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Chia seeds have made a recent comeback and are generating a lot of buzz. Yes, we are talking about the same tiny seeds that used to sprout into goofy green hair on those once-beloved terracotta Chia Pets.

Ancient Aztec warriors valued chia seeds as a staple food in their diet. In the 80’s and 90’s in the U.S., people ran to the stores to purchase amusing Chia Pets. Now, some say that chia’s been rediscovered in the 21st century for its nutritional benefits.

It may have taken about five centuries, but this super seed has finally gained mainstream popularity for its superfood properties.

What are Chia Seeds?

Chia, also known as Salvia, is part of the flowering plant family known as Salvia Hispanica. Native to southern and central Mexico and Guatemala, it has been cultivated for centuries since pre-Columbian times. Chia seeds from this plant are often referred to as the “Aztec superfood,” as they were an essential component of the Aztec diet, providing sustained daily energy and medicinal support. Supposedly, just one tablespoon of chia seeds could sustain an individual for a 24-hour period!

The seeds are whole grain, nutritional powerhouses; chia seeds are known to have among the highest antioxidant activity of any whole food, are among the highest whole-food sources of omega-3 fatty acids, and carry more protein and fiber than most whole grains1.

What Are The Benefits Of Chia Seeds?

Chia is packed with many vitamins and minerals including:

  • Heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids including a-linolenic acid (ALA)
  • Essential minerals including calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, and zinc
  • Vitamins: B2, B3, C
  • Soluble fiber
  • Antioxidants including flavonoids and phenolic acids
  • Protein

These nutrients found in chia seeds have been linked to several health benefits2:

1) Increases Energy & Endurance

Chia has an extremely high energy-to-weight ratio, providing more energy than most popular whole grains including wheat, rice, and oats. Chia provides a slow and stable release of glucose into the bloodstream during and following its digestion, helping the body to maintain a steady energy supply, and build stamina.

2) Promotes Hydration & Electrolyte Balance

Chia seeds are hygroscopic, and have the unique ability to absorb more than 12 times their weight in water. This quality allows chia to help support and prolong hydration, and to retain electrolytes in the body, particularly during physical exertion and exercise.

3) Chia May Help Lower Blood Pressure

There are many beneficial components of chia that may be responsible for the reduced systolic blood pressure associated with chia consumption observed in research: vegetable protein, complex carbohydrates, omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, dietary fiber, antioxidants, minerals3.

4) Chia Helps Regulate Blood Glucose Levels

High levels of soluble fiber in chia help to slow the breakdown of complex carbohydrates to be released into the bloodstream as glucose. The unique hygroscopic property of chia is said to occur in the stomach after consumption, creating a gel barrier between the carbohydrates and digestive enzymes. Slowing the conversion of carbohydrates to sugar in the body allows for a slow and steady release of glucose into the bloodstream, and a steady insulin response.

5) Chia May Support Weight Loss4

The slow and steady release of glucose into the bloodstream results in more consistent and balanced energy levels, allowing the body to feel full for a longer period of time, while quieting cravings for sugar-filled junk foods and simple carbohydrates. While this is not supported by everyone5, it’s suggested the tiny seeds soak up fluid and expand in the digestive tract, keeping you feeling full and satisfied.

How To Buy Chia Seeds

Chia can be found at most health food markets including Whole Foods, and online at Amazon, or Navitas Naturals. You can find them as whole seeds or as a powder.

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Note: Chia powder is finely milled sprouted chia seeds; the sprouting process may enhance the nutritional benefits of the seeds. Unlike other seeds like flax, chia seeds can easily be digested whole, and do not need to be ground to reap the benefits.

Chia seeds vary in coloration, often in shades of black, brown, gray and white. You can purchase either black or white variations of chia seeds, but despite any hearsay, there is no documented nutritional difference between them at this time. Consumers often choose to go with the black or white seeds depending on the color foods they are adding them to.

Chia plants are naturally resistant to most pests, and therefore they are easy to grow organically. For this reason, some say that it is not imperative that you purchase chia that is labeled “USDA Organic.” Unfortunately, as demand for chia continually increases, it’s likely that genetically modified strains start appearing on store shelves. Also, because it is a crop that is relatively new to modern America, it is important that proper agricultural standards are followed. With all that being said, I recommend purchasing chia with the USDA Organic seal attached.

How Can You Fit Chia Seeds Into Your Diet?

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As Chia is extremely versatile, you can easily incorporate it into your everyday diet.

Chia can be transformed into a nutrient-rich gel when added to liquid, making a great pudding that can stand alone, or can be added to foods for a nutritional boost. Chia has only a faint nutty taste when eaten raw, and it can effortlessly take on the taste of whatever food or drink it is added to.

Tips For Eating Chia Seeds

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  • Sprinkle whole seeds onto oatmeal, yogurts, salads, etc. for a nutritious crunch
  • Combine with almond milk for a healthy raw pudding
  • Thicken and enhance sauces, salad dressing, and smoothies
  • Use to replace egg in recipes
  • Add to water or healthy beverages for promoted hydration

Chia Seeds Nutrition Facts

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As you can see, there are so many benefits to chia seeds, and so many ways to use them, it is definitely a superfood you should keep in mind. If you try chia seeds, please let us know in a comment what you did and how you liked them.

Show 5 References

  1. Bulowksi, J., Oz, M. The New Superfood (Radio). Harpo Productions: Oprah Radio; 2008. Available at: http://www.oprah.com/oprahradio/The-New-Superfood_1
  2. Vuksan V, Whitham D, Sievenpiper JL, et al. Supplementation of conventional therapy with the novel grain Salba (Salvia hispanica L.) improves major and emerging cardiovascular risk factors in type 2 diabetes: results of a randomized controlled trial. Diabetes Care. 2007;30(11):2804-10. Available at: http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/30/11/2804.long
  3. Chia Gel Smoothie. Health Products Distributors, Inc. 2012. Available at: http://www.integratedhealth.com/recipes/how-to-use-chia.html. Accessed January 12, 2012.
  4. Norlaily A,Swee Y,Wan H, Boon B, Sheau T, Soon T. “The Promising Future of Chia, Salvia hispanica L.”. Pub Med.
  5. Niemana D,Cayeaa E, Austina M, Hensonb D, McAnulty S, Jina F. “Chia seed does not promote weight loss or alter disease risk factors in overweight adults”. Science Direct. 2013.
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5 Comments

  1. profile avatar
    Steve Feb 27, 2013 - 15:56 #

    My wife is getting into sprouting seeds and juicing what grows. She is starting with wheat grass but heard you can sprout many types of seeds. Any idea if you can sprout these and are there similar health benefits compared to the seeds themselves?

    1. profile avatar
      Jessica Zack, HHC Mar 25, 2013 - 12:42 #

      @Steve,
      Chia seeds can absolutely be sprouted. In fact, they sprout into the microgreens that you may have seen grow out of your favorite Chia Pets! Sprouting is awesome and can provide great benefits, however, certain seeds may actually be more nutritionally dense as whole seeds.

      There are varying opinions regarding benefits of sprouting chia seeds. I personally would stick to eating chia seeds dry or soaked….During germination process of sprouting, you lose most of the fatty acid content that chia seeds are known for. Also, that gelatinous coating that forms around chia seeds is responsible for many of the health benefits of chia including supported digestion and slowed breakdown of glucose. Once you sprout chia, you lose the hydrophilic properties and the associated health benefits.

  2. profile avatar
    Renita Feb 27, 2013 - 16:24 #

    Chia, coconut milk, carob power, and protein powder is my
    Favorite breakfast. Mix, rest for 5-10 mins, top w Greek
    yogurt, berries, and stevia. I’m full for at least 4 hours.

  3. profile avatar
    Liza Feb 27, 2013 - 16:34 #

    Jessica, Thank you so much for this excellent article to follow up the recipe one. Chia has been a wonderful discovery for me (and everyone I’m telling about chia seeds!), and I’m so thankful to you, Marc and BuiltLean.com for continuing to deliver excellent content that I know is independent and in my best interests for whole health and fitness. Thanks!

  4. profile avatar
    uncadonego Feb 28, 2013 - 05:07 #

    This is high cal, so you’ve got to work it into your daily intake. As suggested, I try to eat protein after weights.

    0% fat greek yogurt – ½ cup
    almond milk – ½ cup
    pure vanilla -1 tsp
    whey protein isolate – ½scoop
    raw cacao powder – 1¼ Tbsp
    cinnamon – 1 tsp
    chia seeds – 1 Tbsp
    cold milled flax seeds – ½scoop
    stevia -½ tsp

    Make it before starting your workout. Stir it all together well. When you’re finished and it’s time for your protein, this liquidy mess has turned into dark chocolate protein pudding.

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    I also like sprinkling some on my home-made quinoa/barley/steel cut oats/fruit & nut oatmeal. It gives it some crunch.

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