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Chia Seeds: Facts, Nutrition, Benefits, and More

Have you ever tried chia seeds before?

Chia seeds are not only small and heavily packed with nutrients, but they are so easy to add to your favorite foods and drinks! These tiny seeds have been used for centuries for a variety of reasons.

Keep reading to find out all about chia seeds, including where they originate from, their history, nutrition facts, health benefits, and more!

Fun Fact: The average weight of one chia seed is extremely light, around 1.3 mg, which is lighter than a grain of rice.

History of Chia Seeds

Chia seeds, also known as Salvia Hispanica, originate from southern Mexico and northern Guatemala. They belong to the genus Salvia, the plant family Lamiaceae (1). The word chia stems from the Spanish word “chian”, which means oily (2).

Initially, chia was strictly grown in tropical climates. Today, however, in addition to Mexico and Guatemala, chia plants are also cultivated in Australia, Argentina, America, and Europe (3).

Chia has been noted to be used back to the Aztec and Mayan periods, used for food, cosmetics, and religious rituals (4). The chia plant itself produces white and purple flowers, with it being mainly grown for its white and/or black seeds (5).

Did You Know?: Mexico is recognized as the world’s largest chia producer.

Nutrition Facts

Chia seeds are tiny but mighty! They contain tons of nutrients that support overall health. Are you familiar with all of the different macronutrients, vitamins, and minerals one serving contains?

Macronutrients

Can you guess what nutrient chia seeds contain a large amount of? If you are guessing fiber, you are correct! Chia seeds contain as much as 34 and 40 grams of dietary fiber per 100 grams of chia seeds (6). Other than fiber, here are some of the macronutrients that a serving size of 1 ounce (around 28 grams) of chia seeds contains (7):

  • Calories: 138 kcal
  • Protein: 4.7 grams
  • Fat: 8.7 grams total, 6.72 grams of polyunsaturated fats: Although they may seem on the fattier side, chia seeds are mainly comprised of healthy fatty acids called polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs).
  • Carbohydrates: 12 grams
  • Fiber: 9.75 grams: This is around 35% of the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for someone on a 2,000-calorie-per-day diet (8). Americans generally do not eat enough fiber daily so eating chia seeds can help meet the recommendation of 25-38 grams per day.

Vitamins & Minerals

Chia seeds are a great source of vitamins and minerals. In one ounce of chia seeds, some of the micronutrients include (9):

 

  • Calcium: 179 milligrams (mg), 13.7% of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI)
  • Iron: 2.19 milligrams (mg), 12% of the RDI
  • Magnesium: 95 milligrams (mg), 23% of the RDI
  • Phosphorous: 244 milligrams (mg), 18% of the RDI

Chia seeds are one of the best plant-based sources of omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids, also known as alpha-linolenic acid and linoleic acid. A balanced amount of both of these fatty acids is crucial for the human body and has been noted to promote health, be an antioxidant, and display antimicrobial activity (10, 11).

Other than fatty acids, chia seeds contain high amounts of calcium, iron, magnesium, and phosphorous. These vitamins and minerals are important for hormone synthesis, growth regulation, protection from oxidative stress, and support of healthy cells and tissues in the body (12).

Summary: Chia seeds are rich in tons of nutrients-fiber, protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and micronutrients to name a few.

Health Benefits of Chia Seeds

Are you aware of all the amazing health benefits that chia seeds have? Below are just a few of them.

They May Reduce the Risk of Heart Disease

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and the third leading cause of mortality worldwide (13). It accounts for approximately 610,000 deaths per year in the U.S. (14).

Some studies suggest that chia seeds have a beneficial effect on lipids and blood markers in adults related to heart health. These studies indicate that consuming chia seeds has a reduction in adults’ triglyceride levels, LDL (bad) cholesterol, and total cholesterol levels while increasing the level of HDL (good) cholesterol. Together, these help promote heart health and decrease the risk of heart disease.

Additionally, chia is a great source of omega-3 and omega-6 or polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), and linoleic acid (LA) (15). These are all essential fatty acids, meaning they are an important part of a healthy diet. Specifically, these fatty acids are important for maintaining healthy lipid levels (16).

Lastly, due to the high amount of fiber chia seeds contains, it may also be a recommendation for decreasing the risk of heart disease. Consuming adequate amounts of fiber may help to decrease the risk of coronary heart disease in addition to promoting overall health maintenance and disease prevention (17).

Summary: Chia seeds contain several different components that all aim to promote heart health and decrease the risk of heart disease.

They Support the Digestive System

Chia seeds contain both soluble and insoluble fiber. Fiber intake has been correlated with decreasing the risk of a variety of diseases and even cancer. Additionally, fiber is great for gut health.

Because of the high amount of fiber chia seeds contain, eating them can help enhance the feeling of satiety (18). This means you will typically feel fuller for a longer amount of time when eating them. Additionally, consuming enough fiber promotes proper bowel function (19).

Having chia seeds can help increase stool volume and prevent GI issues like diverticulosis (20). There are several other nutrient components in chia seeds that have been shown to facilitate digestive enzyme activity which further promotes gut health, not just the fiber aspect.

Summary: Chia seeds contain several nutrients, including fiber, that help promote digestive health and regulate bowel movements.

They Contain Antioxidants

Chia seeds contain several different types of antioxidants. Some of these antioxidants are compounds called tocopherols, sterols, and polyphenols (21). Consuming chia seeds may help to prevent inflammation in the body and decrease free radicals in the body (22).

When the number of free radicals can be decreased, this helps to lower the number of cells that do damage throughout the body. Free radicals have been known to play a role in heart disease, cancer, and other diseases.

In addition to reducing free radicals, chia seeds may play a role in decreasing oxidative stress (23). Oxidative stress harms the body, causing cell tissue to break down and cause DNA damage, which can also result in inflammation.

Summary: Chia seeds contain antioxidants, which can help decrease inflammation, reduce free radicals, and decrease oxidative stress in the body.

Ways to Consume Chia Seeds

Chia is typically consumed in the form of seeds, seed flours, and seed oils, chia seeds being the most common (24). They are very versatile. Chia seeds have a mild taste and will typically take on the taste of whatever they are being added to.

These little seeds are hydrophilic, meaning they are attracted to water molecules and will dissolve in liquids. They will plump up usually 10-12 times their original size when added to liquids, forming almost a gelatinous texture which makes them easier to swallow. This process usually takes 5-10 minutes.

Try adding them to:

  • Plain or flavored water
  • As a topping on foods like yogurt
  • Smoothies
  • Pudding
  • Salad dressings
  • Baked foods like muffins, bread, or granola
  • Home-made popsicles
  • Jam

If none of the above methods sound appealing or are too time-consuming, you can also just eat a spoonful of chia seeds plain. Just beware that they may get stuck in your teeth and expand in the stomach so it may be good to drink some water afterward.

Did You Know?: In the food industry, chia seeds are used as substitutes for eggs and fat due to the amount of water they can absorb.

Potential Risks of Eating Chia Seeds

There are typically minimal to no risks of eating chia seeds, however, they may cause minimal side effects for some people.

  • They may cause digestive issues:: For people who have a hard time consuming too much fiber, chia seeds can cause digestive issues. Too much fiber can cause digestive issues like abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea, bloating, and gas. People who may need to monitor fiber intake include those with digestive issues like ulcerative colitis (UC) and Crohn’s disease.
  • They may increase the risk of choking:: Chia seeds may increase the risk of choking for some. If you are someone that has difficulty swallowing, ask your doctor before consuming chia seeds. Since the size of chia seeds increase significantly once they come into contact with liquid, this can increase the possibility of them getting lodged in the throat.
  • They may cause allergic reactions:: Although uncommon, some people may have an allergic reaction after eating chia seeds. Some of the allergenic symptoms may include itching in the mouth or lips, vomiting, diarrhea, or trouble breathing. If you notice any of these symptoms after eating chia seeds, stop eating them immediately and talk to your doctor or a medical professional.

Summary: In general, chia seeds are safe to consume. However, they can cause issues for those who have digestion issues, swallowing difficulties, or an allergy to chia.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Are chia seeds gluten-free?

Yes, chia seeds are gluten-free. Someone who needs to avoid gluten or has celiac disease does not have to worry about chia seeds containing any gluten (25).

Which is better to consume, chia seeds or flax seeds?

Chia and flax seeds both have similar nutrient profiles and are high in fiber. However, research suggests that chia seeds may have a greater effect on satiety. Additionally, they have a better blood sugar response in the body than flax seeds (26).

What is the difference between the colors of chia seeds?

Typically, there are two colors to chia seeds, white and black. Although they appear different, the nutrient profile they contain is essentially the same. Both colors contain the same amount of fiber, protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and other nutrients.

Do chia seeds need to be ground up before eating them?

No. Unlike flax seeds, chia seeds do not need to be ground before consuming them. You can consume them raw or add them to liquid.

Reminder: Don’t forget to drink plenty of water when consuming chia seeds. Since they expand in liquid, some people occasionally report stomach cramps if they are not drinking enough liquids when consuming them.

Conclusion

Chia seeds are a wonderful and quick choice whenever you want to try giving your favorite foods a healthy boost. They have been around for years. The seeds pack a large amount of fiber, protein, and healthy fatty acids in a small serving size.

Not only can chia seeds help promote digestive health, but they can help decrease the risk of chronic diseases and promote overall health. You may want to try adding chia seeds to yogurt, smoothies, or a simple beverage like water. You can even incorporate them into your favorite baked goods like breads and muffins. Don’t forget to give chia seeds a try soon and see all of the amazing benefits for yourself!