Chia Seeds: Benefits, Nutrition, and Risks

Chia seeds are the tiny seeds of the Salvia hispanica L. plant. Though they’ve been used as food for thousands of years by Native people, they’ve become increasingly popular in the U.S. over the past decade as more people learn of their impressive nutrition profile and potential health benefits.

Not only are chia seeds rich in important nutrients like fiber and magnesium, but chia seed intake has been shown to promote a healthy heart, reduce blood sugar levels, and support digestive health.

Here are the health benefits of chia seeds and their nutrition, potential risks, and culinary uses.

Chia seeds are an excellent source of nutrients known to promote heart health, including fiber, healthy fats, and magnesium. Studies show that eating chia seeds is an effective way to reduce heart disease risk factors such as high LDL or “bad” cholesterol levels and high blood pressure.

Chia seeds are rich in soluble fiber, which can help reduce cholesterol levels. Fiber helps decrease cholesterol absorption in the digestive tract and increases its excretion, thus lowering blood cholesterol levels. 

A 2021 review of 10 studies found that chia seed consumption was effective for lowering total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglyceride levels and increasing levels of heart-protective HDL cholesterol.

Chia seeds have also been shown to help reduce high blood pressure levels, which is a major risk factor for heart disease. Chia seeds are a concentrated source of magnesium, a mineral that’s involved in blood pressure regulation, plus fiber, long-chain polyunsaturated fats, and protein, which have also been linked to blood pressure benefits. 

A 2021 study that included 42 people with type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure found that the participants who consumed 40 grams (g) of chia seeds per day for 12 weeks experienced significant reductions in systolic blood pressure compared to the control group.

Chia seeds are packed with fiber. In fact, the fiber content of chia seeds exceeds that of dried fruits, nuts, flaxseeds, and grains.

A 1-ounce serving of chia seeds provides an impressive 9.75 grams of fiber, which covers around 35% of your daily fiber needs. Fiber is essential for the health of the digestive system, as fiber is needed to promote regular and comfortable bowel movements and helps support the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut.

Chia fiber helps add bulk to stools, which can help prevent and treat constipation. 

The fiber in chia seeds promotes the growth of bacteria that produce byproducts called short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). Bacteria in the large intestine ferment fiber, which releases SCFAs such as acetic acid, propionic acid, and butyric acid. SCFAs fuel cells that line the colon, called colonocytes, and also help regulate inflammation, and maintain the health of the intestines.

Chia seeds also contain antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds, like omega-3 fats and polyphenols, which help reduce intestinal inflammation. They’re also high in minerals that are commonly low in people with digestive disorders like IBD, such as calcium, selenium, and zinc.

Chia seeds are high in nutrients known to support healthy blood sugar regulation, such as fiber, protein, and magnesium.

Studies have linked chia seed consumption to improvements in glycemic control and insulin sensitivity in healthy people and in those with high blood sugar. A 2018 systemic review and meta-analysis that included 12 studies investigating the effects of chia seed consumption in people with and without diabetes found that, when consumed in high doses, chia seeds helped reduce blood sugar and insulin levels.

A small 2017 study of 15 healthy adults showed that those who consumed 25 grams of ground chia seeds alongside 50 grams of a sugar solution had a 39% reduction in blood sugar levels compared to those who consumed the sugar solution alone, which suggests that adding chia seeds to high-carbs meals may help blunt post-meal blood sugar levels. That said, it’s important to note this was a very small study, so it’s results shouldn’t be used to draw definitive conclusions.

Additionally, eating chia seeds can help reduce other health issues common in people with type 2 diabetes, such as high blood pressure. In the 2021 study that included 42 people with type 2 diabetes mentioned above, treatment with 40 grams of chia seeds per day for 12 weeks led to significant reductions in systolic blood pressure.

What’s more, studies suggest that chia seed consumption may protect against diabetes development in people at high risk for diabetes. A 2022 study of 32 patients with a previous diagnosis of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) found that treatment with a diet supplemented with 25 grams (nearly 2 tablespoons) of ground chia per day for eight weeks helped increase glucose metabolism through improving the function of beta-cells, which are cells located in the pancreas that produce and release insulin, the hormone that regulates blood sugar levels. The researchers concluded that chia seeds can be a helpful tool in slowing diabetes progression in this population.

Eating fiber and protein-rich foods, like chia seeds, is an excellent way to support satiety and healthy weight loss. 

Protein and fiber both help slow digestion, which helps prevent post-meal blood sugar spikes and also increases feelings of fullness after eating. Choosing more filling foods, like chia seeds, may help curb appetite and help you eat fewer calories, which can help support weight loss.

A 2017 study that included 24 people found that the participants reported significantly lower hunger scores and higher scores for satiety on days when they consumed yogurt with 7 grams and 14 grams of chia seeds compared to yogurt with no chia seeds. The researchers also found that calorie intake was significantly lower when the participants consumed yogurt with added chia seeds versus chia-free yogurt.

These findings suggest that including chia seeds in a healthy diet could help support weight loss efforts. 

Though chia seeds are small in size, they contain a surprising amount of nutrients. 

Here’s the nutrition breakdown for a 1-ounce (28 g) serving of chia seeds:

  • Calories: 138
  • Protein: 4.86 g
  • Fat: 8.7 g
  • Carbohydrates: 11.9 g
  • Fiber: 9.75 g
  • Calcium: 179 milligrams (mg) or 14% of the Daily Value (DV)
  • Iron: 2.19 mg or 12% of the DV
  • Magnesium: 95 mg or 23% of the DV
  • Manganese: .771 mg or 34% of the DV
  • Phosphorus: 244 mg or 20% of the DV
  • Selenium: 15.6 micrograms (mcg) or 28% of the DV
  • Zinc: 1.3 mg or 12% of the DV

Chia seeds are rich in several minerals, but are especially high in magnesium, manganese, and selenium.

Magnesium is a mineral that your body needs for essential functions such as DNA synthesis, muscle contraction, nerve function, blood sugar regulation, and blood pressure maintenance. Unfortunately, many people underconsume this important nutrient, which can lead to low magnesium levels. Low or deficient magnesium levels can negatively impact health in a number of ways and lead to health issues like stroke, high blood pressure, and depression.

Selenium is essential for thyroid hormone production and the regulation of inflammation, while manganese is involved in energy metabolism and immune function.

Chia seeds also provide fiber, plant-based protein, and healthy fats, making them a nutrient-dense choice. 

When eaten in moderation, chia seeds are safe to consume and aren’t associated with adverse side effects. 

However, because chia seeds are very high in fiber, they may cause digestive symptoms, like gas, diarrhea, and bloating.

If you’re currently following a diet low in fiber, it’s best to slowly increase your intake of high-fiber foods, like chia seeds, and make sure you’re drinking adequate amounts of water.

Another potential risk associated with chia seed consumption is that, when exposed to fluids, chia seeds may pose a choking hazard, especially in people with swallowing issues. Chia seeds swell when exposed to liquids and take on a thick and sticky consistency, which can pose a risk for those with swallowing difficulties as they can become lodged in the esophagus and cause an impaction.

Chia seeds are highly nutritious and versatile. Here are a few ways to add chia seeds to your diet:

  • Combine chia seeds with milk or nut milk and let the concoction thicken to make chia pudding.
  • Mix chia seeds into yogurt, oatmeal, and cereal to increase fiber, mineral, and protein content. 
  • Use chia flour in baked goods like breads and muffins. 
  • Sprinkle chia seeds over salads and grain bowls for a bit of crunch. 
  • Add chia seeds to homemade granola, energy balls, and trail mix.
  • Make a sugar-free chia seed jam by mixing chia seeds into cooked fruit.

To make a simple, yet filling chia pudding, combine four tablespoons of chia seeds with one cup of milk in a mason jar and stir. After a few minutes, give the mason jar a shake and then let the mixture firm up for about an hour. You can add sweeteners, like honey or maple syrup, to taste and top your chia pudding with nutritious ingredients like fresh fruit, nut butter, and sliced almonds. 

Chia seeds are the nutritious seeds of the Salvia hispanica L. plant. Though tiny, chia seeds are packed with nutrients like fiber, magnesium, and plant-based protein.

Studies show that eating chia seeds may benefit health in several ways, such as improving heart disease risk factors like high blood pressure and cholesterol levels and supporting digestive health.

Try adding chia seeds to oatmeal and yogurt or make a simple chia pudding that you can enjoy for a filling and nutritious breakfast, snack, or dessert.

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