You probably know chia seeds as that superfood component of your favorite smoothie recipe. Now, they’ve grown so popular that people are drinking them straight as chia seed water. Some commercial chia seed beverages are even available in grocery stores. But are chia seeds all they’re cracked up to be? We asked a nutritionist to give us the details.
What exactly are chia seeds?
“Chia seeds are robustly nutritious seeds that originate from the plant Salvia Hispanic L,” says Alicia Romano, M.S., R.D., L.D.N., C.N.S.C., registered dietitian at Tufts Medical Center and media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics. “The seed itself is a complete protein and one of the richest sources of omega-3 fatty acids.” One thing that makes chia seeds unique is that they absorb water quickly and can take in up to 10 times their weight in liquid, creating a gel-like texture.
What are the benefits of eating chia seeds?
- Improved heart health: Chia seeds are rich in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) a type of omega-3 fatty acid that comes mainly from plants. In the human body, ALA can be converted to two other omega-3 fatty acids — eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). We know that omega 3 fatty acids are essential for a healthy cardiovascular system, but scientists are still trying to figure out how they work— whether they lower cholesterol, lower the risk of strokes and heart attacks, or reduce blood pressure.
- Better glucose control: One study on rats found that a diet regularly containing chia seeds or oil from the seeds improved their response to glucose and insulin, while another found a diet of chia seeds improved a number of metabolic factors in insulin-resistant rats. More research needs to be done on humans, but chia seeds seems to help balance blood sugar because their high fiber content slows the absorption of sugar.
- Smoother digestion: Yes, it all comes back to the F-word: fiber. Chia seeds are an abundant source of fiber, topping the charts at 10g in 2 tablespoons — “one third of the daily fiber recommendation for American men,” says Romano. It’s nearly half of the fiber recommendation for most women. On top of that, Romano notes that the fiber in chia seeds is mainly soluble fiber, which helps you feel full and slows down digestion.
How do you drink chia seeds with water?
“Chia seed water is essentially just chia seeds and water, although some recipes call for flavorings such as citrus or sweeteners,” says Romano. “The benefits would be the same as the general health benefits of eating chia seeds.” However, suddenly adding a ton of fiber to your diet can result in stomach discomfort, so if you’re new to chia seeds you might not want to down a whole glass of the stuff. Romano recommends increasing your water intake and adding chia seeds gradually to your diet, whether you mix them into oatmeal or a smoothie, or drink a smaller amount of chia seed water. Remember, everything should be done in moderation.
Here are four delicious ways to eat chia seeds:
- Add them directly into foods like smoothies, yogurt, soup, oatmeal, or porridge.
- Create a “chia gel” of ¼ cup of chia seeds with 1 cup of liquid. “This gel can then be used as a nutritional booster and thickener for a variety of foods,” says Romano.
- Make chia pudding by mixing ¼ cup chia seeds with 1 cup of milk (dairy or nondairy) and topping with fruits and nuts. “This is a fan favorite and can be used as a dessert, snack, or breakfast,” says Romano.
- Add 2 tablespoons of chia seeds to your go-to overnight oats recipe to give it a nutritional punch while offering a thick consistency.