Chia Seeds: Benefits, Side Effects and How To Eat Them

Chia seeds benefits

Benefits of chia seeds and possible side effects if you consume too much

Chia seeds, so small and tiny edible seeds but full of important nutrients. They are among the healthiest foods on the planet, now available all around the world.

If you haven’t tried them yet it is time to do that because after reading what are the benefits of chia seeds and how easy is to add them into your diet, we are sure that these seeds will become part of your everyday healthy diet.

Fast facts on chia seeds:

  • Great source of fiber, protein, omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants.
  • One ounce serving of chia seeds contains 9.75 grams of fiber.
  • Mixed with water they can replace egg in vegan cooking (1 tablespoon of chia seeds mixed with 3 tablespoons water, replaces 1 egg for cooking).
  • Chia seeds should be soaked before eating or added to another food.

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What are chia seeds?

Benefits of chia seeds and potential side effects

Chia seeds are the edible seeds from a flowering desert plant Salvia hispanica, related to mint which is native to Mexico and Guatemala.

These edible tiny seeds were a staple food for the ancient Mayans and Aztecs. In Mayan, the word “chia” means strength, which is appropriate because these seeds are full of nutrients that have been depended on by warriors for added energy.

Today chia seeds are used as a “superfood” around the globe and according to industry reports, the chia seed market is projected to reach more than 2 billion USD in sales by 2022.

Chia seeds are small, flat, and ovular with a shiny and smooth texture. The color ranges from white to brown or black.

Taste profile – Because chia seeds taste so mild with only a slightly nutty flavor, they can be added to almost anything sweet or savory without any issue.

Nutrition

Chia seeds have a lot to offer. By weight, they are 46% carbohydrates, 34% fat, 14% protein, and 6% water.

Here is a quick analysis of nutrients in 28-gram or one-ounce serving of chia seeds, according to the United States Department Of Agriculture (USDA) National Nutrient Database:

  • Calories: 138
  • Carbs: 11.9 grams
  • Protein: 4.68 grams
  • Sugar: 0 grams
  • Fiber: 9.75 grams
  • Fat: 8.7 grams

For those on a low-carb diet, chia seeds are highly recommended for their low-carb properties and their high quantities of plant-based essential fatty acids.

Eating one ounce of chia seeds daily would provide 30% of daily manganese needs, 27% of phosphorus, 18% of calcium, and smaller amounts of potassium and copper. Most people don’t consume enough of these essential nutrients.

Chia seeds benefits

Plant-based foods have long been associated with a reduced risk of many adverse health conditions. They have been shown to support a healthy complexion. increased energy and overall lower weight.

Chia as super food

Here is a list of the main health benefits of chia seeds.

Chia seeds and powerful fiber content

Just one ounce or 28 grams of chia seeds boasts 9.8 grams of fiber which is a significant portion of the RDI for men and women – 38 and 25 grams per day for men and women respectively.

Fiber belongs to the carbohydrate family, but its health effects are different from those of digestible carbs like sugar and starch. Fiber neither raises blood sugar nor requires insulin to be disposed of. These fibers are mostly insoluble (95%), a type associated with reduced diabetes risk.

Some of the insoluble fibers in your gut may be fermented like soluble fibers, promoting the formation of short-chain fatty acids and improving colon health. Fiber also feeds the friendly bacteria in your intestine, and keeping your gut-friendly flora well-fed is absolutely crucial for health.

Good to know

Due to their high fiber content, chia seeds can absorb up to 10-12 their weight in water, becoming gel-like and expanding in your stomach.

This characteristic of chia seeds, theoretically should increase fullness, slow absorption of the food, and help you automatically eat fewer calories.

Weight loss

Because chia seeds are high in fiber and protein they are thought to be helpful with weight loss.

Protein is known to reduce appetite and leave you feeling satisfied which means less snacking on potentially unhealthy food. Also, foods that are high in fiber help people to feel full for longer. Increased fiber intake and a diet high in fiber have been shown to help with weight loss.

A randomized controlled trial from 2017 found that eating chia seeds for breakfast increased satiety and reduced food intake in the short term.

We must mention that some studies on the effectiveness of chia seeds for weight loss have provided some different, let’s say disappointing results.

In a 10 week study that included 62 subjects where was assessed the effectiveness of chia seeds in altering disease risk factors in overweight, postmenopausal women, was found that chia seeds had no effect on body weight, but did increase the amount of omega-3 fat in the blood.

Also, in another study from 2009 where the objective was to assess the effectiveness of chia seed in promoting weight loss, was found that 50 grams of chia seeds per day for 12 weeks had no effect on body weight or health markers.

According to these studies adding chia seeds to your diet is unlikely to cause weight loss on its own. But when it comes to weight loss it is not about one single food, it’s about the entire diet, lifestyle changes like more exercise, better sleep, etc.

If you want to learn more about chia seeds and how effective they are for weight loss, here is an article for you: Chia Seeds vs. Flax Seeds: Which Is Better For Weight Loss?

Chia and weight loss summary

Studies on chia seeds and weight loss have provided mixed results, but when combined with a real-food-based diet and a healthy lifestyle, chia seeds may definitely help promote weight loss.

High in omega-3 fatty acids and may lower your risk of heart disease

In our list of benefits of chia seeds, we must mention that these edible seeds are also very high in omega-3 fatty acids.

It’s important to say that the omega-3s in these seeds are mostly ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). Unfortunately, we must say is not as beneficial as you think. Why?

Alpha-linolenic acid must be converted into the active forms of EPA and DHA (eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid) before your body can use it.

Humans can’t convert ALA in these forms, so plant omega-3s tend to be vastly inferior to animal sources like fish oil.

Most experts consider chia seeds as a lower quality omega-3 source because they don’t supply any DHA. A study from 2012 shows that milled chia seeds can increase blood levels of ALA and EPA but not DHA.

Can eating chia seeds lower your risk of heart disease?

Several studies have been conducted by experts to get the answer to this question and the results have been inconclusive.

A study that was investigating the effect of chia supplementation on blood pressure, showed that chia seeds significantly reduce blood pressure in people with hypertension. Another rat study showed that chia seeds can lower some risk factors like inflammation, insulin resistance, triglycerides and raise good “HDL”.

Chia seeds and heart health

Some studies suggest that chia seeds are beneficial for heart health, some not. Chia seeds may benefit heart health but in a combination with dietary and lifestyle changes.

Good source of quality plant-based protein

By weight, chia seeds are 14% protein which is very high and they also have a good balance of essential amino acids.

Protein is associated with various health benefits and is the most weight loss-friendly dietary nutrient. A high protein intake reduces the desire for nighttime snacking by 50%. Also, reduce obsessive thoughts about food by 60%.

Two tablespoons of chia seeds contain 4.68 grams of protein. A 140-pound person needs about 50 grams of protein a day.

These edible seeds offer all nine essential amino acids and are thus a high-quality plant-based protein. Use chia seeds as a way to top up your protein intake, along with lean meats, poultry, and full-fat dairy.

Good to remember: Chia seeds are not recommended as the sole protein source for children.

Chia seeds are good for bone health

This little powerhouse seed has so many nutrients like calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and protein that are important for bone health.

With 18% of the RDI in a single ounce, the calcium content in chia seeds is particularly impressive. This percent is higher than most dairy products if we make gram for gram comparison.

Summing up

Chia seeds are an excellent source of calcium for people who don’t eat dairy.

May help reduce blood sugar levels

Another health benefit of chia seeds is that they can stabilize blood sugar and improve insulin sensitivity. This reduces the chance of spikes and crashes sometimes experienced after meals.

Animal studies have found that chia seeds may improve insulin sensitivity and blood sugar control. Also, a few human studies show that eating bread that contains chia seeds lowers the post-meal rise in blood sugar compared to bread that doesn’t include any chia.

According to these studies, chia seeds may lower the rise in blood sugar after a high-carb meal, possibly benefiting people with type 2 diabetes.

Summing up

High-fiber diets are associated with a lower risk of developing diabetes, eating high-fiber meals helps to keep blood sugar stable.

Loaded with antioxidants

Antioxidants are so important for our health because they fight the production of free radicals, which can damage cell molecules and contribute to aging and diseases.

The antioxidants present in chia seeds protect the sensitive fats in the seeds from going rancid. So, the antioxidants have various benefits for health but also clean, dry chia seeds have an extended shelf life as their antioxidants protect their fats from damage.

Beneficial plant compounds present in chia seeds with different health benefits:

  • Caffeic acid – Present in many plant foods and may help fight inflammation in your body.
  • Kaempferol – Antioxidant associated with a decreased risk of cancer and other chronic diseases.
  • Quercetin – Powerful antioxidant related to a reduced risk of heart disease and osteoporosis.
  • Chlorogenic acid – Antioxidant that may lower blood pressure.

Chia seeds side effects

When consumed in moderation chia seeds can benefit your health, but like everything else when you consume too much, chia seeds can cause some issues.

Here are the most common side effects of eating too many chia seeds:

Gastrointestinal issues

In general chia seeds are good for your digestive system because they’ve got so much fiber. As we mentioned above when we talked about the benefits of eating chia, fiber is good and essential for your health. It promotes and supports the beneficial bacteria in your gut among other important roles.

However, too much fiber intake might upset your stomach. Excessive fiber intake can cause problems like bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, and gas.

Furthermore, if you have Irritable Bowel Syndrome or Chron’s disease you might want to take extra care to moderate your chia seed intake.

For most people, negative symptoms from high fiber intake can be prevented by increasing fiber intake slowly and drinking plenty of water to help it pass through the body.

Start with a half-tablespoon and work your way to a well-tolerated amount that helps with your bowel movements.

Chia seeds may cause an increased risk of choking

These edible seeds are safe for most people. Make sure to consume them carefully, especially if have difficulty swallowing., because chia seeds may cause an increased risk of choking.

This risk is because dry chia seeds swell up and absorb about 10-12 times their weight in liquid when they are exposed to water.

This property is very good when you use them for cooking and baking, but they have the potential to be unsafe, as chia seeds can easily swell up and become lodged in the throat.

A study from 2017 shows how a 39-year old man had an accident with chia seeds. What happened? He ate a tablespoon of dry chia seeds and then drank a glass of water.

The seeds expended in his esophagus and caused a blockage, and he had to visit the emergency room to have it removed.

This is a warning story, so soak chia seeds at least 15 minutes before you eat them.

Good To Remember

Soak chia seeds at least 15 minutes before you eat them. They can absorb 10-12 times their weight in liquid. If they are not soaked before eating them, they may expand and cause blockage, increasing your risk of choking.

Allergies

Chia seeds are in the mint family. So people allergic to mint, sesame, or mustard seeds should be cautious about trying chia seeds.

Food allergy symptoms may include diarrhea, vomiting, itching of the lips or tongue. In rare cases, food allergies can even lead to anaphylaxis, a condition that causes difficulty breathing and tightness in the throat and chest.

Don’t worry about this, chia seed allergies are rare. If you try chia seeds for the first time and experience any symptoms of a food allergy, stop eating chia immediately and consult your doctor.

Potential effects on pregnancy

Chia seeds are considered safe for pregnancy, especially because they can relieve constipation (when consumed in moderation).

If you’re not used to consuming foods that are super rich in fiber, being pregnant can come with some digestive system changes. So pregnancy may not be the best time to start experimenting with chia seeds.

Interactions with medications

Eating too many chia seeds may cause interactions with some medications, and you may want to moderate your intake especially if you are taking blood pressure or blood sugar medications.

Blood pressure medications

As we previously talked about in the section on the benefits of chia seeds we said that according to many studies omega-3s found in chia seeds can produce significant anti-inflammatory effects that work to lower your blood pressure.

The results from a controlled trial from 2007 showed that eating chia seeds for 12 weeks decreased blood pressure and this is the result of the high content of omega-3 fatty acids present in chia seeds, which have been shown to work as a blood thinner and may decrease blood pressure.

For those who have high blood pressure, this may be a good thing, but individuals with low blood pressure might want to refrain from a diet rich in chia seeds and omega-3s.

A very excessive amount of omega-3s might cause your blood to thin out a bit, and this is only likely to present an issue if you’re only on blood-thinning medications or experience low blood pressure.

Diabetes medications

Current evidence suggests that high-fiber diets and chia seeds that have a high amount of fiber can significantly lower blood sugar levels.

The high amount of fiber slows the absorption of sugar in the blood and can decrease high sugar levels. Eating moderate amounts of chia seeds can help people with diabetes keep their blood sugar levels in check.

However, dosages for insulin are personalized and adjusted to prevent dips and spikes in blood sugar. An excessive amount of chia seeds could cause blood sugar levels to decrease and may require adjustments in the dosage of your diabetes medications.

Best ways to eat chia seeds

There are many ways how you can add chia seeds into your diet. Eaten raw or cooked, ground into flour or left whole, it’s a mandatory pantry item for anyone who is curious about the benefits of chia seeds and willing to get creative in the kitchen.

Best ways to eat chia seeds

Chia seeds have little if any distinctive flavor, they don’t compare with other flavors in the dish, so they are added to cereals, bread, crackers, beverages…

These edible seeds can be added as long as there is moisture to hold the seed in place. You can:

  • Stir into sauces, salad dressings, marinades, or cakes, muffins…
  • Sprinkle into breakfast cereals, stews, soups, or salads
  • Use chia gel as a thickener added to puddings, smoothies, and soups

Here are some other ways how you can use chia seeds:

Chia pudding

Chia pudding is similar in consistency to tapioca. It’s a great choice for breakfast and elegant enough to serve for dessert at your next dinner party.

To make a dessert variation mix 1/4 cup of seeds with one cup of liquid like almond milk, soy, or fruit juice. Let it sit for at least refrigerated. You can also add chopped fresh fruit, nuts, or cinnamon if desired.

To make this chia pudding you can use these glass jars with a lid that has 6 oz. capacity and can be used for canning as well.

Chia gel

As we mentioned before chia seeds absorb water quickly, 10-12 times their weight in liquid. To make chia gel just place 1/4 cup seeds in 1 cup liquid, stir well and cover. Allow sitting for about 20 minutes until the texture changes to soft gelatin.

You can store it in a refrigerator for up to a week and use it in smoothies and soups to boost nutrient value and create a thicker consistency.

As an egg substitute

For individuals with egg allergies, “chia egg” can be a great alternative. For 1 whole egg, mix one tablespoon of whole chia seeds with 3 tablespoons of water. Allow to sit for at least 5 minutes or until the mixture thickens to the consistency of a raw scrambled egg.

The “chia egg” is especially suited to replacing eggs in recipes for baked goods.

Chia drinks

You don’t need to pay a lot of money in juice bars to get a healthy chia drink, you can make it at home. Just add 2 to 3 tablespoons chia seeds to 2 cups of water and 1 cup fruit juice. Let the mixture sit until thickened, and stir before drinking.

For use in baking

You can try adding chia seeds to bake goods. Chia flour with its high fiber content is a great alternative to processed grains and you can use it to create gluten-free pancakes, cookies, bread, and more. You may also top muffins or quick bread with chia seeds before baking.

If you want to find out more about the best ways to eat chia seeds here is an article for you: How To Eat Chia Seeds – Simple Ways To Add Them In Your Daily Diet.

How to buy and store chia seeds

If you store them properly in a container with a tight-fitting lid in a cool and dry place, chia seeds have a long shelf life due to their high antioxidant profile and can last for months or even up to two years without refrigeration.

You can buy them easily in almost every grocer store, health food store or you can buy them online. You can do it here and we recommend trying these Organic Non-GMO Chia Seeds that are a great addition to your pantry, no matter your dietary restrictions.

Whether you’re vegan, vegetarian, eating Keto or Paleo, or following another strict food regiment, you can easily incorporate this nutritious seed into your diet.

If you haven’t tried chia bars till now here is a recommendation from us, try these gluten-free, vegan chia bars with different flavors made with plant-based ingredients. Try them they are delicious!

FAQ

How many chia seeds should you eat a day?

A common dosage recommendation is 20 grams (about 1.5 tablespoons) of chia seeds daily for adults. For children and teens ages 5 to 18 years the daily recommended amount is 1.4 to 4.3 grams daily.

How long should I soak chia seeds?

It is recommended to soak chia seeds for about 20 minutes in water or almond milk until they take on a chewy texture reminiscent of tapioca pudding. (soak 1/4 cup seeds to 1 cup liquid)

How many calories are in a tablespoon of chia seeds?

One ounce (2 tablespoons) of chia seeds contains 138calories, 9 grams of fat, 12 grams of carbohydrates, 5 grams of protein, 9.8 grams of fiber plus vitamins and minerals.

Benefits and side effects of eating chia seeds

Final words about the benefits of chia seeds and potential side effects of eating too much of them:

Used from ancient times chia seeds are now available all around the world. High in fiber, healthy fat, protein, and antioxidants these edible seeds surely deserve a place in your healthy diet.

Various health benefits of chia seeds are confirmed from many studies, from lowering your risk of heart disease, reducing blood sugar levels, helping with weight loss and so much more. If you don’t eat chia seeds already it is time to start adding them to your diet.

If you haven’t tried them yet just start with 1.5 tablespoons daily don’t eat too much at once because as we mentioned in our article here there are some possible side effects of eating too much chia. And yes, don’t forget to soak them before eating, you can eat them raw too but it’s recommended to soak them first.

These seeds are so easy to add to each of your liquid meals, use them in smoothies, sprinkle over salads, make chia pudding, or use them as an egg replacement.

A great superfood that must be on your healthy diet list!

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