6 science-backed health benefits of chia seeds and how to incorporate them into your diet
Chia seedscontain high amounts of fiber and omega-3 fatty acids and are a plant-based source of complete protein.
- Chia seeds can reduce inflammation, improve heart
health, and possibly strengthen your bones.
- To add chia seeds to your diet, you can mix them into your oatmeal, smoothies, or yogurt.
Chia seeds are small, edible seeds of the Salvia hispanica plant native to central and southern Mexico. They are gray with black and white spots and measure about two millimeters in diameter. However, even though they're small, chia seeds are packed with nutrients and offer several health benefits.
Here are six health benefits of chia seeds and how to incorporate them into your diet.
1. Chia seeds are high in fiber
A serving size of chia seeds — one ounce or two tablespoons — contains about 11 grams of fiber. That's almost half of the recommended daily amount for women (25 grams) and about a third for men (38 grams), says Amanda Miller, a registered dietitian from Chicago who specializes in weight loss and medical
Fiber is an essential part of a healthy diet. Consuming foods high in fiber can:
- Lower cholesterol
- Reduce the risk of coronary artery disease
- Reduce the risk of diverticular disease, which causes inflammation of the intestine
A 2009 review found high intakes of dietary fiber significantly lowers one's risk of developing a stroke, hypertension, diabetes, and obesity. It also found that increasing intake of fiber improves insulin sensitivity in both non-diabetic and diabetic individuals. The review concluded children and adults should consume 14 grams of fiber for every 1000 calories.
2. Chia seeds have plant-based protein
Two tablespoons of chia seeds also contain about four grams of protein. Chia seeds are a complete source of protein, meaning they contain all nine amino acids, which the body is unable to produce on its own.
Most complete sources of protein are animal products like eggs, fish, beef, and dairy. Plant-based sources of protein — like nuts, beans, and whole grains — contain some but not all of the essential amino acids. This makes chia seeds a good plant-based protein option for vegetarians and vegans, Miller says.
Amino acids in protein are the building blocks for organs, skin, and muscles. Consuming adequate amounts of protein is essential for cell growth and repair, says Karen Kjaerulff, a registered dietitian and nutrition consultant based in Delray Beach, Florida.
3. Chia seeds are high in omega-3 fatty acids
Chia seeds are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, Miller says.
Consuming a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids can reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. Omega-3 fatty acids from chia seeds, in particular, have been found to lower levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, the "bad" kind of cholesterol that can increase your risk of heart disease.
Among plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids, chia seeds contain the highest concentration.
Kjaerulff says chia seeds should be part of a well-balanced diet with other sources of omega-3s like:
- Fish like salmon
- Canola oil
- Nuts and seeds like flaxseeds and walnuts
4. Chia seeds may reduce inflammation
Omega-3 fatty acids, like those found in chia seeds, also prevent inflammation in the body during times of disease, stress, and illness, Miller says. Caffeic acid, an antioxidant found in chia seeds, has also been shown to fight inflammation in the body.
"Inflammation is the body's natural and helpful way to deal with harmful foreign substances in the body or an injury," Miller says. "But when inflammation persists, that's when it's cause for concern."
Chronic inflammation may increase a person's likelihood of developing diseases like arthritis, diabetes, and heart disease. But a 2018 review found omega-3 supplementation may reduce symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis — a chronic inflammatory disorder that affects the joints.
5. Chia seeds have antioxidant properties
Chia seeds contain several different types of antioxidants, including:
- Caffeic acid
- Chlorogenic acid
Antioxidants help fight against the production of "free radicals" in the body, which damage cell molecules.
"Free radicals are constantly being formed in our bodies and a certain amount are necessary for our health, for example, they help fight infections," Kjaerulff says. "When free radicals outnumber antioxidants, oxidative stress occurs which can damage your DNA and lead to cell death and has been linked to diseases such as cancer as well as aging."
6. Chia seeds may improve bone health
Chia seeds contain high amounts of calcium — 18% of the recommended daily intake per serving — and can improve bone health.
Research on how chia seeds could improve bone health in humans is still emerging, but a 2018 study in rats found that chia seeds improved bone mineral density. The researchers examined 20 rats divided into two groups. One group received a diet containing 10% chia seeds and the other did not. After 13 months, the bone mineral content of the chia-fed rats was significantly higher than the control group.
How to incorporate chia seeds into your diet
Chia seeds are usually sold in bulk bags and can be found at many local grocery stores,
Chia seeds are very versatile and you can incorporate them into your diet in many ways, like:
- Adding them to smoothies, yogurt, or oatmeal
- Making a chia and seed crust to go on top of meat or fish
- Grinding chia seeds into a fine powder and using it to thicken sauces or gravies
- Making a chia seed pudding by combining 2.5 tablespoons of chia seeds with a half cup of milk. Let the mixture sit for five minutes, stir, and then put in the refrigerator for 20 minutes or longer.
Chia seeds offer many health benefits and contain fiber, protein, and omega-3 fatty acids. Research shows that eating a diet rich in nutrients like these can reduce inflammation and improve heart health. To achieve these health benefits, add chia seeds to yogurt and smoothies or make a chia seed pudding with milk and fruit.
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