Chia Seeds 101 – The Basics
About Chia Seeds
Chia seeds come from a flowering plant in the mint family, Salvia hispanica. It is native to parts of Mexico and Guatemala. The seeds have been used as a staple source of nutrition dating back to ancient Mayan and Aztec civilizations, and it was cultivated as far back as 3500 B.C. Today, chia seeds are primarily grown in Mexico and Central America, as well as several other Latin American countries and Australia. They have become a commercially popular health food in the last decade or so. They can be found in black and white varieties. Any brown seeds that you see for sale were not fully matured when harvested and will be undesirable in flavor and have a lesser nutritional value than the fully matured seeds.
Chia seeds have a very subtle flavor, so taste is not what they are prized for. Instead, their texture and nutritional value are what attracts people to chia seeds. They have the ability to absorb many times their dry weight in liquid, making them miniature tapioca-like balls, thickening any liquid they are in.
Nutrition and Health Benefits
Chia seeds pack a strong nutritional punch, with the black and white seeds being the same in nutritional value. They are high in fiber, protein (with a good balance of essential amino acids), Omega-3 fatty acids, Vitamin K, calcium, manganese, magnesium, and phosphorus. They also contain zinc, niacin, potassium, selenium, copper, Vitamin B1, Vitamin B6, and folate. They are naturally gluten-free and non-GMO. They are also high in antioxidants, which help to preserve the fatty acids within the seeds and provide valuable health benefits when we eat them. Two tablespoons of chia seeds supply about 140 calories.
Weight Control. The soluble fiber in chia seeds absorbs a lot of water and expands in the stomach, which increases fullness and slows the absorption of food. Also, the high-quality protein in chia seeds helps to reduce appetite and ultimately food intake.
In 2017, a study reported in the journal Nutrition Research and Practice, demonstrated that eating chia seeds for breakfast increased satiety and reduced food intake (in the short-term).
Another study reported in 2017 in the journal Nutrition, Metabolism, and Cardiovascular Diseases, found that chia seeds helped to promote weight loss in obese individuals with Type 2 diabetes who were on a reduced-calorie diet.
Researchers in these studies concluded that adding chia seeds to the diet alone is unlikely to induce weight loss, but experts agree they can be a useful addition to a weight loss diet and lifestyle.
High in Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Gram for gram, chia seeds have more Omega-3 fatty acids than salmon. However, it’s important to note that we would normally eat more salmon in one serving than we would chia seeds. Nevertheless, chia seeds do contain a lot of Omega-3 fatty acids. Milled chia seeds will release more of these essential fatty acids than whole chia seeds, since we do not break them down well in the digestive process.
Lower Risk of Heart Disease. Since chia seeds are high in fiber (especially soluble fiber), protein and Omega-3 fatty acids, they may reduce the risk of heart disease. Research studies have shown that chia seeds can reduce triglycerides, inflammation, and insulin resistance, and may also raise HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, all leading to a lower risk for heart disease. A few studies have also shown that chia seeds reduced blood pressure in subjects with hypertension. Overall, chia seeds appear to benefit heart health, especially when combined with a healthy lifestyle and diet.
Bone Health. Chia seeds are high in nutrients that support bone health, including calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and protein. In fact, one ounce of chia seeds provides 18% of the recommended dietary intake of calcium. This makes chia seeds an excellent source of calcium.
It is important to note that chia seeds contain phytic acid, which can bind to the calcium and other minerals within the seed, inhibiting their absorption. Soaking the seeds before eating them will release the phytic acid, allowing those minerals to be utilized by the body. Also, considering the fact that the soluble fiber in chia seeds will soak up a LOT of liquid, it is advisable to soak them first rather than eating them dry, to prevent dehydration or a choking hazard.
Stabilized Blood Sugar Levels. Blood sugar levels can tend to rise after a meal, depending upon the food eaten. Such spikes can increase the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic diseases. Animal and human research studies have found that chia seeds may improve insulin sensitivity and blood sugar control by stabilizing blood sugar levels after meals, reducing the risk of disease.
Possible Inflammation Reduction. Inflammation is a normal and necessary response to injury or infection. However, chronic inflammation is associated with increased risk of heart disease and cancer. Some lifestyle habits can increase our risk for chronic inflammation, such as smoking, inactivity, and a poor diet. On the contrary, other lifestyle habits can reduce the risk for chronic inflammation, with dietary choices being one of them. A study published in a 2007 issue of the journal Diabetes Care showed that subjects with diabetes eating 37 grams (about 2-1/2 tablespoons) of chia seeds a day for three months had reduced inflammatory markers (hs-CRP) by 40%. The control subjects in the study experienced no benefit when fed wheat bran. However, other studies with obese subjects did not show such promising results. So, the data are preliminary but do suggest that chia seeds may have beneficial effects on chronic inflammation.
Note of Caution: Omega-3 fats may have blood-thinning effects. People who take blood thinning medications should consult their doctors before adding large amounts of chia seeds to their diet. Their prothrombin time may need to be monitored for a while.
How to Select Chia Seeds
When shopping for chia seeds, choose seeds that are either speckled black or white. Avoid those that are uniformly brown, which indicates the seeds didn’t mature properly. Brown seeds will be bitter and have fewer nutritional benefits.
How to Store Chia Seeds
Store chia seeds in a cool, dry place. The refrigerator is ideal. When kept cool and dry, they should keep for several years. If you have room, storing them in the freezer will give them the longest life.
How to Prepare
Chia seeds need no special treatment. They are ready to use straight from the container they came in.
Some resources say they may be eaten dry, sprinkled on salads or puddings. However, since they soak up a lot of liquid, be sure you consume plenty of liquid if you do opt to eat them dry, so you don’t become dehydrated or cause a choking hazard. Otherwise, to avoid possible issues from eating dry chia seeds, it’s best to soak them with plenty of liquid first before eating them.
Quick Ideas and Tips for Using Chia Seeds
* Chia seeds do not have to be ground for digestive reasons, like flax seeds do, so they are easy to include in the diet without special treatment.
* Chia seeds can be added to porridge, pudding, smoothies, yogurt, oatmeal, and baked goods.
* Chia seeds may be eaten raw, but they should be soaked first to allow their soluble fiber to soak up liquid, and also allow the phytic acid to be broken down.
* Chia seeds may be used to thicken sauces, gravies, or soups.
* To make an egg substitute, simply combine 1 tablespoon of chia seeds with 3 tablespoons of water in a small bowl. Stir, and allow them to sit for about 5 minutes or until a gel is formed. This replaces one egg in baked items like cupcakes, muffins, or cookies.
* Make easy chia pudding. Simply mix ¼ cup of seeds in one cup of liquid, such as nut or oat milk and/or fruit juice. Allow the mixture to rest at least 15 minutes, until it is no longer watery, but more of a “pudding” texture. Chia seeds don’t have much flavor, so many people add spices of choice, and chopped fruit, nuts, chocolate chips, or other toppings. The pudding will keep in the refrigerator for several days.
* Chia seeds may be eaten whole or ground. However, recent studies show that we may absorb more nutrients from ground chia seeds than whole ones.
* Try grinding chia seeds and add into breadcrumbs when making meatballs or breading meats, poultry, vegetables, or other foods.
* Try adding chia seeds to your favorite pancake mix.
* Since chia seeds absorb liquid, forming a gel in the process, they can be used in place of pectin when making jam.
* Try mixing some chia seeds in your favorite dip.
* Try adding chia seeds to homemade crackers.
* Try freezing your favorite chia pudding, making it into an ice cream.
* It is noteworthy that Omega-3 fats may have blood-thinning effects. People who take blood thinning medications should consult their doctors before adding large amounts of chia seeds to their diet. Their prothrombin time may need to be monitored for a while.
Herbs and Spices That Go Well with Chia Seeds
Cinnamon, ginger, mint, nutmeg, sage, vanilla
Foods That Go Well with Chia Seeds
Proteins, Legumes, Nuts, Seeds: Beans (esp. black), flax seeds, meats, fish, and poultry (in a breading or crust), nuts (in general), nut butters (in general), tofu
Vegetables: Kale, maca, squash (winter, esp. spaghetti)
Fruits: Apples, bananas, berries (of all types), coconut, dates, lemon, lime, mango, pears, raisins
Grains and Grain Products: Baked goods, cereals (breakfast), oats, oatmeal, oat bran
Dairy and Non-Dairy: Coconut milk, coconut butter, milk (in general), cashew milk, hemp seed milk, yogurt and frozen yogurt
Other Foods: Carob, chocolate, cocoa, honey, maple syrup, sugar (all types)
Chia seeds have been used in the following cuisines and dishes…
Baked goods (i.e., biscuits, breads, cakes, cookies, muffins), chili (vegetarian), drinks (i.e., limeade), granola, meatballs, porridge, puddings, salads, smoothies, soups, veggie burgers
Suggested Food and Flavor Combos Using Chia Seeds
Add chia seeds to any of the following combinations…
Almond Milk + Apples + Buckwheat + Cinnamon
Cashews + Coconut + Dates
Cocoa + Honey + Silken Tofu + Vanilla
Ginger + Pears + Almond Milk
Blueberry-Chia Ice Pops https://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/blueberry-chia-ice-pops
Chia Pudding with Dried Apricots and Pineapple https://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/chia-pudding-dried-apricots-pineapple
Blueberry-Chia Seed Jam https://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/blueberry-chia-seed-jam
Pomegranate-Chia Seed Yogurt Parfait https://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/pomegranate-chia-seed-yogurt-parfait
Lemon Chia No-Bake Slice https://thechiaco.com/us/lemon-chia-no-bake-slice/
Nut Free Oat Slice https://thechiaco.com/us/nut-free-oat-slice/
Three-Ingredient Chia Pudding https://feelgoodfoodie.net/recipe/3-ingredient-chia-pudding/#wprm-recipe-container-5591
26 Chia Recipes That Don’t Just Involve Pudding https://www.bonappetit.com/gallery/chia-seed-recipes
32 No-Brainer Chia Seed Pudding Recipes https://greatist.com/eat/chia-seed-pudding-recipes
25 Recipes to Get Some Chia in Your Day—Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner https://www.brit.co/living/healthy-eating/chia-recipes/
Overnight Chocolate Chia Pudding https://minimalistbaker.com/overnight-chocolate-chia-seed-pudding/
Page, Karen. (2014) The Vegetarian Flavor Bible. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.
Julia W. Klee (Judi) began her journey enjoying “all things food” in elementary school when she started preparing meals for her family. That love of food blossomed into a quest to learn more and more about health and wellness as related to nutrition. She went on to earn a BS Degree in Food and Nutrition, then an MS Degree in Nutrition. She has taught nutrition and related courses at the college level to pre-nursing and exercise science students. Her hunger to learn didn’t stop upon graduation from college. She continues to research on a regular basis about nutrition as it relates to health. Her hope is to help as many people as possible to enjoy foods that promote health and wellness.