Health Benefits of Chia Seeds
You may have seen them as a pudding, used them in smoothies or sprinkled them on top of oatmeal. But what are chia seeds, and are these tiny seeds as healthy as they seem? Chia seeds may be small, but they do in fact pack a healthy punch. Research supports a vast array of health benefits for these tiny seeds. From weight loss to fighting inflammation, chia seeds are worth adding to your diet. Read on for the health benefits of chia seeds, how to use chia seeds and chia seed nutrition.
Chia Seed Nutrition
Chia seeds are some of the most nutrient-dense foods out there. Chia seeds are full of fiber, which helps support a healthy gut. Also, they are a great source of omega-3 fats, which can help your body stave off inflammation and protect your heart (see all the best foods to eat to reduce inflammation). The nutrition for 1 ounce of chia seeds (just about 2 tablespoons) is as follows:
- 138 calories
- 5 g protein
- 9 g fat
- 12 g carbs
- 10 g fiber
- 179 mg calcium (14% Daily Value)
- 2.2 mg iron (12% Daily Value)
- 5 g omega-3s
Health Benefits of Chia Seeds
Packed with Heart-Healthy Fats
Chia seeds are a great plant-based source of omega-3 fats in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Though omega-3s from plants are not as efficient in our bodies as the kind from fish or fish oil, they can still confer healthy benefits.
Pictured: Blueberry Almond Chia Pudding
Loaded With Antioxidants
Don't be fooled by their tiny size: these small seeds are packed full of healthy antioxidants. A study in 2014 found that chia seeds may even have more (nearly twice as much) antioxidant activity than was previously thought. The types of antioxidants in chia seeds are known for their anti-aging and anti-cancer benefits. These antioxidants may also contribute to the other health benefits associated with chia seeds, such as heart health, anti-inflammation and immunity improvements. For more ways to get antioxidants in your diet, check out our roundup of best antioxidant-rich foods.
Promotes Weight Loss
The soluble fiber found in chia seeds is also helpful for weight loss, even compared to other star fiber sources. A 2017 study found that people who ate 30 grams or more (just over 2 tablespoons) of chia seed daily for six months reduced their waist circumference by about 3.5 centimeters compared to those who ate a comparable amount of oat bran instead. The waist circumference results are important because the fat around your waist (called visceral fat) is implicated in increased risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Related: Foods to Eat to Lose Belly Fat
Pictured Recipe: Berry Chia Pudding
Your heart may also thank you for eating chia seeds regularly. The healthy fats in chia seeds have been found to help reduce triglyceride levels while increasing the amount of HDL cholesterol in your blood. HDL is the "good" cholesterol that helps clean up your arteries for better blood flow. Additionally, the type of fiber in chia seeds, mainly soluble fiber, can help lower LDL cholesterol. This type of cholesterol forms plaque in your arteries if it is present in high levels. Combined, these blood lipid improvements can lower your risk for heart disease.
Helps Control Blood Sugar
Having spikes and drops in your blood sugar can increase your risk for chronic diseases, like type 2 diabetes and heart disease. A small study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that ground and whole chia seeds mixed into bread helped stabilize participants' blood sugar levels for two hours after eating. Another study, in rats, found that chia seed intake was able to reverse insulin resistance, which is a precursor for developing diabetes (learn more about 12 Healthy Ways to Lower Your Blood Sugar).
Fights Off Inflammation
Over time, inflammation within our body can cause damage that makes us more susceptible to chronic disease, particularly diabetes, heart disease and cancer. A study published in Nutrients found that chia seeds were linked to reduced blood levels of inflammation in rats. Also, in humans, eating chia seeds daily was found to reduce a specific type of inflammation in our cells, called C-reactive protein, that can be a risk factor for heart disease and diabetes.
How to Use Chia Seeds
Back in the time of the Aztecs and Mayans, chia seeds were revered as a source of superpowers and strength. Even today, famed long-distance runners from a Mexican tribe drink a mixture of water, lemon juice and chia seeds for sustained energy. Though chia seed drinks are still common, there are plenty of other ways to get chia in your diet. Chia seeds can be used dry as a topping for salads, bowls and oatmeal. They also absorb water well and are a healthy ingredient to thicken smoothies and pudding. Chia seeds also make a great gel when left in liquid overnight. In fact, mixing two parts water with one part chia seeds creates what is called a "chia egg" and is a popular egg substitute for vegan baking. They can also be used the same way as other seeds, and make a great addition to snacks like these Super Seed Snack Bars.
Chia seeds can add a healthful boost to a variety of foods. They are chock-full of powerful nutrients like omega-3 fats, antioxidants and fiber. These contribute to their array of health benefits, from fighting heart disease and inflammation to weight loss. Try chia seed drinks or eating chia seeds to reap the chronic disease-fighting benefits.