You remember the jingle: Cha-cha-cha-chia! Back in the 80’s, Chia Pets were the Hatchimals of the Christmas season and they’re still on the market with Ninja Turtles, zombies, and political busts of Trump, Hillary, and Bernie Sanders.
While the terra cotta company has creatively worked to keep the novelty relevant, the seeds responsible for those lush, green sprouts have seen an explosion in popularity, and for good reason.
Chia seeds have repeatedly been labeled a superfood, meaning that they have scientifically proven health benefits, and as that interest spurs new research scientists have found a number of reasons to consume them including cancer prevention, weight loss assistance, and an increase in physical endurance.
Chia’s nutritional facts reveal much of what makes them super:
Fresh Cinnamon Nutrition
Serving Size 1ounce (28gm)
Amount Per Serving
Amount Per Percentage
|*Daily value not established.|
In addition, chia seeds also contain zinc, vitamin B3 (niacin), potassium, vitamin B1 (thiamine), and vitamin B2.
To put that in perspective, this means each serving has:
- As much calcium as a glass of milk
- More Omega-3s than a serving of walnuts
- More iron than a cup of spinach
- And as many antioxidants as blueberries
If that weren’t enough, these little seeds are also gluten free; good news for those who are intolerant. And since chia seeds are treated as a niche health food, most brands you’ll find on the market are not only organic but lack genetic modification as well.
What Are Chia Seeds?
These little, black pearls of nutrition are actually the seed of the Salvia Hispanica, which is a relative of the mint plant.
Originally, they only grew in South America, which made the seeds an important food for the Aztecs and Mayans.
These historic cultures recognized the benefits of chia seeds long before the recent trend in the West. In fact, chia is the word for strength in Mayan.
What Are The Benefits Of Eating Chia Seeds?
While the nutritional profile of chia seeds is impressive, it doesn’t clearly explain how their specific make-up positively effects health.
As organic and nutrient rich diets (as in eating habits as a whole, not a two week plan or ridiculous menu) rise in popularity and public interest, the trend has stimulated new research.
We can also assume the micronutrients, vitamins, enzymes, and acids that scientists have already studied and linked to specific health benefits will have those same advantages when obtained through various foods.
To directly test the measurable impact of these foods, some researchers have taken this a step further with case studies.
Proven Health Benefits Of Chia Seeds
Benefits of Antioxidants in Chia Seeds
#1 Chia Seeds Promote Anti-Aging and Skin Health
Researchers in Mexico recently discovered that the natural phenolic, or antioxidant, concentration in chia seeds is nearly twice the amount previously reported. Even more exciting is that these antioxidants are effective at stopping 70% of free radical activity.
Antioxidants boost the body’s ability to repair the skin while preventing further damage.
#2 Chia Seeds Enhance Athletic Performance
The Journal of Strength and Conditioning recently published a study that pitted chia seeds against Gatorade. Runners were divided into two groups of beverage consumption: one group drank Gatorade only, while the other drank a 50/50 combination of Gatorade and a chia seed drink.
Not only did the chia seed runners match the times of the Gatorade group, they also avoided the added sugar in the sports drink. A typical 32 ounce bottle of Gatorade contains 56 grams of sugar.
Benefits of Fiber in Chia Seeds
The American Heart Association recommends 25 to 30 grams of dietary fiber (from food, not supplements) a day though they also report that the average fiber consumption of American adults is lacking at a mere 15 grams, half the recommended allowance.
With 11 grams of fiber per 2 tablespoon serving, chia seeds provide a convenient and wholesome way to reach this dietary goal.
#3 Chia Seeds Balance Insulin Levels
Soluble fiber impedes the absorption of carbohydrates. Preventing this reduces blood glucose and insulin levels. One study gave patients with type 2 diabetes liquid meals that consisted of 55% carbohydrates, with and without additional dietary fiber.
Researchers quickly found that the consumption of dietary fiber reduced blood glucose and insulin peaks.
#4 Chia Seeds Promote Digestive Health
Dietary fiber promotes regularity and also acts as a prebiotic, which supports the growth of beneficial probiotics in the gut.
These friendly flora assist in the absorption of minerals and digestion of food, fight viral and bacterial threats, and eliminate harmful toxins.
#5 Chia Seeds Help You Lose Weight
Because of their fiber content, chia seeds help you feel full which, in turn, satiates appetite. But chia seeds are a double-whammy in this department due to the fact that they gel as they absorb whatever liquid they come in contact with.
Raw seeds especially will expand once ingested. Clinical trials have proven that consuming chia seeds curbs appetite and hunger indicators, eliminating this hindrance to weight loss. It also doesn’t hurt that a serving of chia seeds contains a mere 136 calories.
#6 Chia Seeds Prevent Diabetes
Two separate studies were conducted to determine how the alpha-linolenic acid and fiber in chia seeds effect specific precursors to diabetes including dyslipidemia, which is an excess of fat in the blood, and insulin resistance.
The first study spent three weeks feeding healthy rats a sucrose-rich diet using chia seeds as the primary source of dietary fat.
The inclusion of chia seeds in their diet of 65% sugar prevented the onset of both dyslipidemia and insulin resistance.
The second study spent three months feeding healthy rats a sucrose-rich diet in order to force the development of dyslipidemia and insulin resistance before adding chia seeds to their sugar diet for an additional two months.
These rats astoundingly recovered from their induced conditions. As a bonus, researchers also noted a visible reduction in belly fat.
Benefits of Calcium in Chia Seeds
#7 Chia Seeds Strengthen Bones
With 18% of the daily recommended calcium, chia seeds not only maintain bone strength and mass but this superfood also contains boron, which metabolizes magnesium, calcium, manganese, and phosphorus, promoting bone growth.
#8 Chia Seeds Keep Your Teeth and Mouth Healthy
While calcium creates a foundation for strong teeth, chia seeds also contain phosphorous, vitamin A, and zinc. While vitamin A and phosphorus contribute to dental health, zinc has antibacterial properties that keep plaque from forming on teeth and kills germs associated with bad breath.
Benefits of Protein in Chia Seeds
#9 Chia Seeds Build Muscle
Chia seeds contain 14 grams of protein per serving. To put that in perspective, ground beef offers 18 grams of protein per serving, making chia seeds a clear contender for the health benefits associated with lean protein consumption.
Not only does this macronutrient build and repair muscles, protein also suppresses hunger pangs, revs metabolism, and helps steady the release carbohydrates into the bloodstream, eliminating the blood sugar spikes and valleys believed to cause energy crashes and stimulate fat storage.
Benefits of Omega-3s in Chia Seeds
#10 Chia Seeds Protect Your Heart
Omega-3s are associated with heart health because they’ve been proven to lower blood pressure, inflammation, and harmful cholesterol; three precursors to heart disease.
Chia seeds also contain the fatty acid, linoleic, which is key to the body’s absorption of vitamins A, D, E, and K.
In a study of 20 diabetic patients, groups were given either 37 grams of chia seeds or wheat bran for 12 weeks. Not only was blood pressure lowered by 3-6 mm/Hg in patients who consumed the chia seeds, but an inflammatory marker called hs-CRP dropped by 40% while another risk factor called vWF showed a 21% decrease.
Blood pressure went down by 3-6 mm/Hg and an inflammatory marker called hs-CRP went down by 40%. A risk factor called vWF also decreased by 21%.
#11 Chia Seeds Fight Breast and Cervical Cancer
A specific Omega-3 fatty acid called alpha lineic acid, conveniently abundant in chia seeds, was proven in a 2013 study by the Journal of Molecular Biochemistry to inhibit the growth of breast and cervical cancer cells.
The dietary acid also killed these types cancer cells without damaging healthy cells.
#12 Chia Seeds Improve Depression and Brain Function
In a trial of patients with major depressive and bipolar disorders, Omega-3s were shown to lessen the symptoms of depression.
The fatty acids have also been shown to increase brain funtion, making chia seeds good for both your body and your mind.
Benefits of Vitamin B in Chia Seeds
Niacin and niacinamide both reside in vitamin B-3. While these vitamins are consistently sold separately as supplements, B vitamins work best when ingested together, making natural sources a better way to ensure you’re getting optimal results.
#13 Chia Seeds Relieve Arthritis
Niacinamide opens up blood vessels deep in the body, including those that surround joints. According to Dr. David Williams, a leading authority and researcher in natural healing, the use of niacinamide in treating arthritis pain, which he says is all but ignored by pharmaceutical companies who are unable to profit from it, has had outstanding results.
Dosage depends on the severity of each case and high doses should be supervised by a doctor.
#14 Chia Seeds Lower Lipid Levels
Lipids, which include cholesterol and triglycerides, can be effectively and inexpensively lowered using niacin. Patients who were advised to take 1,000 mg the first day of treatment, 2,000 mg the second, and 3,000 mg every day thereafter saw a reduction by as much as 25% for their cholesterol levels and 50% in triglycerides.
#15 Chia Seeds Treat Insomnia
Niacinamide triggers the benzodiazepine receptors in the brain, which have a direct effect on sleep. Ingesting niacinamide before bed has reportedly improved sleep in some insomniacs.
#16 Chia Seeds Improve Blood Function
Iron is necessary for the creation of red blood cells, which are critical in moving oxygen and other vital nutrients through the body. One serving of chia seeds provide 2.2 mg of iron, which is 12% of the recommended daily allowance.
#17 Chia Seeds Build DNA and Support Nerve Function
Chia seeds are a nutrient-rich source of manganese, phosphorous, magnesium, and copper. These minerals benefit bone health, red blood cells, DNA formation, metabolism, and muscle and nerve function.
Add Chia Seeds to your Diet
Of course, you won’t see any of these health benefits if you’re not consuming chia seeds, but you’ll be happy to hear that these tiny superfoods are an easy addition to any diet.
If you want to avoid cooking chia seed specific recipes, simply add the seeds to your smoothies, oatmeal, juices, or even your morning bowl of cereal.
Chia seeds gel as they absorb liquid but if you’re not partial to this texture, stir them in just before consumption to avoid it.
Shopping for Chia Seeds
When choosing your seeds, look for a mixture of black and white. A red tint indicates that the seeds are immature, while smaller than normal black seeds aren’t chia at all but what are called weed seeds, sometimes sold as an imitation.
Ground or Whole Chia Seeds?
Unlike flax, which must be milled or ground for the body to access beneficial nutrients, chia seeds are surprisingly digestible and don’t require this process.
Grinding your chia seeds is optional but may be suggested for specific recipes.
To avoid buying both varieties, you can use a food processor or coffee grinder to mill whole seeds yourself.
Chia Seeds Can Replace Eggs in Baking Recipes
While I don’t suggest using chia seeds as a substitute for eggs in dishes like omelettes and quiche, where eggs are a featured ingredient, they do serve as a vegan replacement for eggs in baked goods.
For each egg in your recipe, you’ll need to grind 1 tablespoon of dry seeds before adding 3 tablespoons of water. Simply allow the mixture to gel before adding it to your recipe.
Chia Seed Pudding
Due to its unlimited versatility and grab-and-go convenience, the most popular recipe by far for chia seeds is pudding.
The basic recipe for chia seed pudding is created by adding ¼ cup of seeds to 1 cup of liquid and refrigerating overnight.
Obviously that leaves a lot of room for interpretation, which is why so many people love adding chia to their diet with pudding.
Freshly juiced fruit, flavored almond, organic goat, or coconut milk is commonly used as the liquid, but the real fun is in the stir-ins and toppings.
Vanilla extract, peanut butter, jelly and jams, cocoa powder, and natural sweeteners like raw honey and pure maple syrup can give your pudding a flavor boost while toppings take this simple treat from uh to uh-mazing.
Try diced fruit, berries, pomegranate, chopped nuts, pepitas (pumpkin seeds), sliced mint leaves or mini chocolate chips. The possibilities are endless.
For centuries, Mexicans have been concocting their own chia seed health drink called chia fresca. To try it at home, stir 1 tablespoon of chia seeds and 1 teaspoon of honey, agave or stevia into 8 ounces of water and let it gel for ten to fifteen minutes before drinking.
Thicken Soups and Gravies
Instead of adding cornstarch or a rue made of fat and flour, you can use chia seeds to thicken soups and gravies.
Both whole and ground seeds will work, though ground will obviously give your dish a smoother texture. Simply add your seeds one tablespoon at a time until it reaches the desired consistency.
Replace Breadcrumbs as a Binder
Breadcrumbs are a common addition to recipes that require binding, since they hold dishes like meatballs and meatloaf together.
Add two tablespoons of chia seeds per pound of meat if you prefer to omit the crumbs. They are useful for thickening batters.
Use as a Breading
When baked or toasted, chia seeds take on nutty and crunchy qualities. You can mix a couple tablespoons of dry chia seeds with almond flour and seasonings to create healthy, faux-fried dishes like chicken fingers and crispy green tomato slices.
Make Healthy Energy Gel
The growing popularity of energy gels from sports drink companies like Gatorade doesn’t make up for the fact that these products contain artificial colors and flavors as well as added sugar, often derived from GMO corn.
Adding two tablespoons of chia seeds to a cup of coconut water makes for a healthy energy gel, without all the harmful ingredients.
Blend Some Chia Jam
Chia’s ability to gel within liquid also makes it an obvious candidate for creating healthy fruit jams, which may make the gelatinous substance more appealing for those turned off by its texture.
Use a blender or food processor to liquify one cup of fresh fruit or berries, then add two tablespoons of chia seeds and a teaspoon of natural sweetener and store in a jar in the refrigerator.
Sprout Some Seeds
While eating chia seeds before they’ve sprouted is a common way to consume them, they’re easy to grow and the sprouts are a healthful addition to your diet. To sprout your seeds, put them in a jar, wet them with water and drain of the excess.
Rinse and drain the seeds with fresh water twice daily and in a mere day or two, you’ll have sprouts for salads, an edible garnish or to add to your morning smoothie. Who’d have thought you could eat your Chia Pet-and it would be good for you?
Chia Seed Recipes
This recipe for Lemon Chia Seed Pancakes with Roasted Strawberries from Two Peas and Their Pod entirely eliminates the seed’s gelatinous texture by baking them into a fluffy and flavorful breakfast indulgence.
For a healthy and savory dish, try Delish’s Lentils with Chia Seeds. This hearty stew provides all the contentment of classic comfort food, making it a perfect meal for those cold winter nights.
Gimme Some Oven claims their No-Bake Energy Bites taste just like no-bake cookies, but with the added health benefits of chia seeds, flax, oats, and coconut.
If you’re a fan of single-serve mug cakes, Mindful Eats and Treats has come up with a 1 Minute Healthy Chia Mug Cake that showcases applesauce, cinnamon, and maple syrup.
Eating For Health
Of course, while there’s always room for more research, especially studies by independent and unbiased institutions, there does seem to be a pattern emerging to help us determine what foods actually promote health and benefit our body’s ability to perform optimally and fight disease.
Superfoods, when looked at as a whole, grow in nature and are unaltered; lacking both pesticides and toxins (buy organic) and genetic modification (GMO), which is harder to determine without mandatory labeling, but growing in demand.
As the market for non-GMO foods expands, companies have emerged to fill the need, making it a selling point. You can also buy your produce directly from the grower by frequenting your local farmers market. This can guarantee you’re eating organic foods that haven’t been tampered with.
To ensure your body gets the nutrients it needs, make sure your diet includes a high percentage of plant-based, natural, and unprocessed foods.
Packaged products should have easily-identifiable ingredients. Fat and sugar should be eaten in moderation. As controversial as this opinion has become, it’s quite simple. There’s a reason no one has labeled chicken nuggets and gummy bears as superfoods.
While marketers might take nutrients piece-meal and add them to these foods, their addition does not counteract the negative health effects of these manufactured products. Instead, champion your own health by getting your nutrients straight from the source with a whole-foods diet.