7 Chia Seed Benefits to Chomp Down On

Though chia seeds may have gained recent popularity due to the beloved chia pets (ch-ch-ch-chia, anyone?), they have actually been used for health since nearly the beginning of mankind.

What are Chia Seeds?

Chia seeds are the protein-packed tiny seeds that come from the Salvia Hispanica plant. It is related to the mint family and like mints, chia is an annual herb that has the ability to reseed itself.

Historically, this superfood was a favorite among the Aztecs and Mayans, who believed that chia seeds gave them strength. In fact, they believed in the power of this food so much it was a revered staple crop. 

The ancient Aztecs and Mayans ground them into flour and pressed the seeds into oil for consumption, even adding them to their water. Aztec warriors often carried the seeds into battle with them. Not surprising that the name “chia” can be traced back to the Mayan word for strength.

Today, the Salvia Hispanica plant continues to sustain the peoples of Central and South America where it is cultivated and enjoyed ground or as a whole food - except now, word has gotten around on this tiny superfood and the rest of the world is enjoying the all the chia seed benefits, too.​

Curious what exactly these strength-giving health benefits of chia seeds are? 

Chia Seed Benefits

These little seeds (they're only 1 millimeter in diameter!) are now a staple superfood in kitchens around the world. Read on to find out why...

1. Chia Seeds are a Rare Source of Plant-based Complete Protein

The protein in chia contains all nine essential amino acids, making it a 'complete' protein that's comparable in protein quality to beef. This is rare for a plant-based source of protein, and makes chia especially benefits for vegetarians and vegans. 

2. Actually, the overall nutritional value of Chia seeds is pretty darn amazing 

For such a tiny seed - chia is hoarding a crazy amount of nutrition. 

Just one 28-gram serving (about two tablespoons) of this tiny superfood offers significant nutrition including...

  • 9 grams of fats (of which 5 are omega-3s) 
  • 11 grams of dietary fiber
  • 4 grams of protein

In addition, a single serving shares high levels of calcium (18%), phosphorus (27%), magnesium (30%), and manganese (30%).

A serving of chia seeds also contains around 18% of the recommended daily dose of calcium; that’s more than most single serve dairy items! But that’s not all: this mighty seed also contains a lovely array of vitamins B3, B1, B2, potassium, and zinc.

Even more impressive when you take into account that this load of nutrition comes with only 137 calories - making chia seeds, calorie for calorie, one of the best nutrient sources in the world.​

​3. ...And a Little More on Chia Seed Nutrition

To go on about chia seed nutrition - this tiny superfood boasts high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, mostly the coveted alpha linolenic acid (ALA). Omega-3s comprise approximately 25-30% of a chia seed’s composition, making chia seeds one of the densest sources of plant oil ALA on the planet. 

​In fact, by weight, chia seeds offer more omega-3s than salmon and have significantly less risk of pollutants and toxins.

So why's that awesome? Well, omega-3 fats ​are a crucial part of the cell membranes in our bodies and influence the function of these membrane cell receptors. They're also the starting point for making the hormones that regulate blood clotting, the contraction and relaxation of our artery walls, and inflammation. 

Thanks to these functions, omega-3 fats come with a bevy of health benefits, including...​

  • Cardiovascular protection by lowering bad cholesterol and triglycerides and increasing HDL cholesterol
  • Anti-inflammatory and may help the symptoms of arthritis
  • Reduce cognitive aging
  • Helps prevent and treat skin conditions like acne, eczema and atopic dermatitis
  • Higher omega-3 may boost weight loss efforts and reduce belly fat

But the biggest benefit of these particular omega-3s is that the human body uses ALA for energy - which is why chia seeds are an ideal workout endurance food. 

Unfortunately, the human body doesn't make essential fatty acids so we need to obtain them from outside sources - chia seeds are ideal. 

4. Don't Forget the Antioxidants!

Chia seeds are also a rich source of antioxidants. The antioxidant count in chia seeds is so high that it helps stabilize the fats, such as omega-3s, from going rancid. 

Antioxidants play an important role in fighting and ultimately removing free radicals from the body. Ever-increasing levels of free radicals not only damage cells but can lead to chronic diseases including a variety of cancers. The fewer free radicals in your body, the younger you look and the healthier you feel.​

5. Chia Seeds for Weight Loss: The Perfect Diet Food

Have you seen chia seeds in water?

It's probably one of the coolest things about chia. These little seeds are hydrophilic, which means it can absorb over 10 times their weight in liquid. 

That's great news if you're trying to stick to a weight loss diet or just need some help making healthier dietary choices. ​The gel-like chia keeps you feeling full without that heaviness feeling of protein bars and keeps you energized without the sudden crash of sugary sports drinks.  

Also keep in mind that the majority of the carbohydrates found in chia seeds are fiber - the actual carb content of chia is only 1 gram per ounce, making chia seeds an incredibly low-carb food. 

The high fiber content of chia seeds (they're 40% fiber, by weight) is great news for weight loss since it increases fullness, slow the absorption of food which helps you eat fewer calories and also increases friendly bacteria in your gut, helping better digestion and overall gut health. ​

Add to that the fact that protein has been shown to be helpful for weight loss and chia seeds make the perfect superfood addition to any weight loss goals you have. They're also incredibly easy to use as substitutes in recipes - since they become gel-like in water you can use these seeds to replace eggs, make pudding​ and in a gazillion other chia seed recipes

6. Chia Seeds Improve Endurance and Workout Performance

Chia is the original new old superfood, with documents dating as far back as 3,500 BC showing it was the nutritional foundation for the Aztecs. But it was more than just a staple food - the Aztecs believed chia seeds gave them supernatural energy and stamina. So much so that chia was their go-to "running food" - couriers would rely only on chia for nourishment while relaying messages throughout their sizable kingdom. 

Chia was also staple food for sustenance to be brought along on long, arduous hunting and trading journeys as well as in battle. ​

This isn't surprising considering chia's nutritional profile - it's packed with fiber, essential fatty acids, bioflavonoids, bone-building minerals, and it's a complete protein to boot - allowing athletes to load up on strengthening nutrients and feel full without the unnecessary ingredients you'll find in energy drinks or bars (i.e. additives and sugar). 

7. Chia Seeds and Diabetes

Although no food can produce miracles on its own, in conjunction with healthy lifestyle choices, chia seeds may be able to help control type 2 diabetes. As a whole food, chia seeds can reduce inflammation throughout the body as well as insulin resistance.​

A study published by the American Diabetes Association found that chia seeds reduced cardiovascular risk factors in patients with type 2 diabetes. Notably, blood pressure levels decreased by around 3 to 6 mm/Hg and an inflammatory marker called hs-CRP decreased by 40%. Another risk facts known as vWF also went down by 21%.

And thanks to its very low glycemic index, chia seeds has negligible effect on insulin levels and may also work to reduce blood sugar spikes after meals.​

How to Use Chia Seeds

Ounce-for-ounce chia has more omega-3 than salmon, more fiber than oatmeal, and more protein than tofu. Pretty nifty, huh?

But...how do you actually eat these seeds?​

Chia seeds can be used in many different ways, but my personal favorite is adding them to smoothies. Since they don’t have much of their own flavor, they absorb the taste of other foods with which they are combined.

Smoothies with chia seeds are my favorite way to start the day because they are so full of nutrients that help energize in a caffeine-free way!

A great, simple chia smoothie recipe is to add a handful of fresh spinach, a cup of frozen mixed berries, a cup of coconut milk and a tablespoon or two of soaked chia seeds. Simply blend everything but the chia seeds together until mixed well. Add seeds and pulse for a few seconds more, et voilà! Enjoy!

You can also sprinkle chia seeds on your yogurt or add it into oatmeal for an extra boost of protein and health fats to perk up your mornings!

Chia Seeds Side Effects: What You Should know

Chia seeds are packed with benefits, but like everything else in life, there is a downside as well. For example, large amounts of omega-3s in the bloodstream can also negatively affect blood thinner medication; therefore, individuals on such medications or individuals with an upcoming surgery should ask their doctor about consuming chia—especially on a daily basis.

Additionally, chia seeds contain high levels of naturally-occurring alpha-linolenic acid. Although this nutrient is healthy for the body, it may also increase an individual’s risk of prostate cancer according to WebMD.

And lastly - if you're allergic to mustard seed, there's a good chance you'll be allergic to chia seeds as well.

About the Author Jessica

After growing up a perpetually pudgy kid, Jessica discovered real food - and her waistline shortly afterward. When she's not crafting concoctions in the kitchen, she spends her free time writing about food, making her own deodorant, watching sci-fi, doing headstands, and looking for gluten free food that doesn't suck.

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