What Is Chia?
Chia is an edible seed that comes from the desert plant Salvia hispanica, now grown in Uganda. “Chia” means strength, and folklore has it that these cultures used the tiny black and white seeds as an energy booster. That makes sense, as chia seeds are a concentrated food containing healthy omega-3 fatty acids, carbohydrates, protein, fiber, antioxidants, and calcium.
Chia seeds are an unprocessed, whole-grain food that can be absorbed by the body as seeds (unlike flaxseeds). One ounce (about 2 tablespoons) contains 139 calories, 4 grams of protein, 9 grams fat, 12 grams carbohydrates and 11 grams of fiber, plus vitamins and minerals.
The mild, nutty flavor of chia seeds makes them easy to add to foods and beverages. They are most often sprinkled on cereal, sauces, vegetables, rice dishes, or yogurt or mixed into drinks and baked goods. They can also be mixed with water and made into a gel.
11 Proven Health Benefits of Chia Seeds
Chia seeds are among the healthiest foods on the planet.
They’re loaded with nutrients that can have important benefits for your body and brain.
Here are 11 health benefits of chia seeds, supported by science.
1. Chia Seeds Deliver a Massive Amount of Nutrients With Very Few Calories
Chia seeds are tiny black seeds from the plant Salvia hispanica, which is related to the mint.
Chia seeds were an important food for the Aztecs and Mayans back in the day.
They prized them for their ability to provide sustainable energy. In fact, “chia” is the ancient Mayan word for “strength.”
Despite their ancient history as a dietary staple, chia seeds became recognized as a modern-day superfood only recently.
In the past few years, they have exploded in popularity and are now consumed by health conscious people all over the world.
Don’t be fooled by the size — these tiny seeds pack a powerful nutritional punch.
A one-ounce (28 grams) serving of chia seeds contains (1):
Fiber: 11 grams.
Protein: 4 grams.
Fat: 9 grams (5 of which are omega-3s).
Calcium: 18% of the RDI.
Manganese: 30% of the RDI.
Magnesium: 30% of the RDI.
Phosphorus: 27% of the RDI.
They also contain a decent amount of zinc, vitamin B3 (niacin), potassium, vitamin B1 (thiamine) and vitamin B2.
This is particularly impressive considering that this is just a single ounce, equalling 28 grams or about two tablespoons. This small amount supplies only 137 calories and one gram of digestible carbohydrate.
Interestingly, if you subtract the fiber — most of which doesn’t end up as usable calories for your body — chia seeds only contain 101 calories per ounce (28 grams).
This makes them one of the world’s best sources of several important nutrients, calorie for calorie.
To top things off, chia seeds are a whole-grain food, usually grown organically. Plus, they’re non-GMO and naturally free of gluten.
Despite their tiny size, chia seeds are one of the most nutritious foods on the planet. They’re loaded with fiber, protein, omega-3 fatty acids and various micronutrients.
2. Chia Seeds Are Loaded With Antioxidants
Another area in which chia seeds shine is their high antioxidant content (2, 3).
These antioxidants protect the sensitive fats in the seeds from going rancid (4).
Though the benefits of antioxidant supplements are debated, researchers agree that getting antioxidants from foods can have positive health effects (5).
Most importantly, antioxidants fight the production of free radicals, which can damage cell molecules and contribute to aging and diseases like cancer (6, 7).
Chia seeds are high in antioxidants that help protect the delicate fats in the seeds. They also have various benefits for health.
3. Almost All the Carbs in Them Are Fiber
One ounce (28 grams) of chia seeds has 12 grams of carbs. However, 11 of those grams are fiber, which your body doesn’t digest.
Fiber neither raises blood sugar nor requires insulin to be disposed of. Though it belongs to the carbohydrate family, its health effects are drastically different from those of digestible carbs like starch and sugar.
The digestible carb content is only one gram per ounce (28 grams), which is very low. This makes chia a low-carb friendly food.
Because of its high soluble fiber content, chia seeds can absorb up to 10–12 times their weight in water, becoming gel-like and expanding in your stomach (8).
Theoretically, this should increase fullness, slow absorption of your food and help you automatically eat fewer calories.
Fiber also feeds the friendly bacteria in your intestine, which is important — keeping your gut flora well fed is absolutely crucial for health (9).
Chia seeds are 40% fiber by weight, making them one of the best sources of fiber in the world.
Almost all of the carbohydrates in chia seeds are fiber. This gives them the ability to absorb 10–12 times their weight in water. Fiber also has various beneficial effects on health.
4. Chia Seeds Are High in Quality Protein
Chia seeds contain a decent amount of protein.
By weight, they’re about 14% protein, which is very high compared to most plants.
They also have a good balance of essential amino acids, so your body should be able to make use of their protein content (10, 11).
Protein has various health benefits and is by far the most weight loss friendly dietary nutrient.
A high protein intake lowers appetite and has been shown to reduce obsessive thoughts about food by 60% and the desire for night time snacking by 50% (12, 13).
Chia seeds really are an excellent protein source — especially for people who eat little or no animal products.
Chia seeds are high in quality protein, much higher than most plant foods. Protein is the most weight loss friendly macronutrient and can drastically reduce appetite and cravings.
5. The High Fiber and Protein Content in Chia Seeds May Help You Lose Weight
Many health experts believe that chia seeds can aid weight loss.
Its soluble fiber absorbs large amounts of water and expands in your stomach, which should increase fullness and slow the absorption of food (14).
Several studies have examined the soluble fiber glucomannan, which works in a similar way, showing that it can lead to weight loss (15, 16).
Also, the protein in chia seeds could help reduce appetite and food intake.
In fact, one study found that eating chia seeds for breakfast increased satiety and reduced food intake in the short-term (17).
However, studies examining the effectiveness of chia seeds for weight loss have provided rather disappointing results.
In a study in 90 overweight people, 50 grams of chia seeds per day for 12 weeks had no effect on body weight or health markers (18).
In another 10-week study in 62 women, chia seeds had no effect on body weight but did increase the amount of omega-3 fat in the blood (19).
In contrast, a 6-month study in obese people with type 2 diabetes on a reduced-calorie diet found that eating chia seeds daily caused significantly greater weight loss than a placebo (20).
Though adding chia seeds to your diet is unlikely to cause weight loss on its own, many experts believe they can be a useful addition to a weight loss diet.
A weight loss diet is about more than just single foods. The entire diet counts, as well as other lifestyle behaviors like sleep and exercise.
When combined with a real-food based diet and a healthy lifestyle, chia seeds may definitely help promote weight loss.
Chia seeds are high in protein and fiber, both of which have been shown to aid weight loss. However, studies on chia seeds have provided mixed results.
6. Chia Seeds Are High in Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Like flaxseeds, chia seeds are very high in omega-3 fatty acids.
In fact, chia seeds contain more omega-3s than salmon, gram for gram.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that the omega-3s in them are mostly ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), which is not as beneficial as you may think.
ALA needs to be converted into the active forms eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) before your body can use it.
Unfortunately, humans are inefficient at converting ALA into these active forms.
Therefore, plant omega-3s tend to be vastly inferior to animal sources like fish oil (21).
Studies have shown that chia seeds — especially if they’re milled — can increase blood levels of ALA and EPA but not DHA (19, 22).
This can be a problem.
Because they don’t supply any DHA, which is the most important omega-3 fat, most experts consider chia seeds a lower-quality omega-3 source.
To get the DHA your body and brain needs, either eat fatty fish regularly or take fish oil or — if you are vegan or vegetarian — a plant-sourced DHA supplement.
Chia seeds are very high in the omega-3 fatty acid ALA. However, humans are not good at converting this into DHA, the most important omega-3 fatty acid.
7. Chia Seeds May Lower Your Risk of Heart Disease
Given that chia seeds are high in fiber, protein and omega-3s, they may reduce your risk of heart disease.
Their benefits have been examined in several studies, but the results have been inconclusive.
Rat studies have shown that chia seeds can lower certain risk factors, including triglycerides, inflammation, insulin resistance and belly fat. They may also raise “good “ HDL cholesterol (23, 24).
However, one human study did not detect any improvements in risk factors (19).
A few studies show that chia seeds significantly reduce blood pressure in people with hypertension, which is a strong risk factor for heart disease (25, 26).
Overall, it’s possible that chia seeds may benefit heart health, but they probably won’t have a major effect unless accompanied by other beneficial lifestyle and dietary changes.
Studies on the effects of chia seeds on heart disease risk factors are inconclusive. Some studies suggest benefits, others do not.
8. They’re High in Many Important Bone Nutrients
Chia seeds are high in several nutrients that are important for bone health.
This includes calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and protein.
The calcium content is particularly impressive — 18% of the RDI in a single ounce (28 grams).
Gram for gram, this is higher than most dairy products. As a result, chia seeds may be considered an excellent source of calcium for people who don’t eat dairy.
However, chia seeds also contain phytic acid, which reduces calcium absorption to some extent.
Chia seeds are high in calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and protein. All of these nutrients are essential for bone health.
9. Chia Seeds May Reduce Blood Sugar Levels
High fasting blood sugar levels are a typical symptom of untreated type 2 diabetes.
Consistently high fasting blood sugar levels are associated with an increased risk of several chronic diseases, including heart disease (27).
But temporary spikes in blood sugar levels after meals may also have adverse health effects when they’re excessively high on a regular basis (28).
Animal studies have found that chia seeds may improve insulin sensitivity and blood sugar control, stabilizing blood sugar levels after meals (24, 29, 30).
A few human studies support this by showing that eating bread that contains chia seeds lowers the post-meal rise in blood sugar compared to bread that doesn’t include any chia (31, 32).
Studies show that chia seeds may lower the rise in blood sugar after a high-carb meal, possibly benefiting people with type 2 diabetes.
10. They May Reduce Chronic Inflammation
Inflammation is your body’s normal response to infection or injury. Red and swollen skin is a typical example.
Although inflammation helps your body heal and fight off bacteria, viruses and other infectious agents, it can sometimes cause harm.
This mainly applies to chronic inflammation, which is associated with an increased risk of heart disease and cancer.
Chronic inflammation often doesn’t have any visible signs, but can be assessed by measuring inflammatory markers in your blood.
Various unhealthy lifestyle habits increase your risk of chronic inflammation, including smoking, lack of exercise or a poor diet.
On the other hand, certain healthy foods may reduce the blood levels of inflammatory markers.
One 3-month study in 20 people with diabetes showed that eating 37 grams of chia seeds daily reduced the inflammatory marker hs-CRP by 40%. In contrast, those who got wheat bran didn’t experience a significant benefit (25).
Other studies on chia seeds have failed to detect any significant effects on inflammatory markers (33).
Limited evidence suggests that eating chia seeds may reduce an inflammatory marker known as hs-CRP. However, the health benefits are uncertain and more studies are needed.
11. Chia Seeds Are Easy to Incorporate Into Your Diet
Chia seeds are incredibly easy to incorporate into your diet.
The seeds themselves taste rather bland, so you can add them to pretty much anything.
They also don’t need to be ground like flax seeds, which makes them much easier to prepare.
They can be eaten raw, soaked in juice, added to porridge, pudding, smoothies or added to baked goods.
You can also sprinkle them on top of cereal, yogurt, vegetables or rice dishes.
Because of their ability to absorb both water and fat, they can be used to thicken sauces and as egg substitutes in recipes.
They can also be mixed with water and turned into a gel.
Adding chia seeds to recipes will dramatically boost their nutritional value.
If you want to buy chia seeds, there is an excellent selection on Amazon with thousands of customer reviews.
They do also seem to be well tolerated, but if you’re not used to eating a lot of fiber, then there is a possibility of digestive side effects if you eat too much at a time.
A common dosage recommendation is 20 grams (about 1.5 tablespoons) of chia seeds, twice per day.
Chia seeds are easy to prepare and are often added to porridge or smoothies.
The Bottom Line
Chia seeds are not only rich in nutrients, omega-3 fat, antioxidants and fiber but also easy to prepare. People commonly add them to their porridge or smoothies.
Studies suggest that they have various health benefits, ranging from weight loss to reduced inflammation.
If you don’t eat chia seeds already, you should definitely consider adding them to your diet. They’re among the few superfoods worthy of the title.