If you haven’t tried this popular superfood, it’s time to hop aboard the chia train. Chia seeds are appearing in just about every health food store and supermarket out there. These teeny-tiny seeds are praised for their rich nutrition profile and countless benefits.
Not to be confused with poppy seeds, these little black seeds have been around for thousands of years. Records show that the Aztecs and the Mayans ate chia seeds for a boost in energy. In fact, they believed that chia seeds provided supernatural powers due to the sheer amounts of strength and stamina that they experienced after eating them.
The past few years have seen a viral upswing in chia seed recipes and photos. Nutritionists, fitness experts, and health gurus are touting the benefits of these little guys, so let’s find out what they have to offer.
Chia Seed Benefits
Packed with fiber, protein, amino acids, healthy fats, and many essential micronutrients and antioxidants, chia seeds provide a whole host of health benefits.
1. Full of Antioxidants
Antioxidants are natural compounds found in plant foods that fight the process of oxidation in the body. Oxidation is dangerous because it causes the release of free radicals, or toxins, that cause damage to healthy cells. When there are a lot of free radicals throughout the body, it causes a state of oxidative stress.
Oxidative stress and free radical damage are the number one culprits behind chronic diseases, inflammation, and cancer.
The best way to fight free radical damage is to cut down on eating foods that cause oxidative stress—processed foods, fried foods, saturated fats, white flour, processed sugars, and artificial preservatives and flavors—and increase your intake of antioxidant-rich foods, such as chia seeds.
2. Excellent Source of Fiber
The majority of the carbohydrates in chia seeds are fiber. Foods high in fiber are incredibly healthy for many reasons.
Fiber helps to fill you up, keeping you satisfied for a long time after eating and preventing you from snacking on unhealthy food in between meals. It also helps to keep your digestive system running smoothly so that you don’t have to worry about constipation, bloating, gas, and cramps.
In addition, fiber binds to cholesterol deposits and pulls them out of the body, lowering cholesterol levels, boosting cardiovascular health, and protecting you from cardiovascular disease and other life-threatening conditions, such as atherosclerosis, coronary artery disease, heart attack, and stroke.
3. Packed with Proteins
One ounce, or 28 grams, of chia seeds contains 4 grams of protein. Compared with other plant foods, they are considered very high in quality protein, which the body needs for building and repairing tissue.
High protein intake is also linked with lower body weight, so eating foods that are rich in protein may help with your weight loss efforts.
4. Good Source of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Healthy fats should be an essential part of everyone’s diet. Omega-3 fatty acids are incredibly important for brain and nervous system development and heart health. Studies show that omega-3 fatty acids fight depression, heart disease, ADHD, inflammation, autoimmune diseases, and neurodegenerative diseases. (1)(2)(3)(4)(5)(6)
Not only do omega-3s prevent disease, but they also improve the health and functioning of your eyes, bones, brain, and skin. (7)(8)(9)
Chia seeds are rich in the omega-3 fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Some other foods that contain ALA include flaxseeds, canola oil, soybeans, pumpkin seeds, and walnuts.
5. Boost Energy Levels
Those Aztecs and Mayans—they were on to something. Chia seeds have all the components to provide you with a wholesome, long-lasting energy boost. The combination of protein, fiber, and omega-3 fatty acids gives these little powerhouses the ability to keep you running all day long.
6. Prevent Diabetes
According to the American Diabetes Association, 30.3 million Americans had diabetes in 2015, and the numbers keep climbing. (9)
The most frustrating thing about type 2 diabetes is that it is largely preventive. With healthier diets and more exercise, the number of people diagnosed with type 2 diabetes each year would drop.
Chia seeds prevent diabetes because they help to balance blood sugar levels and reduce insulin sensitivity. Their high fiber and omega-3 fatty acid content makes them an ideal food to prevent blood sugar spikes after a meal—a risk factor for diabetes. (10)
7. Strengthen Bones
If you’ve been chugging milk for its calcium content because you know it’ll help build strong bones, it’s time to reevaluate.
Chia seeds contain more calcium per ounce than many dairy products. In just one ounce of chia seeds, you’ll benefit from 18 percent of your recommended daily intake of calcium.
Calcium isn’t the only bone-building nutrient that chia contains. It’ll also provide you with phosphorus, magnesium, and protein—all nutrients vital for bone health.
5 Easy and Delicious Chia Recipes
It’s time to put these seeds to good use and reap the benefits with these five delicious chia seed recipes that you can make at home.
Lemon Chia Seed Muffins
- 2 cups flour
- 3 Tbsp chia seeds
- 1 tsp baking powder
- ¼ tsp baking soda
- ½ tsp salt
- 8 Tbsp butter, softened
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 lemon, zested
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1 cup Greek vanilla yogurt (nonfat)
- ½ cup powdered sugar
- 1–2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare 12-cup muffin tin with nonstick spray or liners.
- In a small bowl, combine flour, chia seeds, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. In an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in eggs, one at a time, mixing well each addition. Mix in lemon zest and vanilla. Using a spatula, mix in the flour and yogurt until just combined. Fill muffin tins about 2/3 of the way full. Bake for 18–20 minutes, until a tester comes out clean. Allow the muffins to cool in the pan for a few minutes before removing to a wire rack.
- While the muffins are cooling, prepare the glaze. Whisk together the lemon juice and powdered sugar until smooth. Drizzle a little over the top of each muffin. Allow glaze to set before serving.
Coconut Chia Pudding
- 1 can coconut milk (a carton of it will not turn out the same)
- 1/3 cup chia seeds
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
- 1–2 tablespoons honey
- Frozen mixed berries
- Pour the coconut milk into a small bowl.
- Add the chia seeds and stir well with a fork or whisk.
- Add the vanilla extract, almond extract, and honey (I enjoy this recipe with closer to 2 T. of honey!). Stir well until honey is evenly incorporated.
- Divide mixture into small mason jars or other airtight containers. Seal well. Refrigerate the pudding overnight or at least for a few hours.
- I serve this pudding with berries on top. If I’m packing it in my lunch for work, in the morning I put frozen mixed berries on top. Then the berries are thawed by midday and the pudding is lightly infused with berry flavors!
Easy 3-Ingredient Chia Seed Strawberry Jam
- 1 pound fresh strawberries, washed, hulled, and sliced
- 3 Tbsp honey (add 1 more tablespoon if you like your jam very sweet)
- 2 Tbsp chia seeds
- Heat a medium saucepan over medium heat and add the strawberries. Add the honey and place on the stove over medium heat.
- As the strawberries begin to soften over the heat, stir them around in their juices and the honey.
- Once the berries have softened to the point that they’re starting to fall apart, use a potato masher or fork to break them up even more.
- Let the mixture come to a slow boil, stirring almost continually. Once you see some big bubbles break the surface, add the chia seeds.
- The chia seeds will help the jam achieve a gelatinous texture while also adding fiber, protein, and healthy omega-3 fats.
- Continue stirring the mixture over low heat for about 15 minutes, and then remove the pan from the stove.
- If you enjoy jam with small chunks of fruit in it, then you’re done! Simply pour the mixture into a mason jar and cover it tightly with a lid.
- If you’d prefer jam with a smoother texture, feel free to add the mixture to your blender and pulse it a few times before pouring it into a mason jar. Or, use an immersion blender and pulse only a few times.
- While the jam is still hot, it may seem more fluid than you would expect. The chia seeds need a bit of time to do their work, so let the jam cool to room temperature in the jar and then put your jar of jam in the fridge for a few hours, and it will achieve the perfect texture.
- Enjoy on toast, gluten-free crackers or scones, over yogurt, or even on ice cream.
Kiwi Coconut Chia Popsicles
- 1 ¾ cup canned coconut milk
- ¾ cup soy milk (or any milk alternative)
- ¼ cup + 1 Tablespoon chia seeds
- ½ Tablespoon agave syrup, or more to your liking
- 3 kiwis, peeled and sliced
- Stir together coconut milk, soy milk, chia seeds, and agave syrup. If desired, add additional sweetener to taste.
- Place sliced kiwis in popsicle molds. Use chopsticks or the back of a spoon to press kiwi to the sides of the mold.
- Gently pour liquid mixture into popsicle molds. Insert wooden popsicle sticks. Freeze for at least 4 hours until popsicles are solid.
Sunflower and Chia Seed Bars
- 1 cup sunflower seeds (shelled)
- 1 cup coconut sugar
- ½ cup white chia seeds
- ½ cup water
- 1 Tbsp ground chia seeds
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- ⅛ tsp salt
- Preheat oven to 375°F. Line a small baking tray (I used one that’s 7″ x 10.5″, but anything of a similar size will do) with some parchment paper and set aside.
- Place all ingredients in a small mixing bowl and stir everything together to combine. Let sit for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- After the 15 minutes have passed, give the mixture another stir to make sure it’s well-combined. Then transfer it into the prepared baking tray. Smooth out the top with the back of a spoon.
- Bake in a preheated oven for 55 minutes. Remove from oven and cool on a rack for about an hour. Once completely cooled, cut into bars and enjoy!
Don’t let their size fool you—chia seeds are incredibly powerful foods, and they provide all kinds of health benefits. They are rich in fiber, protein, healthy fats, and many micronutrients and antioxidants for a boost in energy levels short-term, and overall good health long term.
This superfood is affordable, versatile, and widely available, so there really isn’t any reason to delay adding this wonderful food to your diet.