5 Benefits of Chia Seeds + Delicious Ways to Use Them
Chia seeds are small but mighty seeds with numerous benefits. And they’ve taken the health and wellness world by storm. They’re popping up in everything from protein bars to beverages to nut butters and featured in loads of better-for-you recipes (chia seed pudding anyone?). And enthusiasm doesn’t seem to be waning—which is a really great thing for your health, as you’ll soon learn.
What are Chia Seeds?
While chia seeds are a relatively new culinary addition to many parts of the world, including the United States, these tiny greyish black seeds from the plant Salvia hispanica have actually been cultivated as a food source since around 3,500 B.C.
For being so tiny, chia seeds are absolutely packed with nutrients. Just one ounce of chia seeds (2 tablespoons) contains significant amounts of plant-based omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, fiber, protein, and minerals. Additionally, chia seeds contain mucilage, a form of fiber that becomes gelatinous and gooey when exposed to liquid. This is why they’re great for making chia pudding and acting as a natural thickening agent in healthy jam recipes.
What are the Health Benefits of Chia Seeds?
1. They promote good digestion and may ease constipation
As I mentioned above, chia seed contain loads of fiber. In fact, a serving (2 tablespoons) of chia seeds contains a whopping 10 grams of fiber or 40 percent of your recommended daily intake (RDI). Most of the fiber in chia seeds is also considered insoluble fiber, which means it adds bulk to the stool and helps food pass more quickly through the stomach and intestines. This keeps digestion running smoothly and may help alleviate constipation—provided you’re also drinking plenty of water.
2. They curb cravings and promote balanced blood sugar
Chia seeds contain fiber, protein, and healthy fats—the perfect trifecta for boosting satiety and keeping blood sugar levels stable. This is important, as erratic and chronically elevated blood sugar levels are associated with an increased risk of diabetes and heart disease. Studies have actually found that after eating white bread containing chia seeds, people experience a lower post-meal spike in blood glucose and increased feelings of fullness compared to plain white bread. Because of a reduction in cravings, incorporating chia seeds into your diet may potentially help you lose weight as well.
3. They can help improve cardiovascular health
While no studies have specifically linked chia seeds to a reduced risk of heart disease, the nutrients found in chia do have a positive impact on overall cardiovascular health. Remember how I said chia seeds are jam packed with insoluble fiber? Well, that’s the type of fiber most consistently associated with reduced rates of cardiovascular disease. Additionally, chia seeds are a great source of the plant-based omega-3 fatty acid alpha linolenic acid (ALA), which has anti-inflammatory effects on the body. Some observational studies have found a correlation between higher ALA intake and moderately lower risk of cardiovascular disease.
4. They can help ease anxiety and promote good sleep
Everyone seems to be talking about magnesium lately—and for good reason. This mineral is responsible for hundreds of biochemical reactions in the body, yet nearly two-thirds of us aren’t consuming the recommended amount via our diet. For many people, insufficient levels of magnesium can lead to feelings of anxiety, insomnia and even sugar cravings. This, however, can be remedied by prioritizing high-magnesium foods in your diet, like chia—just 2 tablespoons contains 23 percent of your RDI, the highest of nearly any food.
5. They contain bone strengthening minerals
In addition to magnesium, chia seeds are a surprising source of the mineral calcium. They have 179 mg of calcium or 18 percent of your RDI, in just 2 tablespoons. Calcium, as you well know, is important for building strong bones. And if you’re following a paleo, vegan or otherwise dairy-free diet, it can be hard to attain adequate amounts if you’re not seeking out the right sources. Pro tip: Other great non-dairy sources of calcium include sardines and cooked leafy greens such as kale and spinach.
What Form of Chia is Best: Ground or Whole?
A lot of people ask me whether whole or ground chia seeds are best for reaping the most nutritional benefit. The answer? Both are great! So use whatever one is best suited for your recipe.
Unlike flax seeds, which are hard for your body to break down and should really be consumed in their ground form to absorb nutrients, the surface of chia seeds is delicate and easily breaks down when exposed to moisture.
How to Incorporate Chia Seeds Into Your Diet
The simplest way is to make chia seed water for a healthy daily boost. Or you can also add a tablespoon of chia seeds to your favorite smoothie recipe for a nutrient boost or sprinkle some onto your next bowl of oatmeal.
If you want to get a little more creative, I recommend one of these delicious chia seed recipes:
- Blueberry Chia Pudding with Figs, Hazelnuts and Maple Syrup
- Chia Seed Jam – a much healthier alternative to store-bought jam
- Peanut Butter and Jelly Chia Pudding – made with my homemade almond butter
- Chocolate Chia Pudding – the easiest dessert recipe
- Ultimate Seed Crackers – grain-free crackers with chia, pumpkin, flax, and sesame seeds
- Sexy Superfood Hot Chocolate – made with ground chia for a thick, creamy
- Eggnog Chia Pudding – perfect for the holidays!