Chia seeds have officially transitioned from trendy to mainstream. You’ll find these tiny oval seeds stocked in regular supermarkets and incorporated into numerous products—from fruit drinks and energy bars to cereals and even tortilla chips. That's likely because chia seeds are nutrient powerhouses, and they offer some key health benefits. Here are seven reasons to incorporate them into your meal-planning routine.
Chia seeds are nutrient-rich
In addition to providing healthful fat, plant protein, and fiber, a one ounce portion of chia seeds packs nearly 20% of the daily target for calcium. An essential nutrient for healthy bones, calcium is needed for the proper functioning of muscles, blood vessels, nerves, enzymes, and hormones. Calcium plays a role in blood clotting, blood pressure, and maintaining normal heart rhythm and brain function.
That same portion of chia seeds also has about a third of the daily goal for the minerals magnesium, manganese, and phosphorus. Magnesium helps improve mood and sleep, while manganese plays a role in collagen production and promotes skin and bone health. Phosphorus helps form cell structures and works with calcium to keep bones healthy.
Once ounce of chia seeds also contains smaller amounts of B vitamins, potassium, and zinc. B vitamins help support energy production. Potassium helps maintain heart function, healthy blood pressure, and muscle contractions; prevents muscle cramps; and helps maintain muscle mass. Zinc is required for a number of immune functions, in addition to healing and maintaining appetite.
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Chia seeds are high in fiber
Of the 12 grams of carbohydrate in a one ounce portion of chia seeds, an impressive 10 grams come from fiber. That’s 40% of the daily minimum goal for this important nutrient. On top of supporting digestive health, chia fiber helps feed the healthy gut bacteria linked to immunity and positive mood.
That fiber also protects against heart disease by reducing cholesterol and triglycerides (blood fats), increasing “good” HDL cholesterol, lowering blood pressure, and inhibiting blood clots.
Chia seeds are chock full of heart healthy fat
Speaking of heart disease, chia seeds are rich in a type of plant-based omega-3 fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA, tied to anti-inflammation and improved circulation. One study found that consuming 37 grams of chia seeds daily reduced a blood marker for inflammation by 40%. The anti-inflammatory effect also supports skin health, and it plays a further role in protecting the heart.
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Chia seeds are loaded with antioxidants
The health-protective antioxidants found in chia seeds are known to defend against oxidative stress. This is essentially an imbalance between the production of cell-damaging free radicals and the body's ability to counter their harmful effects. This protection helps fend off aging and protects the brain, as oxidative stress is a causative factor in diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Chia seeds are good for bones
As mentioned earlier, these mighty seeds pack several key nutrients tied to bone health, including calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and manganese. It’s the combination of these minerals, in addition to other nutrients and regular physical activity, that protect bone density. The calcium content of chia seeds also makes them a good source of this important mineral for those who must or prefer to avoid dairy.
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Chia seeds help regulate blood sugar levels
Chia seeds help stabilize post-meal blood sugar levels and improve insulin sensitivity, which can translate to steadier, sustained energy. In one study that compared chia to flax seeds, both resulted in lower blood sugar levels, but chia had a greater ability to convert glucose into a slow-release carbohydrate and positively impact satiety. That led to reduced appetite and desire to eat.
Chia seeds support healthy weight loss
Chia seeds support weight loss in a number of ways, including their impact on blood sugar and satiety, as noted above, as well as their anti-inflammatory effect.
One of my favorite chia properties is the gel-like texture they produce when added to liquids, due to their ability to soak up about twelve times their weight in fluid. The thickness this adds to smoothies or juices has been shown to suppress hunger more than thinner versions of beverages with the same calorie levels.
One study that provided volunteers with a mid-morning snack of yogurt with and without chia seeds found that the addition of the seeds resulted in lower post-snack hunger, as well as a decreased desire for sugary foods. It also led them to eat less at lunchtime.
I enjoy whipping up chia “shots” made with 100% juice, and I love adding the seeds to puddings, overnight oats, energy balls, dark chocolate truffles, acai bowls, and smoothies. For the latter, try soaking the seeds in your liquid of choice for at least five to 10 minutes before blending. You can even soak them overnight in the fridge. The thicker texture soaked seeds provide will leave you feeling full, satisfied, and energized for hours.
Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, is Health's contributing nutrition editor, a New York Times best-selling author, and a nutrition consultant for the New York Yankees.
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