Chia: Tiny but Mighty

Chia is not just the name of your favorite 90s plant pet. It is one of the oldest sources of nutrition in the world, documented to have been cultivated and consumed by the ancient Mayans and Aztecs as early as 3500 BC.

Chia is a superfood. It provides the highest combined plant source of protein, fiber, and omega-3 fatty acids, as well as a range of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. This richly nutritive food offers far-reaching health benefits, from improved brain function and digestion, to weight loss and healthy hair, skin, and nails.

Chia is packed with protein.

The protein found in chia seeds contains all nine essential amino acids, which makes it a ‘complete’ protein. Unlike the protein that comes from animal sources, the protein in chia does not have harmful cholesterol, known to cause heart disease. A single one-ounce serving of chia seeds has 4.4 grams of protein, nearly 10 percent of the recommended daily intake, making chia seeds a great, healthy source of protein for vegetarians and omnivores alike.

Chia is extremely high in dietary fiber.

This is essential not only to digestive regularity, but also to the absorption of other nutrients. Chia has high levels of both soluble and insoluble fiber. Insoluble fiber is the component we all know for moving things along in our digestive tract. But there’s more to it than that.

The soluble fiber found in chia can actually help inhibit your body’s absorption of fat and carbohydrates. When soluble fiber mixes with fluid in your stomach, it forms a gel that prevents the rapid uptake of carbs, including sugar and starch. This means it can help lower bad cholesterol (LDL) and glucose levels in the blood.

On top of that, the dietary fiber found in chia seeds aids in healthy weight loss and maintenance efforts because its bulk makes you feel fuller faster and the slow release of its nutrients allows the digestive tract to slowly absorb and utilize the energy over an extended period of time, which also helps endurance.

Chia seeds contain omega-3 fatty acids.

There are nearly 5 grams of Omega-3s in a one-ounce serving. Omega-3s are considered essential fatty acids because they are necessary for human health, but must be obtained through food sources as the body cannot produce them. Fatty acids are important for cardiovascular and brain health and reduce inflammation. Without these vital nutrients which help to ensure normal nerve-cell function, learning and memory capabilities become significantly impaired. Omega-3 fatty acids in chia seeds can help reduce the risk of stroke and heart disease; temper some autoimmune diseases like lupus; reduce the risk of breast, colon, and prostate cancer; reduce the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis; improve mood disorders; and alleviate high blood pressure.

Plant-based calcium builds stronger bones.

Calcium is necessary for strong, healthy bones and teeth. But the common belief that dairy is the best source of calcium is gross misunderstanding. Animal-based sources of calcium contain high amounts of protein, which consist of sulfur-based amino acids that are acidic in nature. The body thrives at an alkaline pH, so in order to counteract this acidity and rebalance a healthy pH, calcium–an alkalizing mineral–is leached from your bones.

Studies have not only shown that dairy is not a good source of calcium; they have shown it to be the worst source of calcium. According to Dr. Amy Lanou, nutrition director for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, “The countries with the highest rates of osteoporosis are the ones where people drink the most milk, and have the most calcium in their diets…the connection between dairy consumption and bone health is almost non-existent.” Plus, even if dairy were a good, healthy source, chia would still be better because it contains 5.4 times as much calcium as animal sources!

The calcium from plant-based sources like chia is naturally bound with other proteins, vitamins, and phytonutrients, and they are alkaline foods. That means the mineral is safely and efficiently absorbed and stored directly in the bones.

Chia is loaded with vitamins and nutrients.

These tiny specks of seeds pack a major punch when it comes to vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Iron, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, copper, manganese, vitamin C, zinc, B-complex vitamins, and vitamins A and E are all present in chia. Iron can be challenging to incorporate if you don’t eat red meat, but chia contains 2.7 times more iron even than raw spinach. Manganese is good for your bones and helps your body effectively use other essential nutrients like thiamin and biotin. In addition to aiding in bone strength, phosphorus maintains kidney health and regulates fluid level and magnesium prevents abnormal blood clotting. Potassium regulates blood pressure and maintains healthy water levels in your cells.

Here are a few recipes for you to try:

Coconut & Vanilla Chia Seed Pudding

Sticky Bun Chia Pudding

Gluten-Free Chicken Nuggets

Blackberry Chia Jam

Lemon Chia Seed Pancakes

The list of reasons why chia should be integrated into your diet goes on and on. It promotes cardiovascular health, bone density, and healthy weight, while fighting free radicals and inflammation with tons of antioxidants. Chia is virtually tasteless and easy to incorporate in your diet. Sprinkle it on salads, in cereal and oatmeal, or into soups. Add it into yogurt and smoothies. Use ground chia seeds to thicken soups and sauces, or make a gluten-free breading mixture when you make chicken cutlets. Replace eggs with chia and water for vegan baking. You can even make chia pudding for a healthy, raw, vegan dessert! Chia is an easy way to get nutrients you need, so do your body good by eating some chia every day.

Originally published at on June 1, 2015.