Chia seeds seem to be a constant buzzworthy superfood making an appearance in everything from smoothies to snack bars and even cereal. But do these seeds — which come from a flowering plant native to Mexico and Central America — live up the hype? We turned to the experts to learn about all things chia and examine how the truth compares to the claims.
"Chia seeds are packed full of heart-healthy fats, including omega-3 fatty acids," says Sharon Palmer, RDN, author of Plant-Powered for Life. "In addition, they're rich in protein and calcium," chimed in Beth Warren, MS, RDN, CDN, author of Living a Real Life With Real Food.
Although the nutrient benefits of consuming chia are abundant, just incorporating chia into your diet alone won't transform your health.
"It won't cure cancer or help your heart all on its own, but it's an extra healthy food you should include in your diet more often," Palmer says.
The Benefits of Eating Chia Seeds
So what can eating chia seeds do for your health? Consuming a diet rich in plant-based fats and fiber has been linked with improved cardiovascular health and improved body weight; however, it's important to remember no one food on its own significantly improves weight or health.
"Incorporating chia seeds into your diet won't cause weight loss in and of itself," Warren says."However, when they're added to an overall healthful diet, the high fiber content — which has been shown to aid in weight loss — will have a positive effect."
When a certain food is touted as a superfood, it's often subject to a "health halo" of sorts where it's easy to forget that consuming more isn't always better when you're trying to reduce body weight.
"Due to their high nutrient content, people often forget chia seeds are a rich source of calories with 138 calories and 9 grams of fat per one ounce serving," Warren says.
When working to lose weight, incorporating chia seeds as part of a reduced-calorie meal plan may help provide the best results.
Where to Find Chia Seeds
Chia seeds can be found in the grain aisle at most grocery stores. They are sold in black and white seed form, both as whole seeds as well as in ground or milled form.
"There's no need to grind chia seeds, but if you do select milled chia, make sure to purchase a brand you know and trust since the quality of the seeds can't be evaluated," Palmer says.
The grocery store isn't the only place you can find chia seeds. You can actually sprout them at home the same way you would grow alfalfa or mung bean sprouts.
"Simply moisten, cover the seed, then place them in a warm environment and allow them to germinate and grow sprouts. The process only takes about four days," Palmer says. "But take care when sprouting chia. Sprouts are often easy targets for foodborne illness."
How to Incorporate Chia Seeds Into Your Meals
Once you have your chia seeds, you can incorporate them into some of your favorite recipes, even baking them into certain dishes.
"You can even make a chia egg," Palmer says. "Just combine the chia seeds with water to make a gel that can then be used to replace the egg in a baking recipe."
Chia seeds are incredibly versatile and provide almost limitless possibilities when it comes to incorporating them into your diet — from overnight oats to chia chicken nuggets. By adding chia seeds into a diet rich in plant-based foods, you can easily help boost overall health, heart health, and promote a healthy body weight.