Some people consider chia seeds a superfood; others regard them as merely another plant-based nutritional boost to add to a smoothie. But there’s no denying the numbers: with 11 grams of fiber in just one ounce, as well as important omega-3 fatty acid and manganese, these tiny seeds pack a decent nutritional punch.
The ease of upping our nutritional intake with a scant amount of chia seeds is one reason to sprinkle them into a cup of yogurt, fold them into a bowl of oatmeal and blueberries, or whip them into a post-workout omelet. Some athletes also seek a chia seed drink after an invigorating run for a quick release of protein, phosphorus, and calcium.
A chia seed is about the size of the head of a pin. Chia plants produce black seeds and white seeds; sometimes you’ll find packages containing black, white, or a mix of both.
Usually, people describe chia seeds as having an earthy, nutty flavor. Most also mix a teaspoon or two of chia seeds in with other dishes, so the taste isn’t immediately discernible.
You’ll find chia seeds readily available in specialty health markets and widely available in most major supermarkets.
Chia seeds are grown commercially throughout the Americas, so they’re available in the US and Europe all year long.
Your choice of chia seeds depends on the usage. Consider whole or milled seeds for general purpose and full nutritional benefits, and chia oil capsules if you want a non-animal protein option for omega-3s.
When choosing packaged seeds, make sure the bag or pouch is sealed securely and contents have an extended sell-by date. Whole or milled chia seeds are good for at least one year, so the sell-by date and your daily usage may influence your purchase.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is an environmental health advocacy and research organization in the United States. From cosmetics to produce, water to cleaning products, EWG provides insight regarding the impact of pesticides, manufacturing practices, and product ingredients on our health and environment.
The EWG ranks packaged chia seeds and provides a score of 1.0 (lower concern) to 10.0 (higher concern) regarding nutritional, ingredient, and processing concerns. These food scores compare products based on amounts of artificial or industrial ingredients, organic versus non-organic, and use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Consider these rankings when you shop for chia seeds.
If you purchase whole chia seeds, they will stay fresh in your pantry for one to two years. Milled chia seeds are good for up to one year. Both options should be kept in the original packaging for optimum freshness.
Chia seeds don’t require a lot of preparation for most recipes, since they are best consumed in their raw state. You don’t need to rinse or soak them. Because the seeds are so tiny and their nutritional benefits are intact, they don’t need to be ground before adding to a variety of dishes, but some people do grind them to make baked goods and pizza dough.
Keep in mind that raw chia seeds must always be added to something with liquid, as they absorb a considerable amount. So try mixing them into your next smoothie, cup of yogurt, bowl of oatmeal, omelet, or soup. Some people enjoy briefly pan-toasting chia seeds before adding them to more savory dishes.
For many baked goods, you can create a chia seed gel to use in place of eggs. To make chia gel, use a ratio of 1:6 chia seed to water, and substitute about one tablespoon of gel for one large egg.
The majority of the manganese in the body is stored in the bones and organ tissue, mainly the liver and kidneys. Manganese is responsible for production and maintenance of sex hormones, blood-sugar regulation, brain and nerve function, calcium regulation and absorption, and carbohydrate metabolism.
Provides structural support to DNA and RNA, works with calcium in the formation of tooth enamel and bone, helps to filter wastes out of the kidneys, and regulates energy. Phosphorus also plays an integral role in cardiovascular health and repairing cells and tissues throughout the body.
Calcium is an essential mineral responsible for building dense bones and teeth, muscle contractions, neurotransmitter health, and cardiovascular health.
Zinc offers a host of health benefits, aiding the body’s sense of taste, vision, and smell, and also plays a role in blood clotting, thyroid and metabolism health, and insulin sensitivity. This abundant mineral is also helpful for promoting immune system health and skin repair.
Composed of amino acids (building blocks of protein), this essential nutrient aids in the healing of wounds and the growth of hair, skin, and nails; provides a substantial amount of energy and satiation; catalyzes metabolic reactions; and promotes a healthy hormonal and immune system response.
Adding a few tablespoons of chia seeds to your next smoothie or bowl of oatmeal gives you a boost of plant protein and vital minerals to regulate energy metabolism such as manganese and phosphorus. Chia seeds also increase your fiber intake, creating a feeling of fullness, and provide you with an ample daily requirement of omega-3, which may reduce high cholesterol and inflammation.
There are some contraindications with chia seeds to keep in mind. Chia seeds contain phytates, which are antioxidant compounds that can interfere with the absorption of certain minerals. For some people with auto-immune diseases, chia seeds may actually increase inflammation or prompt allergic reactions in the body, regardless of the inherent omega-3s that may reduce inflammation. In addition, chia seeds should always be added to foods containing liquid—they can absorb nearly 10 times their volume. Chia seeds should never be consumed dry, as people with digestive issues, dysphagia, or esophageal restrictions may experience medical problems.
- Chia was a primary energy source for ancient Aztec and Mayan people; in fact, in the Mayan language, chia means “strength.”
- Once one of four major crops of the Mayan and Aztec people, chia was banned for agronomic and religious reasons for nearly 500 years. In the 1990s, researchers at the University of Arizona worked with farmers in Argentina to revive the crop.
- Chia seeds have more Omega-3 fatty acids than any other plant food, including flax seeds.