Chia seeds may be small, but they’re incredibly rich in nutrients. A staple in the ancient Aztec and Maya diets, these seeds have been touted for their health benefits for centuries.
The antioxidants, minerals, fiber, and omega-3 fatty acids in chia seeds may promote heart health, support strong bones, and improve blood sugar management (1).
What’s more, chia seeds are versatile and can be used in many recipes. Personally, I embrace their gel-like consistency by mixing them with liquid and making chia pudding.
Here are 7 health benefits of chia seeds, all supported by science.
Chia seeds are tiny black or white seeds from the plant Salvia hispanica L. They’re believed to be native to Central America (1).
Historically, those in the Aztec and Mayan civilizations used the seeds in their diets, as well as for medicinal purposes, religious rituals, and cosmetics. Today, chia seeds are enjoyed by people all over the world (2).
Ancient civilizations viewed chia seeds as highly nutritious — a belief that’s backed by modern science. In fact, just 1 ounce (28 grams or 2 tablespoons) of chia seeds contains (3):
- Calories: 138
- Protein: 4.7 grams
- Fat: 8.7 grams
- Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA): 5 grams
- Carbs: 11.9 grams
- Fiber: 9.8 grams
- Calcium: 14% of the Daily Value (DV)
- Iron: 12% of the DV
- Magnesium: 23% of the DV
- Phosphorus: 20% of the DV
- Zinc: 12% of the DV
- Vitamin B1 (thiamine): 15% of the DV
- Vitamin B3 (niacin): 16% of the DV
This nutritional profile is particularly impressive considering that it’s for just a single serving of about two tablespoons.
Despite their tiny size, chia seeds are highly nutritious. They’re packed with fiber, protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and various micronutrients.
Chia seeds are also an excellent source of antioxidants (1, 4).
Antioxidants not only protect the sensitive fats in chia seeds from going rancid but also benefit human health by neutralizing reactive molecules known as free radicals, which can damage cell compounds if they build up in your body (1).
For example, free radical damage contributes to aging and diseases like cancer (5, 6).
The specific antioxidants in chia seeds include chlorogenic acid, caffeic acid, myricetin, quercetin, and kaempferol. These may all have protective effects on your heart and liver, as well as anti-cancer properties (1).
For example, chlorogenic acid may help lower blood pressure, while caffeic acid has anti-inflammatory effects (7, 8).
Chia seeds are high in antioxidants. These compounds help protect the seed’s delicate fats while also offering health benefits to humans.
The fiber and protein in chia seeds may benefit those trying to lose weight.
One ounce (28 grams) of chia seeds has close to 10 grams of dietary fiber. That means they’re a whopping 35% fiber by weight (3).
Most of the fiber in chia seeds is soluble fiber. It absorbs water, becomes gel-like, and expands in your stomach to slow your digestion and help you feel full after a meal (9, 10).
Therefore, it’s claimed that soluble fiber may support appetite regulation and weight loss. Although research on this topic is mixed, some studies suggest that eating fiber may play a role in preventing overweight and obesity (11).
Additionally, the protein in chia seeds could help reduce appetite and food intake.
One study in 24 participants found that eating 0.33 ounces (7 grams) or 0.5 ounces (14 grams) of chia seeds mixed with yogurt for breakfast increased feelings of fullness and reduced food intake in the short term compared with eating chia-free yogurt (12).
Even so, studies examining the effectiveness of chia seeds for weight loss have observed mixed results.
In an older study from 2009 in 90 people with overweight, consuming 50 grams of chia seed supplements per day for 12 weeks did not affect body weight or health markers like blood pressure and inflammation markers (13).
In contrast, a 6-month study in 77 people with overweight or obesity and type 2 diabetes eating a reduced-calorie diet found that those who took chia seeds daily experienced significantly greater weight loss than those who received a placebo (14).
Though adding chia seeds to your diet is unlikely to cause weight loss on its own, it may be a useful addition to a balanced, nutritious diet if you’re trying to lose weight.
Chia seeds are high in protein and fiber, both of which have been shown to aid weight loss. However, studies on chia seeds and weight loss have provided mixed results.
Given that chia seeds are high in fiber and omega-3s, consuming them may reduce your risk of heart disease.
Soluble fiber, the kind primarily found in chia seeds, can help lower total and LDL (bad) cholesterol in your blood. In turn, this can reduce your risk of heart disease (15).
Consuming the omega-3 fatty acid in chia seeds known as ALA has also been linked to decreased heart disease risk (16).
Still, studies specifically examining the connection between chia seeds and heart health have had inconclusive results.
Some rat studies have shown that chia seeds can lower certain heart disease risk factors, including high triglyceride and oxidative stress levels (17, 18).
A few human studies found that chia seed supplements significantly reduced blood pressure in people with hypertension, or high blood pressure, which is a strong risk factor for heart disease (19, 20).
Overall, chia seeds may benefit heart health, but more research is needed.
Chia seeds may reduce the risk of heart disease, likely due to the fiber and ALA they contain. However, more human research is needed.
Chia seeds are high in several nutrients that are important for bone health, including calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium.
Many observational studies suggest that getting enough of these nutrients is important for maintaining good bone mineral density, an indicator of bone strength (21, 22).
In addition, ALA in chia seeds may play a role in bone health. Observational studies have found that consuming this nutrient could also be associated with increased bone mineral density (23).
Therefore, it’s possible that regularly eating chia seeds could help keep your bones strong.
One animal study found that rats who received chia seeds daily for about 13 months had increased bone mineral content compared with a control group. The authors concluded that ALA may have contributed to this benefit (24).
However, besides animal studies, a limited number of studies have explored this topic, specifically. Ultimately, more human research is needed.
Chia seeds are high in calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and ALA. All of these nutrients have been linked to improved bone mineral density.
Consuming chia seeds may help with blood sugar regulation, possibly due to their content of fiber and other beneficial compounds.
People with diabetes may struggle with high blood sugar levels. Consistently high fasting blood sugar levels are associated with an increased risk of several complications, including heart disease (25).
Promisingly, animal studies have found that chia seeds may improve insulin sensitivity. This might help stabilize blood sugar levels after meals (26, 1).
Research in humans is sparse, but some older studies have shown promising results.
In particular, older research from 2010 and 2013 suggests that eating bread containing chia seeds helps lower post-meal rises in blood sugar among healthy adults, compared with eating bread without chia seeds (28, 29).
Nevertheless, more research is needed to learn more about the connection between these nutritious seeds and blood sugar regulation.
Animal studies suggest that chia seeds may help with blood sugar management, but more human research is needed.
Chia seeds are incredibly easy to incorporate into your diet. They taste rather bland, so you can add them to pretty much anything.
You don’t need to grind, cook, or otherwise prepare them, making them a handy addition to recipes.
They can be eaten raw, soaked in juice, or added to oatmeal, pudding, smoothies, and baked goods. You can also sprinkle them on top of cereal, yogurt, vegetables, or rice dishes. Plus, they work wonders in homemade fritters as a binding agent.
Given their ability to absorb water and fat, you can use them to thicken sauces and as an egg substitute. They can also be mixed with water and turned into a gel.
The seeds appear to be well-tolerated. Still, if you’re not used to eating a lot of fiber, you might experience digestive side effects like bloating or diarrhea if you eat too many seeds in one sitting.
A common dosage recommendation is 0.7 ounces (20 grams or about 1.5 tablespoons) of chia seeds twice per day. Remember to drink plenty of water to prevent any digestive side effects.
Chia seeds are easy to prepare and often used as an egg substitute and added to oatmeal or smoothies.
Chia seeds are not only rich in nutrients, omega-3 fat, antioxidants, and fiber but also easy to prepare.
Studies suggest that they have various health benefits, ranging from weight loss to a reduced risk of heart disease. However, more research in humans is needed before any firm conclusions can be made.
If you want to reap the possible benefits of chia seeds, consider incorporating them into your diet. They’re a great addition to smoothies, oatmeal, yogurt, baked goods, and more.