They may be tiny, but what chia seeds lack in size, they more than make up for in nutritional value. Among the laundry list of chia seed benefits, you’ll find that they’re the richest plant source of omega-3s. “Omega-3 fatty acids are essential—we need to get them from our diet, and they’re a little bit more challenging to get than the other essential fat, omega-6 fatty acids, which is ubiquitous in the food supply,” says plant-based dietitian Julieanna Hever, RD. “So we need to aim to get more omega-3s and less omega-6s for an optimal ratio.”
Hever adds that omega-3s are good for both your head and heart because they support proper brain and cardiovascular function. “The omega-3 fatty acids in chia seeds comes in the form of alpha linoleic acid [ALA], which has been associated with anti-inflammatory, anti-thrombotic, and anti-arhythmic properties, and so really good for your heart and your total circulatory system,” she says. This type of fatty acid is also found in nuts, flax seeds, and leafy greens, and research shows a connection between consuming ALA and longevity.
FYI, seafood, like salmon, as well as algae (aka sea greens), are the other top sources of omega-3s, but ideally you should eat them in addition to a source of ALA omega-3s because they contain long-chain fatty acids known as DHA and EPA, which your body also needs for optimal function.
And while that would be enough to make these nutrition-packed pips a star on most people’s pantry shelves, omega-3s are only the beginning when it comes to chia seed benefits.
Chia seed benefits besides omega-3s
A serving size of chia seeds, about two tablespoons, contain about 140 calories, 4 grams of protein, 11 grams of fiber, 7 grams of unsaturated fat, 18-percent of your recommended daily amount of calcium, and trace minerals including zinc and copper, according to the School of Public Health at Harvard University.
Aside from being a good source of ALA fatty acids, chia seeds provide protein, amino acids, and a lot of inflammation-fighting phytonutrients, according to Hever. “Especially on a plant-based diet, where you’re getting your protein from seeds, nuts, and legumes, chia seeds are really an excellent source of the essential amino acids,” she says. “We need them for all sorts of different reasons throughout the body.” Production of bioregulators like hormones and neurotransmitters are just one of the many important functions amino acids are responsible for.
And then in terms of phytonutrients, Hever says chia seeds are high in flavonoids, tocopherols, carotenoids, and phenolic compounds. “This is likely what’s responsible for their strong anti-inflammatory, antioxidative properties,” she says.
Finally, chia seeds contain many minerals like calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium which support bone health, plus zinc. They also contain soluble fiber, which we’ve previously reported promotes gut health, low cholesterol, and low blood sugar.
5 easy chia seed recipes that aren’t all pudding
1. Lemon Chia Seed Dressing
Photo: Two Peas & Their Pod
Hever says that incorporating chia seeds as thickening agents in dressings and sauces is one of her favorite ways to work them into her diet. “They’re also really good stabilizers,” she says. “They’ve got all of these different fibers and gums that make that water absorption possible.” (Hence how often they’re used in to make thick, creamy chia seed pudding.) This homemade dressing is a great topper for salads and grain bowls. It’s vegan and gluten-free, and the only ingredients required are olive oil, lemon juice, agave, chia seeds, and vinegar, plus salt and pepper.
Get the recipe: Lemon Chia Seed Dressing
2. Chocolate Chip Cashew Cookie Dough Protein Bites
Photo: My Fresh Perspective
Given that they’re a good source of soluble fiber, it makes sense to snack on chia seeds between meals because they can help balance your blood sugar and boost your digestion. Here, chia seeds are paired with dates, protein powder, cacao nibs (among other ingredients) to create mini pick-me ups that’ll help power you through that long stretch between lunch and dinner.
Get the recipe: Chocolate Chip Cashew Cookie Dough Protein Bites
3. Chia Crackers
Photo: Getty Images/ OlgaLepeshkina
Swapping store-bought crackers for this make-at-home recipe will allow you to pack in way more nutrients than packaged snacks typically possess. Prepare some for your next cheese plate or to go with one of these anti-inflammatory dips and spreads that only take two minutes to make.
Get the recipe: Chia Crackers
4. Strawberry Chia Pudding
Photo: Stocksy/Nadine Greeff
Okay, no list of chia seed recipes would be complete without at least one pudding. But rest assured that this is not your average option. The addition of dehydrated strawberries from Trader Joe’s puts this chia pudding recipe in a class of its own. It’s equally delicious for breakfast or dessert.
Get the recipe: Strawberry Chia Pudding
5. Raspberry Chia Jam
Photo: Karla’s Nordic Kitchen
Another way chia seeds’ thickening properties can be put to good use is by making a sweet spread that allows you to incorporate chia seeds in a way that doesn’t make them the main event. Smear this jam on toast or swirl it into your oatmeal for a nutritionally dense hit of healthy fats and whole fruits.
Get the recipe: Raspberry Chia Jam
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