These tiny, ancient seeds are bursting with potent nutrients your body loves.
Chia seeds are tiny, oval-shaped seeds that appear black and white in color. They’re the seeds of a plant native to Mexico and were a staple in ancient civilizations. “Chia seeds were originally cultivated as a dietary staple in Mesoamerican cultures, in the Mexican region among the Aztecs and Mayans, thousands of years ago,” explains registered dietitian nutritionist Jenna Volpe, RDN. “This may explain why ‘chia’ is derived from the Spanish word ‘chian,’ which originates from the Nahuatl Aztec language and translates to ‘oily.’”
People have been using chia seeds for thousands of years, and they’re still widely consumed today. Chia seeds have a very mild flavor, so they don’t add much depth to meals (hence why you can get away with drinking them in your water), but what they lack in taste or size they make up for in nutrition.
These small-but-mighty seeds are loved by dietitians, and it’s easy to see why—they’re one of the healthiest seeds you can eat and absolutely qualify as a top superfood.
The Top Health Benefits of Chia Seeds
“Chia seeds are a wonderful plant-based food for people to boost their intake of omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and more,” Volpe says. “From supporting heart health and blood sugar balance to aiding in digestion and regularity, chia seeds are a [smart] plant ally to have on hand for most people.”
Here’s the full breakdown of why you should add chia seeds to your weekly menu.
Chia seeds are high in gut-healthy fiber.
Fiber is crucial for gut and overall health, but too many people aren’t getting enough of it. An estimated 5 percent of Americans meet the adequate intake of fiber, leaving a vast majority—approximately 95 percent—of the population falling below the recommended daily allowance. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends at least 25 grams of fiber per day for women and 38 grams for men. One way to reach these targets? Add a spoonful of chia seeds here and there.
“Chia seeds are a fantastic source of fiber,” says registered dietitian Kristi Ruth, RD, LDN. “Because fiber has been strongly linked to improving everything from cholesterol levels to bowel regularity, it’s essential that we find easy and convenient ways to increase our daily fiber intake.”
An ounce of chia seeds packs almost 10 grams of dietary fiber, per USDA data, so what’s easier than that? A typical serving of chia seeds is two tablespoons, which contains an impressive 8 grams of fiber.
More specifically, the type of fiber found in chia seeds is particularly beneficial. “Chia seeds contain a significant amount of insoluble fiber (making up 85-93 percent of the total fiber in chia seeds), which is important for supporting healthy digestion and regularity by increasing stool bulk and reducing transit time.
Chia seeds are a complete protein.
Vegetarians and vegans—this one’s for you, especially. All animal products are complete protein sources, meaning they contain all nine essential amino acids, but not every plant source of protein is a complete protein. Most seeds do not contain all the essential amino acids, making them incomplete proteins (this doesn’t make them unhealthy—not at all—it’s just a way to categorize which foods provide which amino acids).
However, chia seeds are an exception. “They’re a complete protein because they include all of the essential amino acids,” says registered dietitian Lexi Moriarty, RD, CSSD, adding that this helps to give you sustained energy levels throughout the day.
For meat- and plant-eaters alike, chia seeds are a good source of protein, providing almost 5 grams per ounce.
Chia seeds are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids.
Nuts and seeds are well known as good sources of healthy fats, and chia seeds definitely fall under that umbrella. “Chia seeds are made up of 20 to 34 percent fat, with most of it coming from heart-healthy, plant-based omega-3 fatty acids including linolenic acid (ALA),” says Volpe, pointing to a 2019 review. What’s more, a recent 2022 meta-analysis concluded that increasing dietary ALA can help to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by 10 percent and the risk of fatal coronary artery disease by up to 20 percent.
While other nuts and seeds, particularly walnuts and flax seeds, are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids, chia seeds may have the upper hand. When you eat a lot of foods rich in fat, it’s easy to get far more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3s. Though they’re both good for you, getting significantly more omega-6 fats can cause inflammation in the body, per a 2021 review. So, it’s important to be mindful of that ratio. Chia seeds have been shown to have an advantageous ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s compared to other sources of healthy fats.
Chia seeds support a heart-healthy lifestyle.
Many of the nutrients in chia seeds—including the above-mentioned fats—lend themselves to their heart-related health benefits. Heart disease remains the number-one cause of death in the US, so prioritizing heart health is a must, and we can all do it by enjoying a heart-healthy diet and lifestyle.
Consuming chia seeds can help improve markers of heart health, such as cholesterol, blood pressure and more, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
“Chia seeds can help rid the body of cholesterol,” says Moriarty. “One recent review confirmed that chia seeds are helpful in reducing blood pressure, blood clot risk, cholesterol, and minimizing cell damage.” The impressive lineup of fiber, antioxidants, and omega-3s like ALA all contribute to the potential heart health benefits, as well.
Chia seeds are super high in antioxidants.
You might associate antioxidants with fruits and vegetables, but you can add chia seeds to the list of antioxidant-rich foods. “Chia seeds are a great source of antioxidants, which can help the body prevent disease and increase longevity,” Moriarty says.
They have been shown to possess potent antioxidant activity, offering antioxidants like chlorogenic acid, caffeic acid, myricetin, quercetin, and kaempferol. Volpe emphasizes the noteworthiness of quercetin in chia seeds: “Chia seeds are a naturally abundant source of this type of antioxidant, which is anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, and may even help the body to build resilience against certain types of cancer.” According to a 2022 review, quercetin can cross the blood-brain barrier, so it may even protect against neurodegenerative diseases.
Plus, antioxidants neutralize free radicals. When left unchecked, these unstable molecules can cause all kinds of damage that lead to disease, but antioxidants can protect against disease-causing free radical damage.
Chia seeds can help reduce inflammation.
Inflammation isn’t always a bad thing—it’s part of the body’s natural defense against harmful stimuli, from injuries to the common cold. But chronic inflammation can get you in some trouble. Low-grade, chronic inflammation is often described as a “silent killer” because it’s associated with chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer, autoimmune disorders, and more, according to Harvard Medical School. Certain foods (like chia seeds!) may be able to help reduce and manage inflammation in the body.
“Chia seeds are an excellent plant source of ALA omega-3 fatty acids, which are well known to have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body,” says Ruth. “This anti-inflammatory effect can help reduce your risk of developing various chronic diseases.” The anti-inflammatory properties of chia seeds have been documented and shown to reduce chronic inflammation.
Related: How to Start Eating More Anti-Inflammatory Foods—and Why It’s So Important
How to Add Chia Seeds to Your Diet
Getting more chia seeds in your system is easy. According to Ruth, chia seeds have a long shelf life—although they’re best when eaten within a year, they can last for years in your pantry!
“Some of my favorite ways to enjoy chia seeds are adding a tablespoon or two into smoothies, overnight oats, chia pudding, and homemade strawberry or raspberry chia jam,” Volpe says.
“Chia seeds are great because they’re so easy to sprinkle on top of cereal, toast, or oatmeal,” Moriarty says. If you want to get really creative in the kitchen, you can add chia seeds to baked goods, pancakes, waffles, popsicles and much more.
Some people even add chia seeds straight to plain water to combine their micronutrients with hydration.
In addition to adding chia seeds to classics like smoothies, oats, pudding, and jam, Ruth suggests incorporating them in energy bites or using them as a plant-based substitute for eggs in some baking recipes. However you eat them, your body will be glad you did.
Related:How to Make Chia Pudding, Plus 5 Recipes With Chia Seeds
5 Easy Chia Seed Recipes
Raspberry Chia Jam
:Get the Recipe
Strawberry-Chia Breakfast Pudding
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No-Bake Lemon-Chia Bars
:Get the Recipe
Chia Pilaf With Pesto
:Get the Recipe
PB&J Overnight Oats
:Get the Recipe
Related:3 Ways to Cook With Chia Seeds That Don’t Involve Smoothies
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