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10 benefits of chia seeds - plus uses & recipes

A Spoon of Chai Seeds And Blueberries and Milk

Small but mighty, chia seeds are one of the healthiest foods around. They’re packed with fibre, protein essential fatty acids, antioxidants, and there’s plenty of different ways to use them.

Here are 10 chia seed benefits + reasons why your next dessert should be a chia seed pudding.

What are chia seeds?

Chia seeds are shiny, smooth, grey/black seeds that measure only a few millimeters.

It is estimated that chia seeds have been used by humans for food, folk medicines and canvases for around 5500 years, starting with the Aztec and Mayan people.1

They come from the Salvia hispanica plant, which is part of the mint family and can be found in Central and South America.

In the Mayan language, ‘chia’ means ‘strength’, so it comes as no surprise that they were a fan of these little seeds. It’s believed that they made up one of the basic four food groups of Central American civilisations.

Fast-forward to now, and they’ve obtained ‘superfood’ status and a lot of love in nutrition worldwide – for good reason!

Summary

  • Chia seed are tiny, yet highly nutritious black/grey seeds that people have been eating for thousands of years

Chia seeds nutrition information:

Two heaped tablespoons (about 28g) contains approximately2:

Energy Fat Saturated Fat Carbs Fibre Protein
137kcal 8.6g 0.9g 2.2g 10g 4.6g

And it doesn’t stop there! Chia seeds also contain the following micronutrients with approximate RDI (recommended daily intakes):

Nutrients Amount % of RDI
Phosphorus 265mg 27%
Calcium 177mg 185%
Magnesium 94mg 30%
Copper 0.1mg 3%
Manganese 0.6mg 30%
Thiamine 0.2mg 20%
Selenium 15.5μg 20%
Iron 2.2mg 15%
Zinc 1mg 7%
Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA) 5g -
Omega 3 Fatty Acids 4915mg -
Omega 6 Fatty Acids 1620mg -

What is the best way to eat chia seeds?

You may have scrolled past those sprinkled on fancy-looking breakfast bowls or dotted through smoothies, but what is the best way to eat chia seeds?

How much chia seeds should you eat a day?

It’s generally recommended that you don’t exceed 15g of chia seeds a day (approx. 1tbsp).

Trust your body with this one. If you’ve not eaten them before, then start off slow and increase the amount to see if you experience any negative side effects.

Side effects of eating chia seeds

Although there is no doubt that chia seeds are a great addition to most people’s diets, if you eat too many, you may experience some chia seed side effects, including:

  • Digestive issues

If you eat too many chia seeds they may cause you some digestive discomfort. This is because they are high in fibre, and too much fibre can cause issues for some people, e.g. bloating, abdominal pain, gas, constipation and diarrohea.

  • Can be a choking risk

Although they are safe for most people, chia seeds may cause an increased risk of choking. This is because they absorb so much water, so if you have trouble swallowing you need to be careful.

  • Allergy

As with any food/drink, some people may be allergic to chia seeds. It is quite uncommon, though.

  • Could interact with some medications

Chia seeds can affect some blood sugar or blood pressure medication. Please check with your GP if you take any of these medications to see if you can eat chia seeds.

Summary

  • Chia seeds may cause digestive issues, increase risk of choking and interact with some blood pressure/blood sugar medication

10 lifestyle / health benefits of chia seeds

Are chia seeds good for you? Find out here!

  1. Rich in essential fatty acids

Chia seeds are packed full of polyunsaturated fatty acids, especially the omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). ALA can’t be made in the body, so we need to get it from our diet.

Our body uses healthy fats, like essential fatty acids, for multiple body processes and for energy. Their health benefits include1:

  • Helping to maintain healthy cholesterol levels
  • Can help lower the risk of cardiovascular diseases

One study on deeding 50g of chia seeds a day to 12 healthy individuals for 30 days found that their blood pressure significantly declined with no negative side effects.2

Summary

  • Chia seeds contain healthy fats that could help you maintain healthy cholesterol levels and lower the risk of cardiovascular disease
  1. Full of fibre

One portion of chia seeds (approx. 28g or 2 tbsp) provides around a third of your recommended daily fibre intake – not bad eh!

Getting enough dietary fibre every day can help you3:

  • Maintain healthy cholesterol levels
  • Lower your risk of getting cardiovascular diseases
  • Avoid constipation and make stools softer
  • Maintain a healthy blood pressure

Summary

  • Chia seeds are full of fibre
  • A fibre-rich diet can be beneficial for most people
  1. Provides a ‘complete’ vegan protein

Chia seeds are one of few plants that contain all 9 of the essential amino acids - the ones your body can’t make, and you must get through your diet.4 And as chia seeds are made up of around 19% protein – they certainly pack a protein punch!5

In just a couple of tablespoons, chia seeds provide you with roughly 4.5g of protein, providing you with an easy way to boost the nutrition of your meals.

Making sure you get enough protein every day allows your body to grow, repair and maintain itself. This goes for your muscles too. When we’re slogging it at the gym, our muscles tear and need protein to repair themselves and grow stronger.

Summary

  • Chia seeds are one of the only ‘complete’ plant proteins – containing all 9 essential amino acids
  1. Could help you to lose/maintain a healthy weight

As we’ve already discussed, chia seeds are a fantastic source of plant-based protein.6

Protein can also help you to lose or maintain your weight in multiple ways:

  • It allows you to build more muscle, which increases your daily calorie needs
  • As your body will be burning more calories at rest, it can help with fat loss
  • High-protein meals tend to make you feel full, so you may not snack as much

One 4-week weight loss study on high protein diets and overweight people found that high-protein diets resulted in more weight loss than a low-protein diet.7

As they are vegan and naturally gluten free, most people can enjoy them and use them in their diets to up their protein intake.

Summary

  • Chia seeds could help you to lose/maintain your weight with their high protein content
  1. Full of minerals

As you can see from the nutritional table above, chia seeds manage to pack a whole lot of minerals into such a tiny space!

The most abundant minerals in chia seeds include:

  • Phosphorus - for healthy teeth, bones and muscles
  • Magnesium - helps reduce tiredness and aids the nervous system
  • Selenium - to help your immune system and thyroid
  • Manganese – essential for growth, metabolism and development
  • Copper – supports heart health
  • Iron – helps the body to make red blood cells and move oxygen around the body, helping to keep energy levels up
  • Calcium – needed to keep bones, nerves and muscles healthy

Summary

  • Chia seeds contain multiple essential minerals to help support your overall health
  1. Rich in antioxidants

Chia seeds are full of antioxidants, like polyphenols. In fact, it is estimated that dry chia seeds are 8.8% antioxidant (phenolic)!8

Eating a diet rich in antioxidants can help to reduce the oxidative damage caused by free radicals.

  1. A free-from food hero

Chia seeds have a lot to offer to your diet – as breakfast bowl or smoothie aficionados can tell you. They have an unusual texture when wet, as they swell and soften.

Because of their ability to absorb both water and fat, they can be used as a handy ‘free from’ ingredient – replacing flour to thicken sauces or even egg in certain dishes.

Pure chia seeds contain no gluten (always check the label for added ingredients or cross-contamination), so can also be used in place of breadcrumbs to cover chicken or fish.

Summary

  • Chia seeds are naturally gluten-free and dairy-free, making them a great free-from food
  1. A long shelf life

Cleaned and dried chia seeds (how they usually come) have a pretty long shelf life.9 This is due to their rich antioxidant content, which protects their fats from oxidative damage.10

  1. High in important bone nutrients

Chia seeds contain multiple nutrients that are essential for healthy bones, including calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and protein.

With a whopping 177mg (18% RDI) of calcium in each 28g serving, gram for gram, chia seeds have more calcium than most dairy products. Head’s up all you vegans and dairy-intolerant people out there!

However, chia seeds do contain phytic acid, which does reduce calcium absorption slightly, so don’t rely on them.

Summary

  • Chia seeds are full of nutrients that support our bones
  1. They’re easy to add to your diet

One of the best things about chia seeds is how easy they are to incorporate into your diet.

The little seeds don’t really have a taste, so you can add them to juices, porridge, smoothies, yoghurt, cereal and vegetables without affecting their flavour.

They’re also highly absorbent, making them an amazing egg substitute and sauce thickener.11 You can even just mix them with milk and a sweetener to make chia seed puddings – one of the healthiest desserts out there.

Chia seeds are generally well-tolerated and can easily enhance the nutritional value of so many dishes. So, it make sure you have a pot in your kitchen cupboard!

Summary

  • Chia seeds are flavorless and very easy to incorporate into your diet

How to eat chia seeds

Chia seeds make an eggcellent egg replacement for cakes, puddings, cookies, pancakes and other bakes.

Because chia seeds are pretty much flavorless, chia eggs can be better than other vegan egg alternatives like banana and oil in some dishes.

How to make a ‘chia seed egg’:

  1. Simply mix 1 tablespoon of chia seeds and 3 tablespoons of water in a small bowl or cup.
  2. Give it about 5 minutes to rest until it becomes gel-like.
  3. Use it in your recipe just like you would use a normal egg.

Summary

  • You can mix chia seeds and water to make a chia egg – and it couldn’t be easier!

3 tasty recipes using chia seeds

Get inspired with these 4 chia seed recipes.

Chia porridge breakfast bowl

Good for: a gluten-free, vegan start to the day

Time: about 10 mins

Equipment needed: saucepan, bowl, and spoon

Suitable for: gluten-free, vegans, vegetarians

Serves: 1

Nutrients per serving:

Energy Total fat Saturates Protein Fibre Carbs Sugar Salt
357kcal 11g 2.4g 50g 15g 8.2g 10g 0.5g

 

Ingredients

Method

  1. Put the oats and milks into a saucepan and bring to the boil, stirring occasionally. Simmer for 3-4 minutes.
  2. Add the chia seeds and 2/3 of the almonds and simmer for another couple of minutes until the porridge has thickened and the oats are soft.
  3. Transfer to a serving bowl and spoon on the extra coconut milk. Drizzle on the syrup, top with the blueberries, remaining almonds and a sprinkling of extra chia.

Savoury trail mix (vegan)

Good for: an energy-boosting snack

Time: few mins prep + leave overnight

Equipment needed: baking tray and airtight container

Suitable for: can be gluten-free (check labels of seeds), vegetarians and vegans

Serves: 2

Nutrients per serving:

Energy Total fat Saturates Protein Fibre Carbs Sugar Salt
153kcal 11g 1.7g 5.9g 0g 6.9g 3.3g 4.5g

 

Ingredients

Method

1. Heat the oven to 220°C. Mix the seeds and soy sauce together and scatter onto a baking tray. Toast for a few minutes, checking frequently to ensure they don’t burn (shake the tray whenever you open the oven door to help them toast evenly).

2. Allow to cool before eating or store in an airtight container.

Strawberry chia jam (vegan)

Good for: dolloping in porridge and spreading on toast

Time: around 20 minutes

Equipment needed: bowl, spoon, and saucepan

Suitable for: vegetarians (can be made vegan with agave nectar), gluten-free

Serves: makes 1 jar (about 400g)

Nutrients per serving (1 tbsp):

Energy Total fat Saturates Protein Fibre Carbs Sugar Salt
21kcal 1g 0g 0.4g 1g 4g 2g 0g

 

Ingredients

Method

  1. Cut the strawberries in quarters and put in a saucepan with the vanilla bean paste and maple syrup.
  2. Cook gently over a low heat for about 5 minutes, or until the strawberries are broken down.
  3. Stir in the chia seeds and let it cook for 10 minutes.
  4. Allow to cool completely and thicken up.
  5. Spoon into a sterilised jar or bowl and keep for up to a week in the fridge.

The final word

  • Chia seeds are packed with an array of nutrients to help keep us healthy, like protein, fibre, healthy fats, antioxidants minerals and more
  • They are naturally gluten-free and vegan, and make a great egg substitute
  • You can use them in lots of tasty recipes to boost their nutrition easily
This article has been adapted from longer features appearing in Healthy, the Holland & Barrett magazine. Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP before trying any remedies.

Last updated: 12 April 2021

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