Chia seeds appear on many lists of so-called “superfoods” because they are high in omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, protein, and other nutrients.
Chia seeds are harvested from the flowering plant Salvia hispanica, a member of the mint family that grows wild in Central America, where the seeds were a major food source for centuries. Chia seeds are nutrient-dense kernels with a slightly nutty flavor; you can eat the easily digested seeds whole or ground, dry, or soaked in liquid. “Chia” translates from the Mayan language as strength, and they are popular with athletes to enhance energy and endurance.
Chia seeds are a pseudo grain. That means they’re the carbohydrate-rich seeds of a nongrass plant. When chia seeds encounter liquid, they expand and form a thick gel.
Chia seeds were said to be a staple of Aztec and Mayan diets, but were later banned because of their ritualistic religious use. Over the last century or so, they’ve enjoyed a minor following, but recently made a comeback on the market as a potential superfood.
Top producers of chia seeds include Bolivia, Argentina and Ecuador, with Mexico and Australia.
Omega-3 represents 65% of chia’s total oil content. The seeds are small but rich in valuable amino acids, antioxidants and flavonoids, including chlorogenic acid, caffeic acid, myricetin, quercetin and kaempferol. Along with other benefits, a 2003 study from Biochemical Pharmacology shows quercetin and kaempferol have possible preventative effects against postmenopausal bone loss.
Two tablespoons of chia seeds have almost 10 grams of fiber. That’s around 40 percent of the recommended daily intake. Diets high in fiber have been linked to weight loss. According to research, eating 30 grams of fiber daily may help you lose as much weight as if you followed a more complicated diet. Fiber can help you feel full faster and may contribute to weight loss. Chia seeds may promote regular bowel movement and digestion by promoting the peristaltic movement of the intestine. Fiber also has the additional benefit of inhibiting the body to break down food into sugars, resulting in more stable blood glucose levels.
Chia seeds are also relatively high in calories and fat. Two tablespoons have 138 calories and 9 grams of fat.
Chia seeds are a low-cholesterol and low-sodium food and have high levels of potassium, calcium and phosphorus, which are important for nerve and bone health. Niacin, a B vitamin, is another nutrient that helps reduce LDL cholesterol levels in the blood, manage nervous system disorders and increase GABA activity inside the brain, which in turn helps reduce anxiety and even lessen the effects of Alzheimer’s. Chia seeds are particularly high in calcium, with a 1-ounce serving providing 13.8% of the recommended daily value.
Chia seeds may interact with blood pressure medications or blood thinners such as warfarin. If you take any of these drugs, don’t eat chia seeds. Because chia seeds are so high in fiber, it is recommended that daily intake be limited to 1 to 2 ounces. Higher doses may cause digestive upset. Always consult your doctor before adding chia seeds to your diet.
How to Buy
Health food stores and most grocery stores sell chia seeds. You can also order them from online grocery retailers. Look for a mix of the black and white ones; brown chia seeds are not yet fully mature and won’t contain the same high level of nutrients. They may also have a bitter flavor.
Because of their crunchy texture and nutty flavor, chia seeds are a common addition in commercially produced granola bars and cereals. They’re also frequently included in pancake and waffle mixes for extra fiber and nutrients.
How to Store
Whole chia seeds can last for years stored in a cool, dry location. Ground chia seeds also have a long shelf-life, but it’s best to keep the flour in a glass container in the refrigerator or freezer. Soaked chia seeds stay good in the refrigerator for about a week, while sprouted chia seeds should be eaten within a few days.
How to Cook
There are a number of ways you can include chia seeds in your diet. You can sprinkle them in your salads or ad them to nuts and seeds trail mix.
Try adding chia seeds to:
- salad dressing
- soups or gravy
- homemade bread
- baked goods in place of eggs
- chia pudding
When using chia seeds, remember the more seeds you use and the longer they sit, the thicker the final product. If you aren’t a fan of the texture of chia seeds, blend them to your preferred consistency.