Foods + Nutrients

Chia Seeds: Tiny but Mighty

While chia seeds were once relegated to growing Chia Pets, they’ve become a popular health food item and a versatile pantry staple.

For the small number of calories they contain, they’re dense with nutrients, and preliminary research suggests they may offer health benefits.

This article will review chia seeds’ nutrient profile, the benefits they may offer clients, and how they can be incorporated into a healthful diet.

Nutritional Content
Coming from the Salvia hispanica plant, chia seeds are an excellent source of fiber—the primary carbohydrate in the seed—and contain a significant amount of the omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid, which can be converted to EPA and DHA in the body.

In addition to unsaturated fats and fiber, chia seeds provide potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, and calcium. They’re also a source of antioxidants, including lutein and zeaxanthin.

Possible Health Benefits
Chia seeds have been suggested to promote weight loss, help control glucose, and reduce CVD risk.

Given their high fiber content, chia seeds may help consumers feel fuller after a meal. A small study found that healthy participants consuming yogurt with chia seeds experienced greater satiety than those who consumed yogurt alone.

This increase in satiety may help with weight loss efforts. A study in individuals with overweight and obesity who also had type 2 diabetes found significantly more weight loss in those who consumed chia seeds vs placebo.

Two studies have evaluated the effect of Salba on postprandial glycemia in healthy subjects. Salba is the brand name of white varieties of chia seeds produced through selective breeding. Both studies found that Salba had a dose-response relationship to postprandial glucose levels, with greater Salba consumption associated with lower postprandial glucose.

Chia seeds also have been hypothesized to improve CVD risk factors. A few studies have found chia seeds may help lower blood pressure and C-reactive protein levels.

While there isn’t enough evidence to support any health claims of chia seeds—and this is true of most foods—chia seeds are an excellent source of fiber and nutrients and a nutritious food to include in the diet.

Are Chia Seeds Recommended for Everyone?
Consuming chia seeds is safe, and there are very few reports of side effects. A chia seed allergy reaction has been reported with symptoms such as shortness of breath, swelling, and hives.

Clients who quickly add more high-fiber foods to their diets should be counseled to drink enough water to avoid any digestive issues such as bloating and constipation. In addition, if they have a history of bowel disease, it’s sometimes suggested to avoid seeds during acute bouts with symptoms.

Chia Seeds’ Culinary Uses
There are many ways to use chia seeds. When added to a liquid, the seeds can absorb 10 to 12 times their weight. In addition, the seeds are almost flavorless and will take on other flavors in a recipe.

The most popular way to use them is to make a chia pudding or add them to oatmeal or overnight oats. They also can be used in baked goods. The following are a few other ways to use chia seeds:

  • Use them as an egg substitute by adding 1 tablespoon of chia seeds to 3 tablespoons of water and let the mixture sit until it takes on a pudding-like consistency. This would be the equivalent of about one egg for a baked recipe.
  • Add chia seeds to smoothies or sprinkle them on top of smoothie bowls.
  • Add them to muffin or bread recipes.
  • Make a chia jam.
  • Sprinkle over salads, spreads, or dips.
  • Blend into a homemade dip or hummus.
  • Add to soups; it will make the soups a little thicker.

Below is an example of a chia pudding. Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RD, owner of Nutrition Starring YOU, LLC, shares this easy breakfast chia pudding that’s gluten-free and vegan. It’s also made with ingredients that are all low FODMAP.

PB Banana Breakfast Chia Pudding (Low FODMAP)

Serves 1

Ingredients
1/4 banana, mashed
2 T chia seeds
3 T powdered peanut butter
1 packet stevia
2/3 cup unsweetened almond milk

For garnish
3 slices banana
1 tsp peanuts, chopped
2 tsp powdered peanut butter mixed with water (about 1 tsp) for drizzle

Directions
1. Add all ingredients except garnishes to a Mason jar or container with a lid and mix well.
2. Cover and let sit in the refrigerator overnight.
3. When ready to serve, stir the pudding and top with a few banana slices, drizzle the powdered peanut butter, and add chopped nuts. (Lauren mixes the powdered peanut butter with water in a small zipper bag, then cuts one of the corners off to make it easy to drizzle.)

Nutrient Analysis per serving
Calories: 300; Total fat: 17 g; Sat fat: 1.5 g; Total carbohydrate: 31 g; Dietary fiber: 18 g; Sugars: 7 g; Protein: 17 g; Calcium: 50% DV; Vitamin A: 25% DV; Vitamin C: 6% DV; Iron: 10% DV

— Jennifer Lefton, MS, RDN-AP, CNSC, FAND, is a freelance writer and nutrition consultant in northern Virginia. After gaining years of clinical nutrition experience in the hospital setting, she enjoys creating evidence-based content for companies, websites, and blogs. You can find Jennifer on Instagram @nutritiousknowledge.

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