Chia seeds are frequently featured as the star ingredient in many healthy eating recipes, ranging from baked goods to protein bars to smoothies and beyond. Apart from offering a pop of flavor and texture to your favorite foods, these seeds are also highly nutritious and bring a long list of chia seeds benefits to the table, including increased energy levels, balanced blood sugar and improved heart health.
So why are chia seeds good for you? Keep reading for a complete list of chia seeds benefits and side effects, preparation instructions, and some simple ways to add this tasty seed into your daily diet with some wonderful chia seed recipes.
What Are Chia Seeds?
Chia seeds (Salvia hispanica) have become one of the most popular superfoods in the health community. Hailing from a species of flowering plant in the mint family, they are native to areas of Mexico and Guatemala but are commonly cultivated in many areas in North and South America.
These tasty seeds are easy to digest when prepared properly and can be a very versatile ingredient that works well in a variety of recipes. Plus, they offer a long list of important nutrients, including fiber, protein, manganese and calcium, along with plenty of antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids.
Not only that, but recent research has found that the chia seeds benefits are even greater than scientists initially realized. Chia seeds benefits include promoting healthy skin, reducing signs of aging, supporting the heart and digestive system, building stronger bones, and more.
1. Support Healthy Skin
Chia seeds are jam-packed with antioxidants, accounting for the powerful benefits of chia seeds for skin health. Antioxidants are compounds that fight free radical damage and prevent oxidative stress while also promoting tissue repair and protecting against skin damage.
Interestingly enough, researchers from Mexico recently uncovered that they have a total antioxidant concentration nearly two times higher than previously reported. In fact, the antioxidant activity of chia seeds was shown to stop up to 70 percent of free radical activity.
As one of the most high-antioxidant foods on the planet, adding chia seeds to your diet may help fight premature aging and protect the skin cells against free radical damage to optimize the health of your skin.
2. Promote Digestive Health
Chia is loaded with fiber, squeezing nearly 11 grams of fiber into a single ounce. This means that adding just one ounce of chia seeds into your daily diet can supply a whopping 44 percent of your fiber needs for the entire day.
Because of their rich fiber content, chia seeds benefit digestive health by promoting regularity and increasing stool frequency to prevent constipation. The fiber also acts as a prebiotic to provide fuel for the beneficial bacteria in the gut, which plays a central role in many aspects of health and disease.
Plus, the fiber in chia seeds also absorbs a good amount of water and expands in the stomach, helping to keep you feeling fuller for longer. This may explain why clinical studies show that using chia seeds for weight loss could be effective by curbing hunger and suppressing appetite.
3. Improve Heart Health
Thanks to their high content of antioxidants, fiber and heart-healthy fats, chia seeds pack a major punch when it comes to cardiovascular health. In fact, one of the most powerful chia seeds health benefits is their ability to reduce inflammation and decrease several risk factors of heart disease. Inflammation can put extra strain on blood vessels and is thought to contribute to heart disease along with a slew of other chronic conditions.
Chia seeds are especially high in omega-3 fatty acids, boasting even more omega-3s per gram than salmon. Omega-3s work to protect the heart by lowering blood pressure, cholesterol levels and inflammation. Meanwhile, the fiber found in chia seeds can help manage cholesterol levels and keep the arteries clear to minimize the risk of coronary heart disease.
4. Balance Blood Sugar
Rich in both alpha-linolenic acid and fiber, evidence from several studies suggests that chia seeds can help maintain normal blood sugar levels to fight diabetes and insulin resistance. One animal model in the British Journal of Nutrition even found that adding them to a high-sugar diet prevented changes in blood sugar and lipid levels. What’s more, human studies have also found that adding chia seeds to white bread reduces the glycemic response to prevent spikes and crashes in blood sugar levels.
5. Boost Energy and Exercise Performance
Chia seeds are often used by athletes for carb loading, a strategy that helps maximize the storage of glycogen in the muscles and liver to optimize endurance and boost exercise performance. In fact, a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning concluded that consuming chia seeds enhanced exercise performance for workouts that lasted 90 minutes the same way a sugar-laden sports drink would but without all the unhealthy sugar. In the study, half of the athletes drank 100 percent Gatorade, while the others consumed half Gatorade and half chia seed drink. In the end, the runners’ times were matched, but the half-chia group consumed far less sugar.
Plus, the protein in chia seeds can help build muscle mass and increase strength to help fuel your workouts. Research shows that consuming protein as a post-workout meal can aid in the repair of muscle tissues and can also build new muscle to speed up recovery time between workouts.
6. Build Stronger Bones
One of the biggest chia seed health benefits is the ability to strengthen bone health and preserve bone density while reducing the risk of serious conditions like osteoporosis. This is because chia seeds are loaded with calcium and manganese, two minerals that are incredibly important for maintaining bone health.
With about 99 percent of the calcium in your body stored in your bones, calcium serves an important role in maintaining bone strength and density. Manganese is also involved in bone metabolism, with studies showing that a deficiency in this key nutrient can impair bone resorption and decrease bone formation. Impressively enough, a single ounce of chia seeds contains 18 percent of the calcium you need in a day while also meeting 30 percent of your daily manganese requirements to help build stronger bones.
7. Aid in Weight Loss
Adding chia seeds to your diet is an excellent way to enhance weight loss and help shed stubborn pounds. Chia seeds also rank among the top plant-based protein foods, which is why chia seeds protein is great to consume for those trying to put on lean muscle, burn fat, and manage hunger and appetite.
Studies show that increasing your intake of protein can promote weight loss by curbing cravings and cutting caloric intake. One study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, for example, showed that increasing protein intake by just 15 percent of daily calories led to significant decreases in energy intake and appetite. Other research shows that following a high-protein diet rich in foods like chia seeds could reduce levels of ghrelin, the hormone responsible for stimulating hunger.
8. Fight Cancer Growth
Chia seeds are rich in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a type of omega-3 fatty acid found in many plant foods. In 2013, an in-vitro study published in the Journal of Molecular Biochemistry found that ALA helped limit the growth of both breast and cervical cancer cells. Researchers also found that it caused cell death of the cancer cells without harming the normal healthy cells in the body. While more research still needs to be done to find out the deeper implications of ALA on other types of cancer, this is a great discovery for women struggling with these increasingly common types of cancer. This discovery also makes chia seeds potential cancer-fighting foods.
9. Enhance Oral Health
Because chia seeds are packed with calcium, phosphorus, vitamin A and zinc, it’s no wonder that promoting oral health makes the list as a top benefit of chia seeds. Calcium is the building block of your teeth that is necessary for maintaining oral health. Meanwhile, zinc prevents tartar by keeping plaque from mineralizing onto your teeth and has an antibacterial effect that keeps bad breath germs away. Vitamin A and phosphorus are also important for strong teeth and a healthy mouth, both of which are plentiful in chia seeds.
Take a look at the chia seeds nutrition facts, and it’s easy to tell why they’re so good for you. Each serving contains a small amount of chia seeds calories but is rich in protein, fiber, manganese, phosphorus and calcium. Plus, chia seeds also contain omega-3 fatty acids and other important micronutrients and antioxidants that are important to health as well. This explains why there are so many chia seeds benefits.
One ounce (about 28 grams) of chia seeds contains approximately:
- 137 calories
- 12.3 grams carbohydrates
- 4.4 grams protein
- 8.6 grams fat
- 10.6 grams dietary fiber
- 0.6 milligram manganese (30 percent DV)
- 265 milligrams phosphorus (27 percent DV)
- 177 milligrams calcium (18 percent DV)
- 1 milligram zinc (7 percent DV)
- 0.1 milligram copper (3 percent DV)
- 44.8 milligrams potassium (1 percent DV)
In addition to the nutrients listed above, chia seeds also contain several essential fatty acids; vitamin A, vitamin B, vitamin E and vitamin D; and minerals, such as iron, iodine, magnesium, niacin and thiamine.
Uses in Ayurveda and Traditional Medicine
Given the powerful nutritional value of chia seeds and the long list of health benefits of chia seeds, it should come as no surprise that they have been used for their potent healing properties in many branches of traditional medicine.
According to Ayurveda, chia seeds can help nourish the blood and promote regularity, thanks to their ability to absorb water in the gastrointestinal tract, forming a gel-like substance. Chia seeds can also reduce inflammation, promote kidney health and support proper hydration.
Chia seeds were also originally grown in Central and South America and were used as a natural remedy to enhance endurance and provide strength to warriors. In fact, these ancient civilizations believed that chia seeds possessed supernatural powers and attributed much of their stamina to the super seed.
Chia Seeds vs. Flax Seeds vs. Hemp Seeds
Chia seeds, flax seeds and hemp seeds are the three most popular varieties of seeds for their crunchy texture, mild flavor and the wealth of chia seeds benefits that they can provide. All three are rich in fiber and protein and make valuable additions to a vegan or vegetarian diet for their medicinal properties and extensive nutrient profile.
Ounce for ounce, chia seeds contain the highest amount of fiber and are especially rich in soluble fiber, which can help lower cholesterol levels, reduce appetite and promote regularity. They are also easy to digest, and unlike other types of seeds, they can be consumed either whole or ground. Plus, they boast a good amount of several other micronutrients, including calcium, manganese and phosphorus.
Flax seeds pack in the most omega-3 fatty acids per serving, which is important for reducing inflammation and preventing chronic disease. Flax seeds are also high in lignans, which are plant compounds that acts as an antioxidant and have been linked to protection against cancer and heart disease. Unlike chia seeds, however, flax seeds need to be ground up before consumption in order to maximize the potential health benefits.
Compared to chia seeds and flax seeds, hemp seeds pack in the highest amount of plant-based protein per serving. They’re also rich in magnesium, zinc and iron, three minerals that are essential to many aspects of health. However, they also contain a much higher ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids, a nutrient which most of us get too much in our diets already. Experts typically recommend keeping this ratio as low as possible to relieve inflammation and prevent chronic disease.
Where to Find and How to Grow Chia Seeds
Wondering where to buy chia seeds? They can be found in the health food section of most grocery stores or ordered in bulk quantities online. There are various different types of chia seeds available, including black chia seeds, white chia seeds, milled seeds and pre-hydrated chia. Chia seed oil is also available and can be applied topically to supply your skin with a good amount of hydrating essential fatty acids.
Regardless of what type of chia you decide to buy, opt for organic chia seeds whenever possible and buy from a reputable retailer to ensure you’re getting the best bang for your buck.
You can also try growing chia at home in either an indoor or outdoor garden. Sprinkle the seeds over soil, and be sure to provide enough space for your plant as they tend to grow tall, with some reaching up to six feet. Water seeds daily, and start harvesting once most of the petals have fallen off the flowers of the chia plant. Then pick the flower heads and place them in paper bags to allow them to dry. Once dried, the seeds should separate from the plant rather easily and can then be collected and used in your favorite dishes — everything from simple cereals to low-carb bread recipes to the classic chia seed pudding.
Many people wonder: Where do chia seeds come from? Although today they can be found around the world, they were originally grown in Mexico, where the seeds were highly valued for their medicinal properties and nutritional value. In fact, they were even used as currency at one point.
The chia seed is nutrient-dense and packs a punch of energy-boosting power. Aztec warriors ate chia seeds to give them energy and endurance, claiming that just one spoonful of chia could sustain them for 24 hours. Chia means “strength” in the Mayan language, and chia seeds were known as “runners’ food” because runners and warriors would use them as fuel while running long distances or during battle.
Today, the chia seeds nutrition profile has become the subject of increasing research in the scientific community, with more and more studies uncovering a wide array of potential chia seeds benefits and cementing its status as a potent superfood.
Risks and Side Effects
There are very few side effects associated with chia seeds, and the chia seeds benefits typically outweigh any risks when consumed in moderation as part of a balanced diet.
There has been some conflicting research about the effect of chia seeds on prostate cancer, however. A study done on the effects of ALA on prostate cancer showed that this fatty acid could increase the risk of prostate cancer, but the study was later shown to have some bias. In fact, according to another study in 2010, ALA did not increase prostate cancer risk and actually decreased the risk in participants. Clearly, the jury is still out here.
Occasionally, some people may experience stomach discomfort when consuming chia seeds, especially in large amounts, due to the high fiber content. As with any food, eat in moderation and always drink plenty of water. If you have any concerns or experience any persistent side effects, consider decreasing your intake and be sure to discuss with your doctor.
- The chia seed is a type of seed that comes from a flowering species in the mint family of plants and is native to Mexico and Guatemala.
- The chia nutrition profile boasts a good amount of protein, fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, and important minerals like manganese, calcium and phosphorus — thus explaining why chia seeds benefits are so plentiful.
- So what are chia seeds good for? Chia seeds benefits include increased weight loss, better blood sugar levels, improved heart health, enhanced regularity, increased weight loss and more.
- From chia seed pudding to protein bars and baked goods, there are plenty of chia seeds recipe options that you can try to fit this nutrient-rich seed into your diet and get chia seeds benefits.
- Soak, grind or enjoy whole for a nutritious and delicious way to boost the benefits of your diet and take advantage of the multitude of chia seeds benefits.