Based on a review of findings from several large studies, The National Institute of Medicine found that diets with 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories were associated with significant reductions in the risk of both coronary heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Digestion and detox
A diet with adequate fiber prevents constipation and promotes regularity for a healthy digestive tract. Regular bowel movements are crucial for the daily excretion of toxins through the bile and stool.
Omega-3s to fight heart disease
Research suggests that omega-3s can decrease the risk for thrombosis and arrhythmias, disorders that can lead to heart attack, stroke, and sudden cardiac death.
Omega-3s may also decrease LDL, total cholesterol and triglyceride levels, reduce atherosclerotic plaque, improve endothelial function, and slightly lower blood pressure.
The richest sources of plant-based omega-3s are chia seeds, flaxseeds, flaxseed oil, hempseeds, hempseed oil, and walnuts.
How to incorporate more chia seeds into your diet
Chia seeds are relatively easy to find in any major grocery store. They are black in color and they have a mild, nutty flavor.
Chia seeds can be eaten raw, or cooked and added to yogurt, cereal, and smoothies.
Raw, they can be sprinkled on cereal, yogurt, oatmeal, or smoothies. They can also be eaten cooked, added to baked goods like bread and muffins.
In vegan baking, they can replace eggs. To use them as an egg substitute in baking, try mixing 1 tablespoon of chia seeds with 3 tablespoons of water, then let them sit for a few minutes. A gel will form that can be used instead of eggs in baking.
Follow these links to find some recipes that use chia:
- Pumpkin spiced steel cut oats
- Lemon raspberry zucchini bars
- Homemade KIND bars
- Spaghetti and lentil meatballs
- Banana pumpkin power smoothie
Potential health risks of consuming chia seeds
Chia seeds can absorb up to 27 times their weight in water.
One man with a history of swallowing problems developed an esophageal obstruction after he ate a tablespoon of dry chia seeds and then tried to wash them down with a glass of water.
The seeds formed a thick gel in his esophagus that he was unable to swallow without medical treatment.
This case was a rare case, but it highlights the importance of mixing chia seeds into another food or liquid before consuming, especially for people with a history of swallowing problems. Small children should not be given chia seeds.
To prevent disease and achieve good health, it is better to eat a balanced diet with a variety of foods, rather than concentrating on individual foods.