Chia seeds might be tiny, but they contain a wealth of important nutrients.
These little seeds come from the flowering Salvia hispanica plant, part of the mint family. Chia seeds are native to central and southern Mexico and widely thought to be a staple ingredient for Mesoamerican cultures. There is evidence that the small grey-brown seeds were cultivated by pre-Columbian Aztecs.
Are chia seeds good for you? In recent years, chia seeds have been popularised as “superfood”—a marketing term for ingredients and food with notable nutritional density. Common superfoods include dark leafy greens, certain berries, turmeric, and cacao.
The 9 Benefits of Adding Chia Seeds to a Vegan Diet
Chia seeds are commonly ground, stirred into, and sprinkled onto health-foods such as oatmeal, smoothies, yogurt, and puddings. The gel produced from ground chia seeds can even be used as an egg replacer in baking and pancakes.
They are both versatile and nutritions; but what are the health benefits of eating chia seeds?
1. Nutrients vs. Calories
Despite being high in nutrients, chia seeds are extremely low in calories. Two tablespoons of the seeds—approximately 28g—contain 18 percent of the recommended daily intake (RDI) of calcium. This size serving of chia seeds contains a total of just 137 calories.
It also contains 30 percent of the RDI of both manganese and magnesium, and 27 percent of the RDI of phosphorous. Chia seeds are rich in zinc, potassium, and B vitamin. Overall, and calorie for calorie, chia seeds are an extremely efficient source of nutrients.
2. Chia Seeds Are High in Fiber
In addition to various nutrients, a 28g portion of chia seeds also contains approximately 11g of fiber. The RDI of fiber is 30g, and many people do not reach this recommended daily amount. High fiber diets can lower cholesterol, thereby reducing the risk of heart disease. They can also regulate blood sugar levels and may reduce the risk of developing type-2 diabetes.
According to Minh Nguyen, a registered dietician with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), dietary fiber drastically reduces the risk of certain health conditions, including cancer.
“You can lower the risk of colorectal cancer with fiber,” he said. “Whole grains, as well. About three servings of whole grains daily can significantly reduce colorectal cancer risk.”
Additionally, most fiber does not end up as usable calories in the body. So subtracting the high fiber content of chia seeds, 28g contains just 101 calories.
3. Chia Seeds Are Rich in Antioxidants
Antioxidants may prevent or delay certain types of cell damage. The exact effects of antioxidants on the body are unconfirmed. But substantial research indicates that ingesting them as part of a whole, plant-based diet may have various health benefits.
According to a study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, chia seeds are a “potential source of antioxidants” due to the presence of chlorogenic acid, caffeic acid, myricetin, quercetin, and kaempferol. These substances are widely believed to protect the heart and liver—and have anti-aging and anti-carcinogenic characteristics.
4. Chia Seeds Are High in Protein
Chia seeds are approximately 14 percent protein, which is relatively high for plant foods. They also contain all essential amino acids for human nutrition, including isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, histidine, and valine. These amino acids help build proteins, grow muscle, and transport nutrients.
Protein is an essential nutrient for the human body. It is particularly important to build and maintain body tissue. But, according to PCRM, quality is preferable to quantity. Plant-protein is often lower in fat and cholesterol than animal-based protein. Many key sources of plant protein, such as legumes, pulses, and chia seeds, are also high in fiber.
5. Chia Seeds Contain Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Chia seeds are extremely high in omega-3 fatty acids. They even contain more, gram for gram, than salmon. Omega-3 fatty acids have various anti-inflammatory properties and may also support better heart and brain health.
Dr. Brooke Scheller, DCN, CNS, and Director of Nutrition at meal delivery service Freshly, told LIVEKINDLY that chia seeds are a great way to incorporate healthy fats into a vegan diet.
“Healthy fats are critical in leveling blood sugar which impacts our stress levels,” she said. “In fact, our brain is made up of ⅔ fat, much of which is in the form of our omega 3 fatty acids. You may have heard of these healthy fats touted for their benefit on heart health or to reduce inflammation. However, omega 3 fats help to support the brain and improve our stress response.”
Humans are unable to synthesize the omega-3 fatty acid alpha-Linolenic acid (ALA) and must incorporate it into their diet. Chia seeds can increase blood levels of ALA for conversion into EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids for use in the body. Chia seeds make a valuable source of ALA for vegetarians and vegans, but best compounded with additional supplements.
6. Chia Seeds Are Good For Bones
Because chia seeds contain high quantities of calcium, magnesium, and protein, they also help support healthy bones. Calcium is essential for healthy bones, and several studies indicate potential benefits from the long-term intake of chia seeds. A 25g portion of chia contains 157mg of calcium, which is greater than the calcium content of 100ml of dairy milk.
7. Chia Seeds Can Help Reduce Blood Pressure
Several studies indicate that the regular consumption of chia seeds could significantly reduce blood pressure for those with hypertension. The high omega-3 fatty acid content can work as a blood thinner, reducing overall blood pressure.
While chia seeds are safe to eat, intake should be moderated by those already taking blood pressure—or blood sugar—medications. Eating very large quantities of chia seeds could potentially interact with typical medications taken to treat these conditions.
8. Chia Seeds Are Good for Heart Health
Blood pressure reduction can also support improved overall heart health, and some proponents suggest they may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. In general, evidence indicates that a whole foods plant-based diet supports improved cardiovascular health. And high fiber, high protein foods such as chia seeds can be extremely beneficial.
Diets that are high in nutrient-dense plant foods such as chia seeds are associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality.
9. Chia Seeds Can Help Regulate Blood Sugar
Due to the combination of fat, protein, and fiber in chia seeds, the body digests them slowly. This provides slow-release energy and can help keep blood sugar levels stable throughout the day. The high amount of fiber in chia seeds can slow the absorption of sugar into the blood and decrease blood sugar levels overall.
Due to this high concentration of soluble fiber, Chia seeds expand in the stomach. This can help you feel fuller for longer and reduce snacking. Some health experts indicate that chia seeds can support healthy weight loss as part of a well-rounded diet and combined with exercise.