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Chia seeds have gained mega popularity over recent years and are now showing up in everything from energy bars to cereals and beverages. Touted as an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, and plant-powered protein, research suggests that including chia seeds as part of a healthy diet may help improve certain health ailments. Here, we take a deeper dive into these tiny, but mighty, seeds and find out what all the hype is about.

Jamie Vespa, MS, RD
January 25, 2017

History of Chia

Chia is one of the oldest crops, cultivated for centuries by the Aztec tribes in Mexico. These nutrient-rich seeds come from the desert plant Salvia hispanica, a member of the mint family. Contrary to popular belief, the seeds are not the only important part of the chia plant; the sprouts are also edible and can be a nutritious addition to salads and sandwiches.

Health Benefits of Chia Seeds

Chia seeds are an excellent source of dietary fiber (about 10 grams per ounce) and protein. They are one of the richest plant sources of α-linoleic acid (an omega-3 fatty acid). They also contain antioxidants and many essential minerals including iron, calcium, magnesium, and zinc. Important phenolic compounds have also been identified in chia seed and oil.

Research suggests that including chia seeds as part of a healthy diet may help improve cardiovascular risk factors such as lowering cholesterol, triglycerides and blood pressure. However, studies of chia intake in the human diet that also take into consideration lifestyle and genetic variations are still limited. What we can take away from current research findings is that chia is a good choice of healthy oil to maintain a balanced serum lipid profile.

Chia seeds can also promote bowel regularity due to their concentrated amount of insoluble fiber. Sprinkling raw chia seeds on your food is a great way to promote satiety for minimal added calories.

Photo: Teresa Sabga

Favorite Recipes with Chia Seeds

Because they have a mild, nutty flavor, chia seeds can be added or sprinkled on just about anything. Sprinkle ground or whole chia seeds on cereal, yogurt, grains, or vegetables. Chia seeds develop a gelatinous texture when soaked in water making it easy to mix them into cooked grains, puddings, and jams. In our Five-Seed Bread, chia seeds are used to absorb liquid, which helps maintain more moisture in the bread. Sneaking extra fiber and protein into baked goods has never been easier.

Raw chia seeds make excellent additions to homemade granola bars or energy bites. Try our Chocolate-Peanut Butter Energy Balls for a nutritious midday snack that can also satisfy the sweet tooth. Stuck in a breakfast rut? Much like overnight oats, chia pudding is one of the easiest healthy breakfast options for busy mornings. Mix before bed, refrigerate overnight, and then devour in the morning.

Chia seeds also have a place in savory recipes. Combined with panko crumbs and shredded coconut, this trio can create a satisfying, crunchy crust on Chicken Fingers and fish nuggets.

Bottom Line: Chia is a rich plant-based source of protein, fiber and antioxidants with a healthy fatty acid profile. Though more research is needed to determine its direct potential to mitigate health ailments, we do know that incorporating chia in a healthy diet can be very beneficial. Try one of our delicious recipes to start reaping the benefits this mighty seed today.