Chia seeds have been called the world’s healthiest whole food, for good reason. “Chia contains the highest amount of omega-3 fatty acids of any plant known, and also contains significant amounts of protein, fiber, and antioxidants,” says Wayne Coates, PhD, professor emeritus at the University of Arizona, chia researcher and author of Chia: The Complete Guide to the Ultimate Superfood.
“Omega-3 fatty acids and fiber have been shown to have positive health benefits in terms of heart health and for diabetics,” he says, “And omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants have been shown to help reduce inflammation and increase immunity.” And, chia is gluten free.
In one study of type 2 diabetics at the University of Toronto, 37 grams of chia daily for 12 weeks reduced blood pressure, inflammation, and blood sugar significantly enough to lower risk for heart disease. The same researchers also found that in healthy people, 15–24 grams of daily chia reduced blood sugar levels and appetite for up to two hours after a meal.
A study of long-distance runners, published in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, found that a half-serving of a sugary sports drink with chia was a healthier fuel than a full serving of the sports drink alone. For more chia research, visit azchia.com.
One tablespoon of chia contains a good day’s worth of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), the plant-based form of omega-3 fats. The Institute of Medicine recommends 1.6 grams daily of ALA for men and 1.1 grams for women, and integrative physicians often recommend 2–3 grams daily. One tablespoon of chia seeds typically contains more than 2 grams. Higher levels of ALA are not toxic and may be beneficial, especially for people with arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, and other inflammatory conditions.
How to Eat Chia
Unlike flax seeds, whole chia seeds are easily digested and most people find they have no distinct taste—only a little crunch. Eat whole seeds as a snack, mix them in nut butters, sprinkle them on salads, sandwiches, yogurt or other food, or mix them in juices or smoothies.
Chia seeds absorb approximately nine times their weight in water, help control appetite, and boost energy without stimulants. If you prefer less crunch, use ground or milled chia seeds, also called chia meal.
Whole Chia Seeds: Start with 1 Tbs. daily and work up to 2 or more. Because their high antioxidant content protects against spoilage, whole seeds can keep for up to 5 years unrefrigerated. Ground chia seeds will keep for up to a year. Look for black or white chia seeds—brown ones are either weed seeds or immature and less nutritious.
Other Chia Options: Chia oil is available in supplements and as a culinary oil. Chia seeds are also found in nutrition bars, cereals, and snack foods.
1 Tbs. of chia seeds (about 12 grams) contains approximately 2.1 g ALA, 4 g fiber, 2 g protein, and 58 calories.
Left and upper photo by Pornchai Mittongtare
GAIA HERBS Chia Fresh Daily Fiber includes a natural peroxidation blocker freshness protection system. This exclusive process protects the ground chia seed from oxidation, providing improved shelf life and stability.
GREENS PLUS Omega3 Chia Sticks Carry anywhere, and mix in lemonade or fruit juice (known as chia fresca) for a refreshing, performance-enhancing energy drink that’s naturally rich in omega-3s.
SPECTRUM NATURALS Spectrum Essentials Chia Seed Add 1 Tbs. daily to yogurt, cereal, smoothies or salads; eat it whole or ground, raw or in baked goods; or mix with water for a drink that can help curb appetite.