6 Proven Health Benefits of Chia Seeds
All Credits go to Maria Masters
Don’t be fooled by their small size: Chia seeds are packed with fiber, fat, and antioxidants.
Chia seeds have a reputation for being a “superfood”—and for a good reason: They may be tiny, but they pack a wallop of a nutritional punch.
In fact, just one spoonful of chia seeds—that’s .5 ounces, to be precise—has just 69 calories, but boasts 5 grams of fiber, 4 grams of fat, and 2 grams of protein.
“You can find a lot of foods that are high in fiber and fat, but chia seeds have these benefits in a very small package,” says Dawn Jackson Blatner, RDN, a dietitian and author of The Superfood Swap. “I think that’s what makes them super.”
The health benefits of chia seeds aren’t exactly new—in fact, people have been eating them for more than 5,000 years. Originally from Mexico and Guatemala, chia—i.e., Salvia hispanica L., a member of the mint family—was used by the Aztecs and Mayans in everything from meals to medicines to cosmetics, according to a 2016 study in the Journal of Food Science and Technology.
And these tiny seeds are as versatile as they are healthy: “I use them anywhere that I use chopped nuts,” says Jackson-Blatner. “I put them in smoothies or on top of a salad, or I’ll use them to make chia seed pudding.” (Get started with these recipes for chia seeds.)
Available year-round, you can buy them online or find them at most brick-and-mortar grocery stores.
Still not convinced? Here are six reasons why chia seeds are good for your health—proof that good things really do come in small packages.
1. Chia seeds are loaded with fiber
One tablespoon of chia seeds packs a whopping 5 grams of fiber—about 20 percent of the recommended daily fiber intake. (By contrast, the same amount of brown rice contains just .2 grams of fiber.) Even though dietary fiber can help lower our cholesterol levels and shore up our digestive health, statistics show that most women in the United States are only eating about 15 grams per day—well short of the recommended 25 grams.
2. Chia seeds may help build strong bones
Chia seeds are high in phosphorus and magnesium—two minerals that can help keep our bones healthy, says Tara Gidus Collingwood, RDN, a dietitian and author of Flat Belly Cookbook for Dummies. In a 2015 study published in the Nutrition Journal, people who had the highest intakes of phosphorus had a 45 percent lower risk of osteoporosis than those with the lowest intakes.
One tablespoon of chia seeds contains 122 milligrams of phosphorus and 47 milligrams of magnesium—about 17 percent and 15 percent of your recommended daily intake, respectively.
3. Chia seeds are a complete protein
It can be hard for people who eat a plant-based diet to find “complete proteins”—i.e., proteins that contain all of the essential amino acids that your body needs to keep functioning. (Complete proteins tend to be found in animal products, including meat, poultry, and seafood.)
Chia seeds, however, are a complete protein, which makes them a good option for vegans and vegetarians, says Gidus Collingwood. While a tablespoon will only net you 2 grams (one reason why it shouldn’t be your main protein source, says Jackson Blatner), you can boost your protein intake by making a chia seed pudding with soy milk and crushed almonds.
Bonus: “Chia seeds also make a great substitute for eggs in recipes,” says Jackson Blatner. “Add 3 tablespoons water to 1 part chia seeds, and you have this gooey mixture that works as an egg replacement.”
4. Chia seeds are rich in omega-3 fatty acids
Chia seeds are a source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a type of omega-3 fatty acid that may offer a “modest protection” against cardiovascular disease, according to 2014 study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. ALA is an essential fatty acid; because your body can’t produce it on its own, you have to consume it from food.
That said, Gidus Collingwood notes that people still need to get two other kinds of omega-3s—docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)—from fish and seafood. Although your body can convert some ALA into DHA and EPA, it can only do so in small amounts, according to the National Institutes of Health.
5. Chia seeds can help you stay hydrated
Going out for a run? You might want to fuel up with chia seed drink first.
“Chia seeds soak up a lot of water, so they might help athletes or endurance runners stay hydrated,” says Jackson Blatner. One 2009 study published in the journal Food Science and Technology found that one gram of chia flour could absorb almost 12 grams of water.
6. Chia seeds may help you lose weight.
A 2017 study in the journal Nutrition Research and Practice found that when people ate a snack of yogurt paired with either 7 or 14 grams of chia seeds, they ate 25 percent fewer calories at a later meal than those who just ate plain yogurt.
Because chia seeds are so good at absorbing water, it’s thought that they can boost your satiety: “They actually expand and get this gelatinous consistency that helps people stay full a little bit longer,” says Gidus Collingwood. And, of course, the high fiber content can help fill you up, too.