Chia seeds are the OG of superfoods, and for good reason. Their biggest claim to fame (aside from the 90s Ch-ch-chi-chia Pet fad) is that they’re the #1 food source of alpha linolenic acid—the plant-based omega-3 fatty acid, which plays a crucial role in brain and heart health, and regulating inflammation throughout the body.
Beyond that, these small but mighty seeds contain protein, fiber, antioxidants, and a range of other nutrients that may help you lose weight, manage cravings, support healthy digestion, and boost cardiovascular health.
Adding to its health cred: Chia has been cultivated as a food and medicine for thousands of years by various indigenous groups, including the Aztecs and the Mayans; and today, nutritional science is beginning to validate why it’s such a celebrated dietary staple.
When chia seeds are referred to as an ancient superfood, that’s no exaggeration—some estimates suggest chia seeds were cultivated as far back as 3000 B.C.E. in Mesoamerica (Mexico and Central America), where they had medicinal, religious, and culinary applications.
Along with beans, corn (maize), squash, and amaranth, chia seeds comprised a significant portion of the diet of the indigenous peoples. Aztecs and Mayans commonly roasted chia seeds and ground them into a flour, and warriors relied on whole chia seeds for sustenance on long journeys.
Here’s a look at some of the most exciting potential health benefits of chia seeds (and their various nutritional compounds).
4 health benefits supported by chia seeds.
Chia seeds contain a variety of nutrients that may aid in weight loss. Just one ounce of chia seeds contains 11 grams of fiber, or 40% of your daily value. The fiber in chia seeds is mostly soluble, including a specific type of soluble fiber called mucilage. You’ve experienced mucilage if you’ve ever made chia pudding—it’s the somewhat gelatinous substance that results when you expose chia seeds to liquid. Because mucilage essentially bulks up chia seeds, it can help slow digestion, fill you up, and prevent the blood sugar spikes that lead to food cravings.
There have been a few studies on chia seeds’ effect on appetite and weight, with promising early results. One 2017 study found that eating chia seeds mixed into yogurt as a mid-morning snack increased fullness and reduced food intake later in the day; and another 2017 study found that obese patients with type 2 diabetes experienced greater weight loss when ate chia seeds daily as part of their reduced-calorie diet.
Chia seeds’ fiber and omega-3 content make it a worthy addition to a heart-healthy diet. Soluble fiber is known to help lower cholesterol levels; and chia seeds’ high levels of ALA, a plant-based omega-3 fat, may support overall cardiovascular health due to its anti-inflammatory properties. In fact, research from 2005 found a 40% reduced risk of sudden cardiac death among women who ate the highest amounts of ALA in their diet.
Other preliminary studies have found that consuming chia seeds regularly may help reduce C-reactive protein (a marker of inflammation associated with heart disease and other chronic conditions) and lower blood pressure.
Chia seeds contain no shortage of nutrients that help quel chronic inflammation—a process that can drive joint pain, premature aging, and a variety of chronic diseases such as Alzheimer’s and heart disease. In addition to omega-3s, chia seeds are packed with anti-inflammatory polyphenol compounds such as caffeic acid, rosmarinic acid, myricetin, and quercetin.
One 2007 study found that people with type 2 diabetes who ate 37 grams (a little more than an ounce) of chia seeds per day for three months reduced C-reactive protein levels by a whopping 40% compared to people who supplemented their diet with wheat bran instead.
With 40% of your daily value of fiber in just one ounce, chia seeds go a long way in boosting digestive health and preventing annoying GI issues like constipation. But beyond that, adequate fiber intake is absolutely crucial for maintaining a healthy gut microbiome. Fiber is what the “good” probiotic bacteria in your gut need to feed and proliferate.
What’s more, when your “good” gut bugs break down fiber, the resulting byproducts are called short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), including butyrate, which feed the cells in your colon and enhance gut barrier function, helping prevent what’s known as “leaky gut.”
Some experts also believe that mucilage—the gooey stuff that forms when chia seeds are exposed to liquid—may help ease existing gut damage by coating the digestive tract with a protective layer that helps heal ulcers and other damage, and reduces inflammation.
Why chia seeds are considered a superfood.
Nutritional analysis reveals that chia seeds are one of the most nutritionally well-rounded foods on the planet. In addition to plenty of plant-based omega-3s, they contain high levels of fiber, calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, zinc, phosphorus, potassium, and several B vitamins.
Chia seeds are also a great source of polyphenols and antioxidants such as caffeic acid, rosmarinic acid, myricetin, and quercetin, some of which have anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, and even cancer-fighting properties. Bonus: Virtually all of chia seeds’ carbs are in the form of fiber—so they don’t spike your blood sugar!
Bottom line on chia seeds.
Chia seeds are one of the most nutritionally well-rounded superfoods out there, containing healthy omega-3 fats, protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and a range of antioxidant compounds. In addition to being a smart addition to just about any diet, emerging research suggests that chia might even be particularly useful if you’re trying to lose weight, boost heart health, quel inflammation, or improve digestion.
*This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.