Chia Seeds: Why They’re Great and How to Eat Them

Chia seeds? What are those about?

I’ll admit it: I love chia seeds! That may be why I was asked to write about this little nutrition powerhouse that is oh so yummy and oh so GOOD for you!

So, really, what IS the chia seed? If you grew up in the 1980s, you may remember a strange household plant and a catchy jingle: "Ch-Ch-Ch-Chia!" While these plant-pets were fun to look at, the seeds of the Chia Pet have been growing in sales at your local market and health-food aisles for the past few years. The chia plant reportedly has its origins in ancient Aztec, Mayan and Incan diets, believed to be used for energy and strength. This isn’t too far-fetched, considering that 2 tablespoons of chia seeds contain:

  • 6 grams of protein
  • 10 grams of fiber
  • 160 milligrams of calcium
  • 9 grams of omega-3 fats (the healthy ones)
  • Minerals including calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus and zinc
  • Vitamins B2, B3 and C
  • All essential amino acids
  • Antioxidants including flavonoids and phenolic acids

When added to liquid, dry chia seeds immediately begin to expand, forming a hydrogel capsule. This is one of the reasons you may feel fuller after eating chia seeds, and may also be why there are numerous claims about chia seeds and weight maintenance. While there is no doubt about the nutritional benefits in the chia seed, don’t get caught up in the miracle hype just yet. In a 2009 study, researchers found the consumption of chia did not reduce weight or disease risk. Emerging research suggests including chia seeds in an overall healthy diet may improve cardiovascular risk factors (such as lowering cholesterol, triglycerides and blood pressure), but results have been inconclusive. Researchers and dietitians still suggest eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and dairy products to improve overall health.

So how do you eat these super seeds?

Chia seeds can be eaten dry or mixed with your favorite foods. The easiest way is simply to sprinkle them on top of a salad or mix them into soup or your favorite yogurt. Just remember, adding chia seeds to a liquid makes them expand, causing your food to become thicker.

More great ways to incorporate chia seeds into recipes:

  • If you like tapioca pudding, you’ll love chia seed pudding made with milk and/or Greek yogurt.
  • Like oatmeal for breakfast? You’ll love these easy overnight oats made with milk and chia seeds!
  • Did you buy too much fruit at the farmers market? Don’t throw it out! Try making your own jam with chia seeds. This recipe for an easy chia seed strawberry jam is excellent!
  • For staying hydrated on those hot summer days, a traditional Mexican beverage called Chia Fresca can be delicious and refreshing.

Chia seeds can be purchased at any major grocer or specialty store, or you can purchase them online. They come either in ground or whole form or in a variety of colors: white, black, gray or brown. (There is no nutritional difference between the varieties.) Chia seeds will keep for up to two years in the pantry or up to four years in the freezer/refrigerator.

If you’ve been curious about this trendy food and want to see what all the excitement is about, jump on in! Despite their small appearance, these little seeds are large on nutrition, easy to prepare and a great addition to any diet. Ready to revolutionize your recipes? Add chia to some of our favorites!

By Jenna Allen, M.S., RDN

Jenna is a registered dietitian with a passion for communicating science in an approachable way. She has been part of the Dairy MAX team since 2008. When she isn't working, Jenna is trying out new recipes with her three kids and working on her food photography. Learn more about Jenna.

Get Content Like This in Your Inbox.