Despite their small size, chia seeds are full of important nutrients.
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.
Fast facts on chia seeds:
Here are some key points about chia seeds. More detail is in the main article.
- Chia seeds are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, antioxidants, iron, and calcium.
- A 28-gram, or 1-ounce, serving of chia seeds also contains 5.6 grams of protein.
- Mixed with water, they can replace egg in vegan cooking.
- Chia seeds can be eaten cooked or raw, but they should be added to another food or soaked before eating.
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
Chia seeds provide more omega-3s, calcium, phosphorus, and fiber than flaxseeds. Most people do not consume enough of these essential nutrients.
They have been shown to support a healthy complexion, increased energy, and overall lower weight.
Chia and the power of fiber
The United States (U.S.) dietary guidelines for 2015 to 2020 suggest that men under the age of 50 years should consume 30.8 grams (g) of fiber per day and women under the age of 50 years should consume 25.2 g per day.
For adults over 50 years of age, the recommendation for men is 28 g per day, and for women, it is 22.4 g 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.
Chia seeds contain nearly 5 grams of fiber per tablesoon, and their high levels of omega-3-fatty acids and alpha-linoleic acid may be useful for weight loss. The seed can also be consumed as a gel when mixed with water. This causes it to digest more slowly in the body, potentially preventing hunger for a longer period.
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.
While there aren't many studies on the effect of chia on blood glucose and insulin resistance, a 2017 study suggests that chia seeds may have the ability to convert glucose into a slow-release carbohydrate. This could have a positive effect on people with type 2 diabetes.
High-fiber diets are associated with a lower risk of developing diabetes, and 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.
Chia seeds are relatively easy to find in any major grocery store. They are black in color and they have a mild, nutty flavor.
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.
To make a green chia smoothie, blend 2 cups of spinach, 1.5 cups of water, and 2 tablespoons of chia seeds. Then add one peeled orange, a cup of strawberries, and a cup of frozen blueberries and blend again.
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 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.
If you want to buy chia seeds, then there is an excellent selection online with thousands of customer reviews.