Chia seeds are the tiny black seeds of the chia plant (Salvia hispanica).
Native to Mexico and Guatemala, they were a staple food for the ancient Aztecs and Mayans. In fact, “chia” is the ancient Mayan word for “strength”.
Chia seeds contain large amounts of fiber and omega-3 fatty acids, plenty of high-quality protein, and several essential minerals and antioxidants.
They may improve digestive health, blood levels of heart-healthy omega-3s, and heart disease and diabetes risk factors.
Chia seeds are small, flat, and oval-shaped with a shiny and smooth texture. Their color ranges from white to brown or black.
These seeds are highly versatile. They can be soaked and added to porridge, made into pudding, used in baked goods, or simply sprinkled on top of salads or yogurt.
Because of their ability to absorb liquid and form a gel, they can also be used to thicken sauces or as an egg replacement.
This article provides everything you need to know about chia seeds.
Nutrition facts of chia seeds
Chia seeds contain 138 calories per ounce (28 grams).
By weight, they are 6% water, 46% carbohydrates (of which 83% is fiber), 34% fat, and 19% protein.
The nutrients in 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of chia seeds are:
- Calories: 486
- Water: 6%
- Protein: 16.5 grams
- Carbs: 42.1 grams
- Sugar: 0 grams
- Fiber: 34.4 grams
- Fat: 30.7 grams
Fat content in 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of chia seeds:
- Saturated: 3.33 grams
- Monounsaturated: 2.31 grams
- Polyunsaturated: 23.67 grams
- Omega-3: 17.83 grams
- Omega-6: 5.84 grams
- Trans: 0.14 grams
Notably, chia seeds are also free of gluten.
Carbs and fiber
More than 80% of the carb content of chia seeds is in the form of fiber.
A single ounce (28 grams) of chia seeds boasts 11 grams of fiber, a significant portion of the recommended daily intake for women and men — 25 and 38 grams per day, respectively.
Chia seeds contain both insoluble and soluble fiber.
Chia fiber may also be fermented in your gut, promoting the formation of short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) and improving colon health.
One of the unique characteristics of chia seeds is their high content of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
About 75% of the fats in chia seeds consist of the omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), while about 20% consist of omega-6 fatty acids.
Chia seeds are the best-known plant-based source of omega-3 fatty acids — even better than flaxseed.
Some scientists believe that a high intake of omega-3s relative to omega-6s reduces inflammation in your body.
Because they’re a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, chia seeds promote a lower omega-6 to omega-3 ratio.
A low ratio is associated with a lower risk of various chronic conditions — such as heart disease, cancer, and inflammatory diseases — and a lower risk of premature death.
However, gram for gram, the omega-3 fatty acids in chia seeds are not nearly as potent as those in fish or fish oil (EPA and DHA).
The ALA found in chia must be converted into active forms (EPA and DHA) before your body can use it, which is often inefficient.
Chia seeds contain 19% protein — similar to other seeds but more than most cereals and grains.
High protein intake is associated with increased fullness after meals and reduced food intake.
Notably, these seeds offer all nine essential amino acids and are thus a high-quality plant-based protein. However, they are not recommended as the sole protein source for children.
Summary: Chia seeds are packed with fiber and are among the best plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which have numerous health benefits. They’re also loaded with quality protein.
Vitamins and minerals
Chia seeds provide high amounts of many minerals but are a poor source of vitamins.
Suggested read: Oats: Nutrition facts and health benefits
The most abundant minerals are:
- Manganese. Whole grains and seeds are rich in manganese, essential for metabolism, growth, and development.
- Phosphorus. Usually found in protein-rich foods, phosphorus contributes to bone health and tissue maintenance.
- Copper. A mineral often lacking in the modern diet, copper is essential for heart health.
- Selenium. An important antioxidant, selenium is involved in many processes in your body.
- Iron. As a component of hemoglobin in red blood cells, iron is involved in transporting oxygen throughout your body. It may be poorly absorbed from chia seeds due to their phytic acid content.
- Magnesium. Often lacking in the Western diet, magnesium plays an important role in many bodily processes.
- Calcium. The most abundant mineral in your body, calcium, is essential for bones, muscles, and nerves.
The absorption of some minerals, such as iron and zinc, may be reduced because of the phytic acid content of chia seeds.
Summary: Chia seeds are an excellent source of many essential minerals but a poor source of vitamins. They are high in manganese, phosphorus, copper, selenium, iron, magnesium, and calcium.
Other plant compounds of chia seeds
Chia seeds contain several beneficial plant compounds, including:
- Chlorogenic acid. This antioxidant may lower blood pressure.
- Caffeic acid. This substance is abundant in many plant foods and may help fight inflammation in your body.
- Quercetin. This potent antioxidant may reduce your risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, and certain forms of cancer.
- Kaempferol. This antioxidant has been associated with a decreased risk of cancer and other chronic diseases.
Clean, dry chia seeds have an extended shelf life, as their antioxidants protect their fats from damage.
Summary: Chia seeds contain many powerful antioxidants that may reduce your risk of chronic illnesses such as heart disease and cancer.
Health benefits of chia seeds
Chia seeds have become increasingly popular because of their high nutritional value and alleged health benefits.
Their main health benefits are listed below.
Increased blood levels of omega-3
Omega-3 fatty acids are incredibly important for your body and brain, and chia seeds are an excellent source of omega-3 ALA.
However, ALA must be converted into active forms, such as EPA, before your body can use it.
Studies in humans and animals have shown that chia seeds may raise blood levels of ALA to 138% and EPA up to 39%.
Improved blood sugar control
Having healthy blood sugar levels is crucial for optimal health.
Animal studies demonstrate that chia seeds reduce insulin resistance and improve blood sugar control, which are important risk factors for metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
Human studies show that bread made with chia seeds causes a reduced blood sugar response compared with more traditional bread.
Lower blood pressure
High blood pressure is a significant risk factor for chronic diseases such as heart disease.
Chia seeds and chia flour have both been found to lower blood pressure in people who already have elevated levels.
Increased fiber intake
Most people don’t consume enough fiber.
High fiber intake is linked to improved gut health and a lower risk of numerous diseases.
A single ounce (28 grams) of chia seeds provides 9.75 grams of fiber, 25% and 39% of the recommended daily intake for men and women.
Due to their extraordinary water-absorbing capacity, chia seeds increase the volume of foods in your digestive tract, leading to increased fullness and decreased food intake.
Summary: Chia seeds have numerous benefits, including lower blood pressure, improved blood sugar control, and higher fiber and omega-3 levels.
Adverse effects and individual concerns
Chia seeds are generally considered safe to eat, and few to no adverse effects have been reported from consuming them.
However, to avoid possible digestive side effects, drink plenty of water when eating them — especially if they have not been presoaked.
Phytic acid content
Like all seeds, chia seeds contain phytic acid.
Phytic acid is a plant compound that binds with minerals, such as iron and zinc and inhibits their uptake from foods.
Large doses of omega-3 fats, such as those from fish oils, may have blood-thinning effects.
If you’re taking blood-thinning medications, consult your doctor before incorporating large amounts of chia seeds into your diet. Omega-3 fatty acids may affect the activity of your medication.
Summary: Chia seeds generally do not cause adverse effects. However, they may have blood-thinning effects in large doses, and they contain a plant compound that can reduce mineral absorption.
Chia seeds are very rich in fiber, antioxidants, minerals, and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
They have been linked to improvement in risk factors for heart disease and diabetes, as well as digestion and gut health benefits.
Chia seeds are very easy to incorporate into a healthy diet.