Chia seeds are the tiny black seeds of the chia plant (Salvia hispanica).
Hailing from Mexico and Guatemala, they were a staple food for the ancient Aztecs and Mayans. In fact, “chia” is the ancient Mayan word for “strength” (1).
Chia seeds contain large amounts of fiber and omega-3 fatty acids, lots of high quality protein, and several essential minerals and antioxidants.
They can improve digestive health, blood levels of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, and risk factors for heart disease and diabetes.
Chia seeds are small, flat, and oval in shape with a shiny and smooth texture. Their color ranges from white to brown or black (2).
These seeds are very versatile. They can be soaked and added to porridge, made into pudding, used in baked goods, or simply sprinkled over salads or yogurt.
Due to their ability to absorb liquid and form a gel, they can also be used to thicken sauces or as an egg substitute (3, 4).
This article is all you need to know about chia seeds in this article.
Chia seeds contain 138 calories per ounce (28 grams).
They consist of 6% water, 46% carbohydrates (of which 83% fiber), 34% fat and 19% protein.
The nutrients in 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of chia seeds are (5):
- Calories: 486
- Water: 6%
- Protein: 16.5 grams
- Carbohydrates: 42.1 grams
- Sugar: 0 grams
- Fiber: 34.4 grams
- Fat: 30.7 grams
- Saturated: 3.33 grams
- Monounsaturated: 2.31 grams
- polyunsaturated: 23.67 grams
- Omega 3: 17.83 grams
- Omega-6: 5.84 grams
- Translate: 0.14 grams
In addition, chia seeds are gluten-free.
Carbohydrates and fiber
More than 80% of the carbohydrate content in chia seeds is in the form of fiber.
A single ounce (28 grams) of chia seeds contains 11 grams of fiber, which is a significant portion of the daily reference intake (RDI) for women and men – 25 and 38 grams per day, respectively (6).
The fiber in chia seeds is mainly soluble fiber and mucilage, which is responsible for the sticky texture of the moistened chia seeds (7).
Chia fiber can also be fermented in your gut, which promotes the formation of short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) and improves gut health (6, 8).
One of the unique properties of chia seeds is their high content of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
About 75% of the fats in chia seeds are made up of omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), while about 20% are made up of omega-6 fatty acids (9, 10, 11).
In fact, chia seeds are the most famous plant-based source of omega-3 fatty acids – even better than flax seeds (12, 13).
Some scientists believe that a high intake of omega-3 fatty acids compared to omega-6 fatty acids reduces inflammation in your body (14).
Because they’re a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, chia seeds encourage lower omega-6 to omega-3 ratios.
A low ratio is associated with a lower risk of various chronic conditions – such as heart disease, cancer, and inflammatory diseases – and a lower risk of premature death (15, 16).
Gram for gram, however, the omega-3 fatty acids in chia seeds are not nearly as strong as those in fish or fish oil (EPA and DHA).
The ALA in chia needs to be converted to its active forms (EPA and DHA) before your body can use it, and this process is often inefficient (17, 18, 19, 20, 21).
Chia seeds contain 19% protein – a similar amount to other seeds but more than most grains and grains (1, 10, 22, 23).
High protein intake is associated with an increased feeling of satiety after meals and reduced food intake (24, 25).
Notably, these seeds provide all nine essential amino acids, making them a high quality vegetable protein. However, they are not recommended as the sole source of protein for children (26, 27).
Chia seeds are high in fiber and are among the best plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids that have numerous health benefits. They’re also loaded with high quality protein.
Chia seeds are high in minerals but are a poor source of vitamins.
The most common minerals are:
- Manganese. Whole grains and seeds are high in manganese, which is essential for metabolism, growth, and development (28).
- Phosphorus. Phosphorus, which is normally found in high-protein foods, contributes to bone health and tissue maintenance (29).
- Copper. Copper, a mineral that is often lacking in modern diets, is important for heart health (30).
- Selenium. Selenium, an important antioxidant, is involved in many processes in your body (31).
- Iron. As part of the hemoglobin in red blood cells, iron is involved in transporting oxygen through your body. Because of its phytic acid content, it is difficult to absorb from chia seeds.
- Magnesium. Magnesium is often lacking in the Western diet and plays an important role in many physical processes (32).
- Calcium. Calcium is the most abundant mineral in your body and is essential for bones, muscles, and nerves (33).
The absorption of some minerals, such as iron and zinc, may be reduced due to the phytic acid content of chia seeds.
Chia seeds are an excellent source of many essential minerals but a poor source of vitamins. They are rich in manganese, phosphorus, copper, selenium, iron, magnesium and calcium.
Chia seeds contain a number of beneficial botanicals, including (9, 11, 34):
- Chlorogenic acid. This antioxidant can lower blood pressure (35, 36).
- Caffeic acid. This substance is abundant in many plant foods and can help fight inflammation in your body (37).
- Quercetin. This powerful antioxidant can reduce your risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, and certain types of cancer (38, 39, 40).
- Kaempferol. This antioxidant has been linked to a reduced risk of cancer and other chronic diseases (41, 42).
Clean, dry chia seeds have a longer shelf life because their antioxidants protect their fats from damage (1, 43).
Chia seeds contain many powerful antioxidants that can reduce your risk of chronic diseases like heart disease and cancer.
Chia seeds have become increasingly popular in recent years due to their high nutritional value and purported health benefits.
Their main health benefits are listed below.
Increased blood levels of omega-3
Omega-3 fatty acids are incredibly important to the body and brain, and chia seeds are an excellent source of omega-3 ALA.
However, ALA needs to be converted to active forms like EPA before your body can use it.
Human and animal studies have shown that chia seeds can increase blood levels of ALA by up to 138% and EPA by up to 39% (21, 44, 45, 46, 47).
Improved blood sugar control
Healthy blood sugar levels are critical to optimal health.
Animal studies show that chia seeds reduce insulin resistance and improve blood sugar control, which are important risk factors for metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease (48, 49, 50, 51).
Human studies show that bread with chia seeds causes a reduced blood sugar response compared to more traditional breads (52, 53).
Low blood pressure
High blood pressure is a major risk factor for chronic conditions like heart disease.
Chia seeds and chia flour have been found to lower blood pressure in people who already have elevated levels (54, 55).
Increased fiber intake
Most people don’t consume enough fiber (56).
High fiber intake is linked to improved gut health and a lower risk of numerous diseases (57, 58).
A single ounce (28 grams) of chia seeds provides 9.75 grams of fiber, which is 25% and 39% of the RDI for men and women, respectively (5).
Because of their exceptional water absorption capacity, chia seeds increase the volume of food in your digestive tract, resulting in more fullness and decreased food intake.
Chia seeds have numerous benefits, including lower blood pressure, improved blood sugar control, and higher levels of fiber and omega-3.
Chia seeds are generally considered safe to eat, and few to no side effects have been reported with their consumption (59).
However, to avoid possible digestive side effects, drink plenty of water when you eat them – especially if they haven’t been soaked.
Phytic acid content
Like all seeds, chia seeds contain phytic acid.
Phytic acid is a plant substance that binds minerals such as iron and zinc and inhibits their absorption from food (60).
Blood thinning effect
Large doses of omega-3 fats, for example from fish oils, can have a blood-thinning effect (61).
If you are taking blood-thinning medications, consult your doctor before including large amounts of chia seeds in your diet. Omega-3 fatty acids can affect the way your medication works (62, 63).
Chia seeds generally do not cause any side effects. However, they can have a blood-thinning effect in large doses and contain a plant compound that can reduce mineral absorption.
Chia seeds are very rich in fiber, antioxidants, minerals and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
They have been linked to improvements in risk factors for heart disease and diabetes, as well as digestive and gut health benefits.
Chia seeds are very easy to incorporate into a healthy diet.