Chia seeds (Salvia hispanica), also called Salba chia or Mexican chia, are the edible seeds of a flowering plant from the mint family. Native to Mexico and Guatemala, the seeds have a long history. They were a vital crop in ancient Aztec and Mesoamerican cultures. The seeds had medicinal applications and made up an important part of the peoples’ diets.
Today, chia grows commercially in many countries including Mexico, Guatemala, Peru, Argentina, Australia, and the United States. The seeds are widely recognized as a nutrient-dense addition to healthy diets.
Chia seeds are an excellent source of vitamins, minerals, and powerful antioxidants. Some of these antioxidants include:
- Caffeic acid
- Chlorogenic acid
These nutrients help provide many significant health benefits.
Reduced Free Radicals
Antioxidants found in chia seeds can help to fight free radicals in your body. Free radicals cause oxidative stress and cell damage. Eating foods rich in antioxidants may help to reduce your risk of developing many health issues associated with free radicals, including heart disease, cognitive decline, and certain types of cancer.
Better Heart Health
Chia seeds contain quercetin, an antioxidant that can reduce your risk of developing several health conditions, including heart disease. The seeds are also high in fiber, which can help to lower high blood pressure and, in turn, reduce your risk of developing heart disease.
Improved Blood Sugar Levels
Chia seeds are high in fiber. Studies show that fiber may help to reduce insulin resistance and improve blood sugar levels, reducing your risk of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. Research has also found that bread containing chia seeds triggers a lower blood sugar response than traditional bread, which helps to prevent high blood sugar levels.
Chronic inflammation can lead to health conditions like heart disease and cancer. Caffeic acid, an antioxidant found in chia seeds, can help to fight inflammation in the body. Eating chia seeds regularly may also help to reduce inflammatory markers, which often indicate the presence of an inflammatory disease.
Healthier Weight Management
A 1-ounce serving of chia seeds has 39% of your recommended daily allowance of fiber. The soluble fiber in the seeds absorbs water, causing them to expand in your stomach and increase your feeling of fullness when you eat them. By letting you feel fuller despite eating less, chia seeds can help you maintain a healthy weight.
Better Bone Health
Chia seeds have several nutrients that are vital for bone health, including magnesium and phosphorus. A single ounce of the seeds also contains 18% of your recommended daily allowance of calcium, which is vital for healthy bone, muscle, and nerve functioning. When compared gram for gram, chia seeds have more calcium than dairy products.
Chia seeds provide many essential nutrients, including:
Chia seeds are also an incredible source of alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid that helps to promote a lower omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio — a lower ratio is associated with reduced risks of chronic conditions such as heart disease, cancer, and inflammatory conditions.
Nutrients Per Serving
A 1-ounce serving (28.35 grams) of chia seeds has:
- Calories: 138
- Protein: 4.7 grams
- Fat: 8.7 grams
- Carbohydrates: 12 grams
- Fiber: 9.8 grams
- Sugar: 0 grams
Things to Look Out For
Although chia seeds offer a variety of health benefits, eating too many may lead to complications:
Digestive issues. Because of their high fiber content, eating too many chia seeds may cause constipation, diarrhea, bloating, and gas. Chia seeds may also cause flare-ups with inflammatory bowel conditions such as Crohn’s disease.
Choking hazard. Dry chia seeds absorb water, which causes them to swell up and become gelatinous. Dry chia seeds can get stuck in your throat, which poses a choking hazard. To avoid this risk, soak the seeds 5 to 10 minutes before use.
Interactions with medication. Chia seeds help to reduce blood sugar and high blood pressure. If you’re already taking medications for diabetes or hypertension, eating too many chia seeds can cause severe dips in blood sugar levels and blood pressure, which may lead to other health complications.
Allergies. Although rare, chia seed allergies do occur in some people. Symptoms to watch out for include vomiting, diarrhea, and itching of the tongue or lips. Severe allergies can lead to anaphylaxis.
Because chia seeds can lead to some issues, it’s best to start small. At first, try just a 1-tablespoon serving. Make sure to prepare them in a way that will allow them to expand before you eat them.
From there, you can gradually add a little more chia seed to your diet. But if you feel that they lead to digestive issues, it might be smart to cut back.
Store chia seeds in a cool, dark place. If you grind your seeds, place them in an airtight bag or storage container and store them in your pantry or refrigerator.
Chia seeds have many culinary applications. Some ways to prepare them include:
- Mixing them with milk or fruit juice to make a chia pudding, which you can top with cacao nibs or fresh fruit
- Creating an egg replacer to use in baked goods such as cakes or breads
- Mixing them into muffin batter
- Making a chia gel to add to homemade soups or smoothies
- Sprinkling raw seeds on oatmeal or a salad
- Soaking them to make chia sprouts
- Mixing them with almond flour and spices to make a breading for fried chicken
- Adding them to homemade energy bars
Because the outside layer of chia seeds is very thin, they break down easily when you chew them. But if you’re sprinkling them dry over a dish, you may absorb the nutrients more easily from ground seeds. You can grind them gently or buy pre-ground seeds.
Another way to add chia seeds to your diet is to drink chia seed water. High-fiber foods can make you dehydrated, because they pull water from your tissues into your GI tract. Adding water to chia seeds helps you stay hydrated while you get the benefits of the nutrients in the seeds. For the fiber in the chia seeds to work well, some experts recommend drinking chia seed water along with a meal.