What are chia seeds and what makes them a ‘superfood'? Find out the top five health benefits of chia seeds, and the side effects of chia seeds, plus six tips for how to eat more chia seeds, including our favorite chia seed recipes!
This post is sponsored by Health Warrior. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Thank you for supporting the brands that make it possible for Root + Revel to provide free content and healthy living inspiration.
Anyone growing up in the 90's remembers chia pets, those funny (yet somehow cute… or not?) little terracotta figurines that you'd spread chia seeds over and then watch them bloom with fascination as the seeds sprouted into green afro stalks, filling in the coat of a dog, or the fur on a Care Bear, or the head of Marge Simpson.
Well, fun fact: did you know that the chia seeds we've come to love and obsess over in our diets in the last 5-10 years are actually the same seeds as those little pets?!
However–before you go trying to eat your chia pet and give Marge a haircut she didn't ask for–the chia seeds that come in chia pets should not be eaten as they're not approved for consumption. Leave fido in the windowsill and get some organic or non-GMO chia seeds from your favorite grocery store, because you WANT these little gems in your diet!
I met someone the other day who didn't know what chia seeds were (it honestly blew my mind… but I guess is understandable if you're not into healthy eating crazes), so before I make any assumptions, let's start there.
First: what's a chia seed?
Chia seeds are ity bity seeds that look like a poppy seed (the majority are black, though often white seeds are mixed in, but they have the same nutritional profile). Chia seeds are native to areas of Mexico and Guatemala but are commonly cultivated in many areas in North and South America.
Chia seeds can absorb up to 27 times their weight in liquid! This quality makes them the magical little seeds they are, since they expand into a gel-like substance that tastes amazing on its own (“chia pudding” as it's called), or can be used in baking as an egg replacer since it's so thick and binding (more on this later).
So why do you want to eat chia seeds? These small seeds pack a huge punch and have a TON of health benefits! Let's take a look at why chia seeds are classified as a ‘superfood'.
Health Benefits of Chia Seeds
1) Chia Seeds are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega-3 fatty acids help raise HDL cholesterol, the “good” cholesterol that protects against heart attack and stroke. Omega-3s may also decrease LDL cholesterol (the “bad” one), total cholesterol, triglyceride levels, slightly lower blood pressure and reduce inflammation. (source)
The richest sources of omega-3s are chia seeds, flaxseeds, flaxseed oil, hempseeds, hempseed oil, walnuts, seaweed, edamame, herring, mackerel, salmon, cod liver oil, oysters, sardines, anchovies, tuna, and caviar.
2) Chia Seeds are rich in antioxidants.
In fact, chia seeds have more antioxidants than blueberries and are one of the most high-antioxidant foods on the planet!
Because they're jam-packed with antioxidants, chia seeds are amazing for skin health. Antioxidants are compounds that fight free radical damage and prevent oxidative stress, while also promoting tissue repair and protecting against skin damage. (source)
3) Chia Seeds are full of fiber.
Most Americans don't get enough fiber in our diets, yet fiber is so important; according to the Harvard School of Public Health, fiber appears to reduce the risk of developing various conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, diverticular disease, and constipation.
Fiber helps regulate the body’s use of sugars, helping to keep hunger and blood sugar in check. A 28-gram, or 1-ounce, serving of chia seeds contains a whopping 11.2 grams of fiber (which is already half of the daily recommendation for women over age 50!). A single tablespoon has nearly 5 grams.
Fiber also acts as a prebiotic to provide fuel for the beneficial bacteria in your gut, which plays a central role in many aspects of health and disease. Finally, increased fiber intake and a high fiber diet have also been shown to help with weight loss, as fiber keeps you fuller for longer.
4) Chia Seeds are packed with plant-based protein.
Most of us know by now that protein is great to consume for putting on lean muscle, burning fat, and managing hunger and appetite. A 28-gram, or one-ounce, serving of chia seeds contains 5.6 grams of protein.
More and more people are choosing to reduce their animal protein intake, so whether you're a vegetarian, vegan, flexitarian or meat-eater, chia seeds provide a unique plant-based option to get in your protein at any time of day, while also enjoying all the other superfood benefits chia seeds offer.
5) Chia Seeds are nutrient powerhouses.
Not only are chia seeds bursting with key minerals like calcium, iron, zinc, phosphorus + vitamin A, but because of their calcium and manganese, one of the biggest chia seed health benefits is the ability to strengthen bone health and preserve bone density while reducing the risk of serious conditions like osteoporosis.
Chia seeds are also beneficial for oral health: calcium is the building block of your teeth; zinc prevents tartar by keeping plaque from mineralizing onto your teeth and has an antibacterial effect that keeps bad breath germs away; Vitamin A and phosphorus are also important for strong teeth and a healthy mouth. (source)
6 Ways to Get Chia Seeds In Your Diet
How to Eat Chia Seeds: Chia Seed Protein Bars
One of my fave healthy snack bars that are also kid-friendly are Health Warrior’s Chia Bars, made from 100% real food. All of Health Warrior’s products have superfoods (in this case, chia seeds) as the first and main ingredient, and they’re also 100% plant-based and free of gluten, dairy, GMOs and soy.
It’s hard to believe that these bars have only three grams of sugar–that’s almost unheard of in the protein and snack bar market, making them an awesome choice to keep sugar levels in check. They’re also only 100 calories each, which to be honest, I’m not a calorie counter, but I know some of you out there are and will appreciate that you can snack on a delicious, whole food bar with minimal calories.
Health Warrior recently came out with a new Strawberry Shortcake flavor that I am berry much loving for spring (sorry, can't help myself with the puns)! These bars are so deliciously sweet and decadent, and yet totally guilt-free!
There are so many other flavors that I love too–Acai Berry, Banana Nut, Apple Cinnamon, Chocolate Peanut Butter, Coconut, Caramel Sea Salt, Dark Chocolate, Dragon Fruit, Vanilla Almond and Dark Chocolate Cherry–surely something for everyone! You can buy Health Warrior’s Chia Bars direct through their website–get 20% off your Health Warrior order with the code rootandrevel20–or at Thrive Market for an easy, chia- and nutrient-rich snack.
How to Eat Chia Seeds: Chia Pudding
Mix chia seeds with any liquid of your choice: water, milk or nut milk, coconut milk, or juice. Let sit for a few minutes or overnight in the fridge and you're left with a thick, creamy ‘pudding' that is SO healthy for you, and absolutely delicious. I like adding cinnamon to mine and topping it with nut butter, but there are almost endless variations of what you can create!
Try our delicious Overnight Oatmeal Chia Pudding with Vanilla, Honey + Berries.
How to Eat Chia Seeds: Green Smoothies
When I first got started on my anti-inflammatory journey, green smoothies were my go-to. I love adding chia seeds to thicken them up while packing a nutritional punch, or simply sprinkling them on top of my smoothie for some extra crunch factor.
May we tempt you with this Best Green Smoothie recipe (pictured above), a Green Vegan Protein Smoothie, Chocolate Cherry Green Smoothie or how about a Healthy Gingerbread Smoothie? You can also add Chia Water to any drink or smoothie you like!
How to Eat Chia Seeds: Fat Bombs or Energy Balls
Fat balls, fat bombs, energy bites, call them whatever you like.
The point is, they're absolutely delicious and are one of my fave snacks ever, since they're always satisfying and decadent tasting due to their healthy fat content. Usually they're quick to make and require just a handful of ingredients too… does it get better than that?
Try our No Bake 5-Ingredient Blueberry Energy Balls, featuring–you guessed it!–chia seeds.
How to Eat Chia Seeds: As a garnish
Raw chia seeds sprinkled on things like fruit, nut butter, oatmeal, granola and yogurt adds the perfect crunch and is the best way to up the nutritional ante of whatever you're eating.
The only downside is that these seeds love hanging out in the crevices of your teeth, so just make sure you have some floss if you're eating on-the-go… trust me, you'll thanks us later.
How to Eat Chia Seeds: Baked Goods
Miraculously, chia seeds can be used as a binder and egg replacer in recipes. This is absolutely perfect for vegan baking substitutions or egg allergy folks, or if you run out of eggs and need a swap in a pinch.
To substitute for one egg, soak one tablespoon of chia seeds in three tablespoons of water and let sit for at least five minutes to gel.
Use in breads, muffins, crackers, cakes–the bake-abilities are endless!
What are your favorite ways to eat chia seeds? Let us know in the comments below!