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Chia Seeds: Health Benefits, Nutrition and Tasty Recipes – EatingWell

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Chia seeds are tiny, nutrient-dense seeds loaded with fiber, protein, omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants. Their impressive nutritional profile comes along with several health benefits, making them a great addition to a balanced diet. But you may wonder, what happens to your body when you eat chia seeds regularly? And how much should you eat? Keep reading to uncover the answers to those questions and more, including the health benefits of chia seeds, the potential risks, and expert tips for incorporating these nutritious seeds into your meals.

PHOTOGRAPHER: BRIE GOLDMAN, FOOD STYLIST: LAUREN MCANELLY, PROP STYLIST: GABRIEL GRECO


Health Benefits of Chia Seeds

May Improve Your Digestion

Chia seeds are packed with dietary fiber, providing 10 grams in just 2 tablespoons. Studies show fiber can support healthy digestion by promoting regular bowel movements, bolstering the immune system and boosting gut health.

Mucilage, a type of fiber that gives chia seeds their gel-like consistency when soaked in water, can help slow digestion, prevent blood sugar spikes and increase satiety.

Brittany Lubeck, RD, a registered dietitian and nutrition writer, says, “Chia seeds are an excellent source of soluble fiber, which is important for healthy digestion. Soluble fiber helps add bulk to stools, which may prevent constipation.”

May Lower Inflammation

The omega-3 fatty acids in chia seeds include alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which research suggests offers anti-inflammatory benefits. These omega-3s can help reduce inflammation in your body, which is linked to various chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and certain types of cancer.

“Omega-3 fatty acids like ALA are found in a few plant-based foods, including chia seeds,” says Lubeck. “ALA is anti-inflammatory and is also key to the health of your nervous system.”

May Reduce Your Risk of Chronic Disease

Chia seeds are rich in antioxidants that protect your body from oxidative stress and damage caused by free radicals. Research has shown that reducing oxidative stress may lower your risk of chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, neurodegenerative conditions and cancer.

“Chia seeds contain various antioxidants, including polyphenols. These antioxidants scavenge free radicals and reduce oxidative stress. Antioxidants in the diet are an important component of disease prevention,” explains Lubeck.

May Boost Your Heart Health

The omega-3s in chia seeds can help reduce inflammation, lower LDL (known as “bad”) cholesterol levels and raise HDL (known as “good”) cholesterol levels, all of which contribute to better heart health. Additionally, research has found that chia seeds can support a healthy heart by reducing blood pressure.

Are a Great Source of Plant Protein

Despite their small size, chia seeds are an excellent source of plant-based protein, containing almost 5 grams per 2-tablespoon serving. This makes them a fantastic vegan protein source.

“Chia seeds help vegans and vegetarians meet their protein needs,” states Lubeck. “Protein is an essential macronutrient needed for a laundry list of bodily processes, including wound healing, muscle health and immunity.”

Are Packed with Nutrients

“Chia also seeds contain micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) that your body needs in small amounts every day,” says Lubeck. “When you eat chia seeds, you get calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, selenium, folate, vitamin A, B vitamins and more. These micronutrients are essential for various aspects of health, including metabolism, bone health and reproductive health.”

Nutritional Facts

Here’s a deeper look at the nutrition profile for a 1-ounce (28 grams/2 tablespoons) serving of chia seeds:

  • Calories: 138
  • Total Carbohydrates: 12 g
  • Dietary Fiber: 10 g
  • Total Sugars: 0 g
  • Protein: 5 g
  • Total Fat: 9 g
  • Saturated Fat: 1 g
  • PUFA 18:3 n-3 (ALA): 5 g
  • Sodium: 5 mg
  • Calcium: 179 mg
  • Phosphorus: 244 mg
  • Potassium: 115 mg

Potential Risks and Precautions

While chia seeds are generally safe for most people, a small study found that some may experience allergic reactions, particularly if they already have an allergy to other seeds or nuts—more specifically to sesame seeds.

Since chia seeds expand when exposed to liquids and form a gel-like substance, this could be a potential choking hazard, especially for people with swallowing difficulties.

Additionally, chia seeds’ fiber content can cause digestive symptoms like bloating, gas and diarrhea. “If you have digestive issues, you should be aware of chia seeds’ high fiber content,” Lubeck cautions. “For those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) or other digestive conditions, too much fiber may cause symptoms to worsen.”

How to Incorporate Chia Seeds into Your Diet

If you’re looking to add chia seeds to your diet, Lubeck shares some tips to make the most of these tiny but mighty seeds:

Frequently Asked Questions

How many chia seeds should you eat a day?

A moderate amount of chia seeds seems to be generally safe. However, how much you should eat depends on your medical condition and dietary needs. That said, some clinical trials have roughly used between 30 and 37 grams, or 2 to 2 1/2 tablespoons. However, your safest bet is to consult your health care provider or a registered dietitian.

What do chia seeds do for the body?

Chia seeds contain fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals that can improve digestion, lower inflammation, reduce chronic disease risk and support heart health.

Can chia seeds reduce belly fat?

While chia seeds are nutrient-dense and can aid in weight loss due to their high fiber content, no evidence suggests they target belly fat specifically.

Are chia seeds better than fish oil?

Chia seeds are an excellent plant-based source of omega-3 fatty acids, specifically ALA. However, fish and seafood provide eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which are essential for brain, heart, eye and hormone health. While your body can convert ALA into EPA and DHA, it’s only in very small amounts. So, it’s recommended to consume food sources of all three types of omega-3s.

The Bottom Line

Chia seeds, while tiny, are packed with nutrients such as fiber, protein, omega-3s and antioxidants. Adding them to your diet may help improve digestion, reduce inflammation, lower chronic disease and support heart health. 

However, consuming them in moderation is essential to avoid potential digestive issues due to their high fiber content. Those with nut or seed allergies or gastrointestinal disorders like IBS or IBD should be cautious when consuming chia seeds regularly. 

To incorporate chia seeds into your diet, consider adding them to yogurt, oatmeal or smoothies. You can also use them as a thickening agent in soups and sauces, make chia seed pudding or add them to baked goods. These tips can help you reap the health benefits of chia seeds deliciously and conveniently.

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