What are chia seeds?
What are chia seeds?
You have probably come across chia seeds as one of the trending superfoods these days, but do you actually know what it is?
Chia seeds may be tiny in size however they are no small seed!
These seeds have been consumed by humans for thousands of years, originating from Central America as a staple in the Aztec diet, dating as far back as 3500 BC in the human diet.
To illustrate this seed's significance, chia actually means "strength" in Mayan, due to its nutritious profile and ability to increase energy and stamina.
This powerful seed has many uses from cooking and food preparations, drinks, oil, beauty, and even using it as a form of natural medicine.
Chia seeds benefits
As mentioned before, chia is a nutritional powerhouse which is what has made it so popular nowadays as our food is severely lacking in nutrients in the typical western diet. Due to its impressive nutritional profile, chia seeds can provide many benefits to our health:
Beneficial fats and antioxidants found in chia seeds can help to reduce inflammation
Chia seeds are one of the richest sources in omega 3 fatty acids, the essential fats we must obtain from our diet. These omega 3 fats are naturally anti-inflammatory and beneficial for heart health, cognitive function, blood sugar balance, hormonal balance, and joint health.
Most of us are getting too much omega 6 fat in our diet and not enough omega 3 fat, which is contributing to more of an inflammatory state in the body.
The antioxidants found in chia seeds also have an anti-inflammatory effect and can help to quench free radicals - which contribute to accelerated aging (1). Antioxidants can also help to protect the fats found in chia seeds and prevent them from going bad.
Protein and fiber in chia seeds can support weight loss
Chia seeds can promote satiety, balance blood sugar, slow the absorption of glucose into the bloodstream, reduce inflammation, and improve elimination through the bowels - all of which can contribute to weight loss.
A study found weight loss improved significantly in diabetic patients when they consumed chia compared to those who didn't (3). In addition to weight, the inflammatory marker, C-reactive protein, also decreased in the chia group.
Don't expect chia seeds to be the magic weight loss solution, these seeds can be a great addition alongside a balanced diet and lifestyle to support healthy weight management. Try some of our recipes mentioned below for some quick and easy ways to include chia in your diet.
Chia seeds are rich in nutrients needed to build strong bones
Did you know that 3 tbsps of chia seeds provide more calcium than a glass of milk? This is a great natural source of calcium for those who don't tolerate dairy or follow a vegan diet. Calcium is essential for building strong bones but also phosphorus, magnesium, and protein - all of which are plentiful in chia seeds.
Who knew seeds could pack a punch of protein! Not only are chia seeds made up of 19% protein but they also supply all 9 essential amino acids, providing 4 grams of protein per 2 tablespoons. Vegan sources of protein typically don't include all amino acids needed by the body however chia is one of the exceptions!
Protein is an important factor in a healthy diet as it helps to increase satiety and keep blood sugar stable as well as provide the building blocks needed for growth and repair in the body.
Fiber in chia seeds
As mentioned above, fiber helps to reduce appetite and increase satiety as well as support healthy blood sugar levels and lower cholesterol. Fiber is only found in plant foods and is greatly lacking in the standard North American diet, contributing to negative health effects. Adults should be aiming for at least 35 grams of fiber per day however the average consumption only reaches about half of the recommended daily amount (4).
The type of fiber found mainly in chia is known as insoluble fiber. Insoluble fiber makes the chia seeds expand in water which turns the seeds into a gel that increases in volume by up to 10 times!
Insoluble fiber moves through your digestive system intact and can help to soften stool making it easier to pass, promoting regularity and reducing constipation.
Carbs in chia seeds
Of the total carbohydrates found in chia, over 80% is fiber, meaning it has very little impact on blood sugar levels, making chia seeds suitable for lower carb and even ketogenic diets.
100 grams of chia seeds provide 42 grams of carbs and 34 grams of fiber!
In addition, the benefits of chia seeds for diabetic patients have been studied, confirming improved glycemic control in subjects adding chia to their diet (5).
Chia seeds are an easy way to boost your fiber intake especially if you have trouble including fruits and vegetables into your diet.
Omega 3 in chia seeds
Omega 3 fats make up 75% of the fats found in chia seeds making it a great anti-inflammatory food. An increased ratio of omega 3 fats to omega 6 fats has been shown to reduce the risk of inflammatory diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, autoimmunity, and arthritis (6).
However, the omega 3 fat in chia comes in the form of ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), which needs to be converted into the active forms; EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). This conversion is quite poor in plant sources such as chia which is why supplementation from algae or fish oil is recommended.
Calories from chia seeds
Despite the array of nutrients that chia seeds supply, calories remain quite low, totaling only about 100 calories per 2 tablespoons.
When you think of all of the nutrients chia seeds provide such as omega 3 fatty acids, magnesium, fiber, amino acids, calcium, phosphorus, manganese, zinc, and B vitamins - it's pretty incredible for such a tiny seed!
Chia seeds are a great option to boost nutrient status without having to worry about a caloric surplus due to their high satiety factor and high fiber content which is used for fuel by our beneficial microbes in the gut.
Chia Seeds Supplements
Dark Chia Seeds
The classic dark chia seed is ideal for mixing into recipes such as baking or smoothies, or adding to drinks to promote satiety and receive a whole host of nutrients for the body to use. Dark chia seeds are the most common and easy to find in most grocery stores.
White Chia Seeds
White chia seeds, though less common, provide a very similar nutrient profile to dark chia seeds. Though white chia seeds are said to be slightly higher in omega 3 fats, the difference is not significant. White chia seeds are also larger in size making them ideal to grind into flour for baking.
Sprouted Chia Seed Powder
Sprouted chia seeds supply even more nutrients than regular chia seeds because the act of sprouting actually improves digestibility and absorption by decreasing enzyme inhibitors such as phytic acid. This sprouting process not only dramatically increases vitamins and minerals in the seed, but it also doubles the antioxidant score (ORAC) making Sprouted Chia not only a nutritional powerhouse, but also more shelf stable than typical raw Chia seeds.
How to use chia seeds
Chia seeds as a face mask
Chia seeds aren't only for culinary use, they can also be used for beauty purposes!
As most beauty products on the market are full of toxins and chemicals that can interfere with our hormones and even increase the risk of certain cancers, chia seeds are a great non-toxic ingredient to make your own beauty products!
Naturally exfoliating, chia seeds can be made into a simple face mask by combining chia seeds, lemon juice, and coconut oil. Simply apply to damp skin for a few minutes before rinsing off.
You can also apply to other areas of your body that need some extra TLC.
Chia seed hair mask
What can chia seeds do for your hair? Chia seeds can help to nourish the scalp and smooth hair to reduce knots. All you need are a few simple ingredients:
- 1 tsp pre-soaked chia seeds
- 2 tbsps raw apple cider vinegar
- 1/3 cup organic raw honey
- 4 tbsp organic coconut oil
Simply mix in a bowl and apply a small amount as a conditioner to your ends, before rinsing. Store the rest in a glass container in the fridge for later use.
How to eat chia seeds
Chia seeds in yogurt
Chia seeds can be a great addition to your yogurt as an additional protein source, especially if you are vegan this can help to boost your protein intake to help curb cravings and increase satiety. Simply mix the chia seeds in your choice of yogurt (my favourite is coconut) and top with some fruit for a little sweetness! I also love to add some cacao or vanilla for some extra flavor.
Chia seed smoothie
By adding chia seeds into smoothies you can create more texture as well as receive the incredible nutritional benefits that we have spoken of. This easy blueberry chia smoothie is both satisfying and appealing to the eyes for a balanced breakfast or post-workout recovery!
Chia seed drinks
Chia seeds are becoming popular in drinks nowadays as we are trending towards more healthy drink options. These superfoods are a fun way to spice up your drinks and make some cool creations that will make some heads turn!
Chia Fresca Recipe
- 2 cups water or coconut water
- 1.5 tbsps chia seeds
- 1/2 tbsp fresh lemon or lime juice
- 1/2 tbsp pure maple syrup
1. Add chia and water into a jar or glass and stir well to combine. Let sit for 10 minutes.
2. Add lime or lemon juice and maple syrup to taste. Stir (or shake) well to combine and enjoy!
Recipe by Oh She Glows
Chia seeds in baking
Chia seed is a common ingredient in vegan baking, either used whole or as a flour, as it is very versatile and durable. Chia seeds are naturally vegan and gluten-free, catering to many individuals who react to certain foods or have dietary preferences. You can add the chia seeds into your baking recipes or simply sprinkle on top as a garnish.
Chia seeds as egg replacer
In addition to flour, chia seeds are a great egg replacement if you are vegan or simply looking for an egg substitute. As chia seeds expand in water they create a thick gel-like consistency that will help to add moisture to your recipe and keep your creation from falling apart.
Best way to eat chia seeds
There are many ways to include chia into your diet and receive the health benefits, however, due to digestive inhibitors soaking your chia seeds will help you to digest the seeds and absorb the nutrients more efficiently. Simply soak your seeds in some water for at least 15 minutes and voila!
Chia seed pudding recipes
Probably the most popular method of including chia in the diet, chia puddings have become all the rage these days. And for good reason! Not only is this a super simple recipe to make as a snack or as a breakfast, but it also is incredibly nutritious and versatile, meaning it can cater to any tastes and preferences!
- 3 tbsps Salba Chia Seeds
- 3 tbsps Organic Traditions Goji Berries
- ¾ cup unsweetened almond milk
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 1 tbsp Organic Sesame Seeds
- 1 tbsp Rockwell’s Organic Toasted Coconut Chips
Combine all ingredients in a glass container. Mix thoroughly and refrigerate overnight. Overnight the chia seeds will gelatinize, making for a delicious, filling superfood pudding.
- ¼ cup black chia seeds
- ¾ cup full fat coconut milk
- 2 tbsp unsweetened, shredded coconut
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 1 sliced kiwi
- ¼ tsp Natural Factor’s Probiotic Powder
- Handful of fresh or frozen berries to top with
1. Place shredded coconut at the bottom of a glass jar. 2. Slice kiwi into circles. Place kiwi slices at the side of the jar. 3. Add chia seeds to the jar and cover with coconut milk. 4. Add probiotic powder and pure vanilla powder to mixture and stir. 5. Refrigerate overnight, or until the chia seeds form a jelly-like texture (approximately 6 hours). 6. Stir and top with berries. Enjoy!
As mentioned chia seeds can be eaten raw however you will receive the most benefits when you soak your chia seeds as this reduces the anti-nutrient content which can affect vitamin and mineral absorption as well as potentially irritate the digestive tract.
What do chia seeds taste like?
Chia seeds don't really have a particular taste which makes it a great addition to any recipe for extra nutrition or consistency, without affecting the flavor of your recipe.
Chia seed sserving size
One ounce of chia seeds provides the following:
- 137 calories
- 4 grams of protein
- 9 grams of fat
- 12 grams of carbohydrates
- 11 grams of fiber
Chia seeds side effects
Chia seeds are a great source of fiber however eating too much can cause problems such as gas, bloating, and IBS symptoms. This is especially more of a risk if you are eating a low fiber diet and decide to increase your intake too quickly. Though most people don't experience any problems, we suggest starting small with about 1 tsp of chia seeds and drinking plenty of water.
For those with gastrointestinal diseases such as colitis or Crohn's we recommend avoiding chia seeds during flare-ups as this can aggravate the situation.
Risk of choking
There is a potential risk of choking due to the expansion that chia seeds go through when they are exposed to water and create a gel. To reduce the risk and improve digestion soak your chia seeds for about 15 minutes in water.
If you have difficulty swallowing foods in general you may want to exert extra caution with chia seeds.
Prostate cancer risk
We spoke about the many benefits of omega 3 fats, however, ALA, found in chia seeds has been linked to prostate cancer in some studies. A study found higher serum levels of ALA associated with an increased risk of prostate cancer in men (7). However, the research is currently conflicting as ALA has also been shown to reduce the risk of prostate cancer (8). Further studies will be needed to assess the role of ALA on prostate cancer risk in men.
As with any food, allergic reactions are always possible. Reactions to chia seeds are fairly uncommon however digestive upset may occur if eating too much. If you do have a real allergy to chia seeds common allergic reactions include itching of the tongue and lips, dizziness, hives, itching, and difficulty breathing.
If you do experience any reactions stop your consumption immediately and consult your doctor.
Laurence Annez is a Certified Nutritional Practitioner and Health Coach, specializing in PCOS and women's hormones. She also holds a degree in Creative Writing and has extensive experience writing on health and wellness topics. Laurence's mission is to inspire and motivate individuals to take control of their own health and reach their ultimate health goals.