Chia Seed Health Benefits, Side Effects, and More: Your Ultimate Guide to All Things Chia!

Spoonful of Chia Seeds

What is it about chia seeds that makes them so great and even superhero-like in the health food world?Lego Superman

It all started a few years ago when my official healthy lifestyle journey began. My mother looked down at the multi-colored chia-sprinkled salad I made and scrunched up her face as she exclaimed, “Yuck! It looks like there are little bugs in there. I can’t believe you’re eating that…” I humbly attempted to share my findings with her, but she had made up her mind about this touted superfood.

healthy-recipes-colossal-salad-vegan
Colossal salad with tiny seeds! Click on the image to get the full recipe.

That’s quite unfortunate because one—trust me when I say they’re NOT disgusting and two—they really are brimming with some pretty amazing health benefits that would be foolish to flat out ignore.

If you sift through the healthy foodie inspired blogosphere, Instagram, or Pinterest, you’ll be sure to stumble upon vibrant pictures of chia pudding, chia seeds used as smoothie garnish, and bottled drinks with hundreds of little bloated black seeds floating around in there. That all looks quite odd, right? Maybe even a little unappealing to the taste buds…

Chia pudding bowl

But you know what? I’m not going to let the appearance stop me from eating them and neither should you.

While I’ve heard of several benefits hovering around in cyberspace, I wanted to do some more in-depth research and see what clinical and scientific studies have to say about good old chia as well as other reputable sources. However, I don’t want to turn a blind eye to potential drawbacks so I looked into those for you too.

Before we get into the seed (heart?) of the matter, let’s get down to the nuts and bolts…

What Are Chia Seeds and What Plant Do They Come From?

One thing they’re not? Mini caviar. Even though they look like mini fish eggs when they get stuck in my dish sponge, that’s beside the point.

Chia seeds are part of a beautiful purple-flowered plant called Salvia hispanica L. which belongs to the mint family. (Surprised? I was too!) Agriculturally speaking, this vibrant plant was around when the Aztecs and Mayans were still alive and kicking, so needless to say, it’s been around for a very, very long time.[1] And while I mentioned purple flowers (and even white ones at times), it’s actually referred to as an herb.

Chia Seeds Close Up
Up close and personal! “They kind of look like dinosaur eggs.” -Bob 😀

The seeds themselves may appear grayish black from a slight distance, but upon closer inspection, they are naturally & intricately adorned in black, brown, gray, and off-white speckles. Their size may not be colossal, but size need not matter here, even though their circumference is only one measly millimeter! Try to find a tape measure for that…

FUN FACT:Chia” is the Mayan word for  STRENGTH. That’s very telling, wouldn’t you say?

Furthermore, Salvia hispanica L. is considered to be an annual, which basically means in order to keep this stuff growing, you must replant it on a yearly basis.

Nutritional Profile of Chia Seeds

Food doesn’t simply become widely known as a “health food” or “superfood” overnight and for no apparent reason. At least in most cases. Chia’s nutrition facts are certainly forces to be reckoned with and upon closer investigation, you’ll see why this is such a healthy foodie staple.

In their dried form, one ounce (roughly 28 grams) of this whole grain food consists of just 137 calories, four grams of protein, nine grams of fats (the healthy kind—more on that in a little bit), and a whopping eleven grams of fiber (which is 42% of your recommended daily value, by the way).[2]

And you can’t forget about all the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that are packed in each tiny seed, which further cements the statement: Chia is unbelievably healthy!

As I was looking through the nutrition label, I was shocked at how much calcium was in these seeds. When someone says “calcium,” most people picture a cold glass of milk or a handful cheddar cheese cubes, but only one ounce of chia contains 18% of this bone health promoting vitamin. However, don’t forget and don’t let those “got milk” ads get the best of you—calcium also assists in overall muscle function and it even helps send nerve signals to and from your brain.

These are just the basics, though. There are a lot more valuable facts to reveal…

The Many Health Benefits of Chia Seeds

One thing I absolutely have to get off my chest before we proceed any further: Eating chia seeds is NOT a miracle cure. Sure, lots of “experts” have made these seeds sound like the ultimate miracle workers that will get rid of virtually all your health ailments, but this is simply not true. The actual truth is, quasi-experts will say just about anything to sell something; they’re simply salespeople in disguise.

Plus, there aren’t a ton of studies done just yet. Even though I have read the few studies that are out there to craft this health benefit list below, more of them are needed.

To simplify what I’m talking about: Think in terms of PART of a healthy diet, instead of the answer to practically everything that troubles you physically. And if this article and the research you do outside of HMM doesn’t seem like enough, simply talk to a dietician or even look into the sources we sited at the bottom of the page.

“In terms of nutritional content, a tablespoon of chia is like a smoothie made from salmon, spinach, and human growth hormone. As tiny as those seeds are, they’re superpacked with Omega-3s, protein, calcium, iron, zinc, fiber and antioxidants.” -Monica Van Zandt

 1  May Help Prevent Cancer

It’s all in the peptides. What’s a peptide exactly? Well, if you really must know, it stems from a Greek word and literally means “digested.” So not only do they aid in digestion, but they are biologically-occurring short chains of amino acids. The peptides specific to chia are called prolamin and globuli.

Anti-cancer properties attributed to seed peptides have been displayed in mammalian cells and have even been found to prevent skin cancer in a mice.[3]

 2  Aids in Lowering Blood Pressureblood-pressure

Peptides are at it again! A study conducted by LWT Food Science and Technology in 2016, stated that chia is considered to be a vital anti-hypertensive source, which is only amplified when this seed is frequently incorporated into one’s diet.[4].

 3  Maintains Healthy Protein Levels (Especially for Vegans & Vegetarians!)

Earlier in the article, I mentioned that there are four grams of protein in a single ounce of dried chia seeds. That’s roughly 14% protein by weight.

The perfect balance of essential amino acids and their high bioavaibility ensure that our bodies will be able to optimally utilize the protein.[5]

[Related Post: Hemp Seed Health Benefits: Little Guys that Pack a BIG Punch!]

 4  Fights the Production of Free Radicals

This is all thanks to the antioxidants present in chia seeds. Free radicals are far from, well… “rad…ical” and this is why: not only can they damage cell molecules, they are prime contributors of early aging and chronic diseases (and disease in general).[6]

 5  Maintains Healthy Blood Sugar and Cholesterol Levels

Dietary fiber is the culprit for this benefit in particular, and luckily, chia is packed with this stuff.[7]

 6  Relieves Constipation

The dietary fiber abundantly found in chia seeds is behind this benefit as well. Go fiber!

The Benefits Don’t Stop There!

Keeping some additional research in mind, what makes chia seeds especially grand is the ample B vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids that they contain, so I wanted to put together two health benefits sections for those two components alone…

Vitamin B
Photo Source: Vitamina Verde

B Vitamins in Chia

Chia seeds contain four of the eight B-complex vitamins, including thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), and folate (B9).[8]

Thiamine: The nervous system, muscle function, and digestion B vitamin.

Riboflavin: The metabolism-enhancing B vitamin.

Niacin: The heart health and cholesterol balancing B vitamin.

Folate: The DNA-forming B vitamin.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Chia

The word “fatty” would get a rise out of some health buffs or even medical professionals in the past, but let’s put the “all fat is bad fat” mantra to rest, shall we?

Repeat after me: Omega-3 fatty acids = good fats. From lowering triglyceride levels (blood fat) and reducing inflammation to alleviating some mental illnesses (like ADHD), there is no denying that the super power of these fatty acids should not be taken lightly.[9]

The notable levels of ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) make chia as much of a good candidate as fish when it comes to omega 3s.

Sprouting Chia Seeds for Maximum Health Benefits

Eating chia seeds just the way they are is perfectly fine and the aforementioned benefits definitely still apply. Sprouting only amplifies said benefits.

And on top of that, you’ll be getting some chlorophyll, which is what makes the sprouts rich green in color. What does this strangely spelled word even do? One word: blood. Chlorophyll both cleanses and builds the blood that flows through our veins. More specifically, it restores and maximizes our red blood cell count, all while increasing the red blood cell’s efficiency in both carrying and delivering oxygen.[10]

Chia Pet

You can go the “Chia Pet” route or D.I.Y. it.

Here is a simple, hassle-free way to go about the sprouting process:

 1  Evenly sprinkle about a tablespoon of chia seeds onto a pre-moistened terra cotta tray.

 2  Place the terra cotta tray in a glass container.

 3  Pour in about 2-3 centimeters of filtered water.

 4  Cover the container to lock in the moisture.

 5  SPROUTS! (It’ll take up to a week for this to happen.)

TIP: Add these chia sprouts to your salad or use them as garnish for your favorite dish.

The Not as Many Chia Seed Side Effects

In no way am I trying to be a downer, but anything can be overdone—even the chia seeds I’ve spent so much time advocating! It isn’t exactly dangerous if you over-consume these seedlets, but the drawbacks aren’t exactly sunshine and rainbows.

Here goes nothing…

I was just finished clarifying that there is such a thing as good fat in the previous section, but now I’m here to tell you that TOO MUCH of the fat found in chia seed can very well raise your bad cholesterol levels. I cannot emphasize moderation enough!

Additionally, try putting some chia seeds in water and you’ll soon find that the water level is notably lower and the chia seeds are bloated with it. Your body contains a lot of water, so eating a whole bunch of chia seeds all the time may absorb too much moisture that is vital to your body’s overall well-being, which can lead to dehydration. So drink enough water, whether you’re eating chia seeds or not.

While this was mentioned in the health benefits list, blood sugar levels and heart health could be negatively impacted as well. Mainly for those who are on specific medications that lower blood pressure or blood sugar.[11] So if you have a preexisting condition or are taking such meds, you must ask your doctor before deciding to eat these seeds.

As you can see, the cons are certainly minimal and the pros are quite prominent, but they certainly are worth bringing up before you decide to implement or continue implementing them in your diet.

How to Get Your Daily Dose of Chia

Chia is known for its versatility. These seeds can be added to yogurt, granola, smoothies, bread, curried dishes, juice… you name it!

You can easily eat them whole and raw without a problem  or grind them up for easier digestion. As you already know, what I like to do is add Chia Puddingthem in my salads like I would any other spice. In fact, I have a shaker (an empty dried oregano bottle) with chia seeds in it in my cupboard. The holes on most dried herb bottle tops are large enough to let the chia seeds through.

In the event that I don’t want to feel their texture when I take a bite out of my meal, I put them directly in the blender where they get finely ground up along with whatever else I’m making (smoothies or smoothie bowls, typically).

And I already mentioned chia pudding earlier. There isn’t much to it… You just add a fourth of a cup of chia seeds to about one cup of some sort of liquid (like almond milk) and there you have it! To compound the effects, feel free to use hemp milk for this. Oh, and use some raw honey as a sweetener, if you need some sweet oomph. And if your palate is feeling especially adventurous, add a dash of cinnamon.

Here are some of our chia-incorporated recipes that you should totally try:

Strawberry Watermelon Chia Smoothie Bowl
Watermelon Lovers Smoothie Bowl
PB&J+C Smoothie
PB&J+C Smoothie (Cherry, Cacao, & Peanut Butter)

Final Thoughts

Sorry everyone, but chia seeds obviously have no magical properties—you won’t drop weight effortlessly if you eat them nor will they ensure a healthy heart or digestive tract. However, the health benefits are still evident and in most cases, proven.

If you eat fruits, vegetables, and whole foods in general, then adding chia seeds to the mix won’t hurt. The key is to make healthy eating a lifestyle—not just finding a few nutrition-packed foods and eating them every once in a while, yet expecting their nutritional advantages to fall into your lap. I’m not saying you’re guilty of that but…

Some people have the misconception that even if they don’t eat healthy often, the fact that they take supplements will fill in the gaps. Chia as a supplement isn’t a food that will fill that gap for you nor will any other health food when it stands all on its lonesome.

Scoop of Chia Seeds

Whether it’s in tomorrow morning’s strawberry banana smoothie or in your paleo chia bread… enjoy!

Are you chia seeds’ number one fan? How do/would you incorporate them into your diet?

Eva Xanthopoulos


Sources
1. U.S. National Plant Germplasm System – Taxon: Salvia hispanica L.
2. Seeds, Chia Seeds, Dried Nutrition Facts & Calories.
3. A Novel Seed Peptide for Cancer Prevention.
4. Inhibitory Activity of Chia Protein Fractions Against Angiotensin I-converting Enzyme and Antioxidant Capacity.
5. Isolation and Characterization of Proteins from Chia Seeds (Salvia hispanica L.)
6. Antioxidants and aging.
7. Health Benefits of Dietary Fiber.
8. Chia Seeds Nutrition Facts.
9. Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Inflammation and Autoimmune Diseases.
10. Why Everyone Should Try Sprouting Chia Seeds.
11. Negative Health Effects of Chia Seeds.

11 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for the comprehensive review of chia seeds. They are good for detoxing too. When I encounter a substance that I don’t like I use them to cleanse the intestines of whatever inflammation is caused by that substance, and it works wonderfully.

  2. You are absolutely correct about the health benefits of chia. I eat 13 grams daily in my greek yogurt. You are also correct when sharing the unsubstantiated claims that chia is a “miracle” cure to many diseases. Although it help support health, it is only ONE tool and should be valued as a GOOD addition; not a miracle cure.
    Great information in this post. Thank you for sharing.

    • Greek yogurt + chia seeds are a great mix! Back when my stomach would tolerate dairy, I loved adding honey to my yogurt. Have you ever tried that?

      As always, thank you for taking the time to comment! 🙂

      • Raw honey would be an excellent addition. I’m a little surprised the yogurt caused intolerance issues. Cultured/fermented dairy typically is consumable even by those with lactose and casein sensitivities. Is it possible you ate something else at the same time that caused an imbalance?

        • That’s what I figured, but it doesn’t seem to agree all that well with me. It could have been something else as I have a wide range of food sensitivities (including gluten, corn, and soy), but I seem to have a similar reaction each time. I just avoid dairy in general.

          • This just proves the complexity of the human body. There will NEVER be a one size fits all solution. This is not necessarily a bad thing. It proves each one of us is UNIQUE and offers the world a potential UNIQUE perspective. It also mitigates complacency when we doctors begin suffering expanded egos believing we’ve “got it all figured out!” I’ll take being HUMAN over “God Like” any day. His job is a lot tougher than mine! 🙂

  3. Hi, folks! Thanks for visiting my blog on diet, exercise and living past 100 and liking some of my posts. I appreciate the support. Love your write up on chia seeds. I ‘found’ them several years ago and wrote them up and also included them in my diet. Keep up the good work!

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