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What are chia seeds?

A great source of fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, and protein: the small but mighty chia seed needs no introduction… but here’s one anyway, just in case!

 

Chia seeds are tiny but powerful seeds that have been around for centuries. A staple food for the Aztecs and Mayans, chia seeds have been gaining traction as a popular addition to modern Western diets. 

 

There’s a surprising amount of chia seed benefits locked inside that little package. High in fiber, antioxidants, and omega-3 fatty acids, chia seeds are a nutritious addition to most meals. 

 

Sit back, relax, and let’s talk about the tiny but magical chia seed. 

 

What is a chia seed?

When browsing through the health food aisle at the grocery store, you can usually find chia seeds in foods like protein bars and smoothies. But where do chia seeds come from? (They don’t simply appear magically in these products, after all.)

 

Well, chia seeds are the edible seed of Salvia hispanica. The plant is a part of the mint family and is native to Central America, mainly Mexico and Guatemala. 

 

Ancient civilizations would use Salvia columbariae, also known as golden chia, as a staple in their diets. Evidence suggests they would grind chia seeds into flour, press them into oil, and drink them with water. The Aztecs would also offer chia seeds to the gods in religious ceremonies.

 

Fast forward a few thousand years, and it seems like chia seeds are everywhere. Now it feels like every seed is either a “superfood” or some other magical elixir that will solve all of your problems. The reality is that these terms mainly come from marketing gurus to sell products. 

 

So, we’re here to separate the history from the hype. 

 

Why have chia seeds become a popular health food?

Before chia seeds became the seed of the moment, they were perfectly fine, ticking along as a staple in various diets. 

 

As plant-rich diets became more popular, the search for plant protein gained traction. Previously considered a vegan go-to, chia seeds are now a staple for many different diets. The tiny seeds provide ample nutritional benefits in a miniature-sized package. 

 

We hear you; you’re probably thinking, “so, what are chia seeds good for?” 

 

The truth is chia seeds are a bit of a health nut’s dream, and we know this from first-hand experience. But the reality is that anyone can enjoy chia seeds in their diet. 

 

One of the reasons chia seeds have become a showstopper in the health food world is their omega-3 fatty acid content. Omega 3-fatty acids help your heart and have potent benefits for the brain and body (we’ll dive into more on that shortly!). 

 

Initial research suggests that eating chia seeds as part of a healthy diet provides several benefits, including: 

 

 

Nutritional value of chia seeds

Whether you’re looking to cut down on animal-based protein in your diet or simply add more plant foods, chia seeds are full of nutrients. 

 

One tablespoon of chia seeds contains just over two grams of protein. As a complete source of protein, chia seeds contain all nine essential amino acids – something not found in every plant protein. 

 

Let’s take a look at chia seeds’ nutrition facts for a 28g serving (about 2.5 tablespoons):

 

  • Calories (kcal): 131

  • Fat: 8.4g

  • Carbohydrate: 13.07g

  • Fiber: 11.2g

  • Protein: 5.6g

  • Sugar: 0g

 

Chia seeds also contain various minerals and nutrients like: 

 

  • Calcium 

  • Zinc 

  • Iron 

  • Magnesium 

  • Phosphorous 

  • Folate

  • Vitamin A 

  • Copper 

 

Chia seeds vs. flax seeds

We can’t talk about chia seeds without touching on flax seeds. Both seeds have similar nutritional properties, and are commonly conflated for one another. Typically, flax seeds have more calories, fat, and protein, while chia seeds contain more fiber.  

 

Chia seeds taste a little more neutral, which is ideal for picking up other flavors. Flax seeds have a nuttier flavor, so they taste great sprinkled on a salad for that extra crunch.

 

What are the potential health benefits of chia seeds?

What do chia seeds do for the body? How exactly could they benefit your heart? We explore how chia seeds could help our brain and body and break down what the research says about it all. 

 

Bone health

Chia seeds contain bone-boosting minerals like calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium. 

 

In a 25g portion of chia seeds, you get about 158g of calcium. That’s a fair amount of calcium, even when compared to dairy foods like milk. 

 

Calcium is a key part of bone health and works with collagen to make bones strong and flexible. 

 

Heart health and blood pressure 

Chia seeds are high in fiber and omega-3 fatty acids, which may help reduce cardiovascular disease risk. 

 

Not all fat is created equal. The fat in chia seeds is polyunsaturated, a type of dietary fat that helps lower cholesterol levels and reduce your chances of heart attack or stroke. 

 

Research shows that chia seeds can help to improve blood lipid profile. Your blood lipid profile is a test of cholesterol and triglycerides. It can help to determine your risk for cardiovascular disease. 

 

Studies show that chia seeds and chia flour may lower blood pressure in people with hypertension. High blood pressure is another risk factor for heart disease. Maintaining healthy blood pressure levels is key to keeping your heart functioning properly. 

 

It’s important to remember that while we all wish there were one magical cure to help our hearts, dietary changes are not the only factor influencing heart health. Adjustments to lifestyle, like exercise, can also be of benefit to the heart. 

 

Blood sugar 

Initial studies show that chia seeds may help to improve insulin resistance. On further examination, similar studies found that chia seeds and chia flour also reduce blood sugar response in humans. 

 

Research shows fiber may help lower insulin resistance and improve blood sugar levels. Chia seeds are an excellent source of fiber and are super versatile to incorporate into the diet. 

 

Diabetes 

When talking about blood sugar levels, we naturally dip into exploring the potential effects of chia seeds on diabetes. 

 

As chia seeds are rich in polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids, high-quality protein, and fiber, the seeds may be especially helpful in stabilizing blood sugar levels. 

 

A growing body of research suggests that chia seeds may be useful for controlling diabetes. The high concentration of healthy fats, gluten-free protein, vitamins, and minerals has the potential to benefit people with diabetes. 

 

Digestive health

Eating enough fiber keeps the digestive system ticking along and ridding waste from the body. Dietary fiber also encourages a healthy gut microbiome and helps to promote regular bowel movements. 

 

Chia seeds fiber per 25g serving is almost 9g of fiber. With the daily recommended fiber intake at 30g, a handful of chia seeds sets you up well for the day. 

 

A high-fiber diet with plenty of whole grains helps reduce the risk of several diseases like coronary heart disease and type 2 diabetes. It also helps to lower all-cause mortality

 

Are chia seeds safe for everyone?

In general, chia seeds are considered well-tolerated, and allergies to chia seeds are uncommon. Like most things, eating too many at a time may cause some side effects like: 

 

  • Abdominal pain 

  • Constipation 

  • Diarrhea 

  • Bloating

  • Gas

 

Remember that while chia seeds are a great source of fiber, too much fiber in one sitting can cause issues for some people. Because of this, it’s important to drink plenty of water. This is especially true if you haven’t soaked the seeds. 

 

People with certain conditions like inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, or diverticulitis usually need to be careful with their fiber intake. Eating too many high-fiber foods like chia seeds may result in some uncomfortable symptoms. 

 

Anyone on high blood pressure or diabetes medication may need to be careful, as chia seeds could affect your medication. It’s always a good idea to speak to your dietician or doctor if you have any doubts.

 

How to eat chia seeds

We’ve talked enough about the benefits of chia seeds, and now it’s time for our favorite part; how to eat chia seeds. 

 

Let’s start with how you can eat chia seeds raw. In their raw state, they have a good crunch but relatively neutral flavor. Because of this, chia seeds are ideal for adding crunch and nutrients. 

 

We love chia seeds in the following: 

 

  • Cereal 

  • Yogurt 

  • Smoothies 

  • Salads

  • Protein bars

 

Combining chia seeds with water turns the seeds into a gelatinous mixture. After soaking chia seeds, you can use the gel-like substance to thicken desserts, like a chia seed pudding. 

 

In Mexico, a common drink is a Chia Fresco. Combine water, lemon, chia seeds, and a sweetener like agave syrup. 

 

For a convenient smoothie enriched with chia seeds, try one of our favorite kencko smoothies:

 

  •  reds: healthy gut and glowing skin 

  •  ambers: antioxidant rich for skin and immunity 

  •  crimsons: brain-boosting ingredients 

 

Although the seeds steal the show, you can actually eat the sprouts of the chia plant. Add chia sprouts to salads, sandwiches, or soup just before serving. 

 

Recipes with chia seeds

Now that you’re ready to hop on the chia seed bandwagon, the world is your oyster. 

 

Here are a few chia seed recipe ideas to get you started from our wonderful kencko dietitians

 

1. Try our gut-friendly banana pancake breakfast recipe. We add a chia egg (water and chia seeds) to make it fully vegan. Sprinkle with our absolute favorite; berries and cacao nibs. 

2. If you love PB&J, then our kencko berry jam is a must. We combine kencko purples, chia seeds, water, and maple syrup or honey over medium heat. After 5-10 minutes, it will thicken and be ready to go. 

3. Switch up a classic chia seed pudding with kencko peaches. Combine chia seeds and oat milk and leave to set overnight. Mix kencko pumpkins and coconut yogurt and add to the chia pudding. 

 

We know that the prospect of overhauling your diet can feel utterly overwhelming. That’s why we love small, simple, manageable changes that we’ll actually stick with. 

 

Whether adding a handful of chia seeds to a salad or trying a chia seed pudding, the little seeds can be a healthy addition to any diet. 

 

By making small changes, trying out new recipes, and incorporating more plant-rich foods into your diet, eating a healthy diet doesn’t have to feel like such a slog. Over time, eating more plant foods will feel natural, and that shift in habits will begin to show. 

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