Is it possible for a tiny seed to be a nutritional heavy-hitter? If it's a chia seed, then yes!
Chia seeds (Salvia hispanica) are small — about 0.08 inches (2 millimeters) in diameter — but don't overlook them. These gray seeds, dappled with black and white spots, are on the superfood shortlist. A 1 ounce (28 grams, or two tablespoons) serving of chia seeds has 11 grams of fiber, 4 grams of protein and 9 grams of good-for-you fats.
But wait, there's more: That same serving gives you 30 percent of the recommended daily intake of magnesium and manganese, as well as 27 percent of the phosphorous and 18 percent of the calcium that adults need each day. Chia seeds also contain significant levels of zinc, vitamin B3 (niacin), potassium, vitamin B1 (thiamine) and vitamin B2.
"Given their vast array of nutritional, antioxidant and antimicrobial properties, chia seeds are more than good for you — they're incredible for you," says Lily Allen-Duenas, a vegan nutritionist and founder of the holistic health and wellness website, Wild Yoga Tribe. "The nutritional benefits of chia seeds are impressive."
Health Benefits of Chia Seeds
With a substantial amount of calcium, chia seeds — members of the mint family that are native to Mexico and Guatemala — are good for bone health. In fact, while a 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of milk has 0.004 ounces (126 milligrams) of calcium, the same amount of chia seeds has 0.02 ounces (631 milligrams) of calcium. Chia seeds also are good for your heart, decreasing your risk of coronary heart disease with the substantial amount of fiber and polyunsaturated fat they contain. The antioxidant compounds in chia seeds also reduce the risk of chronic diseases, including cancer and heart disease.
There's increasing evidence that chia seeds are beneficial for people who struggle with high blood sugar. "Because chia seeds are high in fiber and protein, they help damper any potential blood sugar spikes coming from the foods typically paired with it, such as fruit or yogurt," says Tracy Lockwood Beckerman, registered dietitian and author of "The Better Period Food Solution." "Because of these benefits, chia seeds are a great accessory to any meal, especially for those with diabetes, or anyone trying to achieve balanced blood sugar control."
This whole-grain food, which is naturally gluten-free, has a lot to offer for only a few calories. That same serving of chia seeds contains 137 calories. And, if you subtract indigestible fiber, the caloric impact lowers to only 101 calories.
How to (and How Not to) Eat Chia Seeds
If chia seeds had a superpower, it would be their bland taste. Why? Because this makes the nutritional champ "versatile and easily added to just about any recipe without disrupting flavor or cooking methods," says Trista Best, a registered dietitian with Balance One Supplements.
The result is that "there's no best way for people to incorporate chia seeds into their diet. Try them in sweet or savory dishes. They can be added to smoothies, sprinkled over porridge or even made into crackers," says Celine Beitchman, director of nutrition at the Institute of Culinary Education, which has campuses in New York City and Los Angeles. "We use chia seeds in puddings, toasted and added to spice mixes or used as a salad garnish. They are very versatile, so feel free to experiment!"
When blended with water or liquids, like soy or almond milk, chia seeds become gel-like and can be used as a substitute for other wet ingredients, particularly eggs. Chia seeds absorb up to 27 times their weight in water, so you'll want to avoid eating them dry — there are instances of people eating dry chia seeds, which then became enlarged internally and needed to be surgically removed.
"There are plenty of delicious recipes out there for chia seed puddings," says Allen-Duenas, "though I do prefer to use them as an egg substitute in baking. Feel free to mix them into cakes, muffins and the like to add a healthy boost to your baked goods."
If you've purchased a big bag of chia seeds, only to later realize how long it will take to eat them a tablespoon at a time, don't worry: It takes up to five years for chia seeds to expire. Store them in a cool, dry place, and you'll have a nutrition source that will outlast a U.S. presidential cycle.
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