You may remember chia seeds from the Ch-Ch-Ch-Chia Pets® of the 1980s. While you can still buy these sprouting terracotta pets, chia seeds are even more popular today as a health food.
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Chia seeds come from a flowering plant native to Mexico and Guatemala called Salvia hispanica, says registered dietitian Kayla Kopp, RD, LD. For centuries, people in those regions have incorporated chia seeds into their diet. With good reason — chia seeds are loaded with nutrition. Some people even call them a superfood.
Why are chia seeds good for you?
Though chia seeds are small, they’re among the best seeds to eat. “Few foods pack such a nutritional punch,” says Kopp.
Chia seeds are an excellent source of many nutrients. One ounce of chia seeds can help contribute toward your daily value of fiber, protein, minerals and B vitamins.
|Nutrient||Milligrams (mg) in 1 ounce of chia seeds||Daily value (mg)||Percent of daily value|
|Thiamine (vitamin B1)||0.176||1.2||15%|
|Riboflavin (vitamin B2)||0.048||1.3||4%|
|Niacin (vitamin B3)||2.5||20||13%|
Chia seeds are also rich in antioxidants, such as polyphenols. Antioxidants fight free radicals that can damage your cells. Free radicals occur in your body naturally, as well as from exposure to harmful substances like:
- Cigarette smoke.
- Pollution and other toxic chemicals.
When you eat chia seeds, you also get a sizeable dose of healthy fats, including omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s are essential for brain and eye health, immunity and even heart health.
Benefits of chia seeds
The richness of nutrients in chia seeds may translate to many health benefits. Research on the health effects of chia seeds is still in its early stages, but the results so far are positive.
Of course, chia seeds are just one component of a healthy diet, notes Kopp. To maximize their benefit, they should be part of the healthy foods you eat every day.
Some of the benefits of chia seeds include:
1. Improve digestive function
“And based on their fiber content, it’s also likely that chia seeds can help relieve constipation,” adds Kopp.
2. Aid with weight loss
Drinking a glass of chia water (chia seeds mixed with water) may help you eat less. Chia seeds expand when they get wet and take up room in your stomach. You may feel less hungry, which can lead to weight loss.
But be careful. “Too many chia seeds can actually cause digestive problems,” cautions Kopp. “If you’re not drinking enough water, the seeds absorb the water in your gut. This may cause constipation, bloating and gas.”
3. Help prevent chronic diseases
Research suggests that chia seeds may help prevent chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity and maybe even cancer. Results of human studies show that chia seeds may:
- Decrease inflammation.
- Improve control of blood sugar levels.
- Lower blood pressure.
- Raise levels of omega-3 fatty acids in your blood.
- Reduce triglycerides.
But not all studies agree. For example, one study looked at disease risk factors in 76 people who have overweight or obesity. Participants received chia seeds or a placebo (fake) supplement mixed with water twice a day for 12 weeks. The researchers found no differences between the groups in weight, cholesterol levels, blood pressure or inflammation.
More research is needed to better understand the health benefits of chia seeds and the ideal amount you should consume each day. “But even without this evidence, you can confidently include chia seeds in your diet,” says Kopp. “We know they are excellent sources of nutrition and contribute to your overall health. Just don’t go overboard. Moderation is best with any food.”
How to incorporate chia seeds into your diet
If you’re looking for ways to incorporate chia seeds into your diet, Kopp recommends starting with a basic chia pudding. You can also add them to a smoothie or your morning oatmeal. The texture is similar to tapioca.
If you like the texture, try exploring other recipes, such as:
- Berry chia seed jam.
- Chia coleslaw with raisin reduction.
- Chia guacamole.
- Chia seed pumpkin pudding.
- Holiday zinfandel chia onion relish.
- Perfect chocolate chia pudding.
Not a fan of the texture? These chia turkey meatballs provide all the health benefits without the chia-like consistency. And when you use ground chia seeds in baked goods, you won’t even notice the chia seeds are there. Pumpkin-apple chia muffins and morning glory chia seed muffins are two recipes to try. Your body will thank you for the healthy and tasty treat.