Chia seeds are the tiny black seeds of the chia plant (Salvia hispanica).

Native to Mexico and Guatemala, they were a staple food for the ancient Aztecs and Mayans. In fact, "chia" is the ancient Mayan word for "strength" (1).

Chia seeds contain large amounts of fiber and omega-3 fatty acids, plenty of high-quality protein, and several essential minerals and antioxidants.

They may improve digestive health, blood levels of heart-healthy omega-3s, and risk factors for heart disease and diabetes.

Chia seeds are small, flat, and ovular with a shiny and smooth texture. Their color ranges from white to brown or black (2).

These seeds are highly versatile. They can be soaked and added to porridge, made into pudding, used in baked goods, or simply sprinkled on top of salads or yogurt.

Because of their ability to absorb liquid and form a gel, they can also be used to thicken sauces or as an egg replacement (3, 4).

This article provides everything you need to know about chia seeds.

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Chia seeds contain 138 calories per ounce (28 grams).

By weight, they are 6% water, 46% carbohydrates (of which 83% is fiber), 34% fat, and 19% protein.

The nutrients in 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of chia seeds are (5):

  • Calories: 486
  • Water: 6%
  • Protein: 16.5 grams
  • Carbs: 42.1 grams
  • Sugar: 0 grams
  • Fiber: 34.4 grams
  • Fat: 30.7 grams
    • Saturated: 3.33 grams
    • Monounsaturated: 2.31 grams
    • Polyunsaturated: 23.67 grams
    • Omega-3: 17.83 grams
    • Omega-6: 5.84 grams
    • Trans: 0.14 grams

Notably, chia seeds are also free of gluten.

Carbs and Fiber

More than 80% of the carb content of chia seeds is in the form of fiber.

A single ounce (28 grams) of chia seeds boasts 11 grams of fiber, which is a significant portion of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI) for women and men — 25 and 38 grams per day, respectively (6).

These fibers are mostly insoluble (95%), a type associated with reduced diabetes risk (7, 8, 9, 10).

Some of the insoluble fibers may also be fermented in your gut like soluble fibers, promoting the formation of short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) and improving colon health (6, 11).

When chia seeds are placed in water or other liquids, their fibers absorb up to 10–12 times their own weight — and the seeds turn into a gel-like mass (7).

Fat

One of the unique characteristics of chia seeds is their high content of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.

About 75% of the fats in chia seeds consist of the omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), while about 20% consist of omega-6 fatty acids (12, 13, 14).

In fact, chia seeds are the best known plant-based source of omega-3 fatty acids — even better than flax seeds (15, 16).

Some scientists believe that a high intake omega-3 relative to omega-6 reduces inflammation in your body (17).

As they’re a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, chia seeds promote a lower omega-6 to omega-3 ratio.

A low ratio is associated with a lower risk of various chronic conditions — such as heart disease, cancer, and inflammatory diseases — and premature death (17, 18).

However, gram for gram, the omega-3 fatty acids in chia seeds are not nearly as potent as those found in fish or fish oil (EPA and DHA).

The ALA found in chia needs to be converted into the active forms (EPA and DHA) before your body can utilize it, and this process is often inefficient (19, 20, 21, 22, 23).

Protein

Chia seeds contain 19% protein — similar to other seeds but more than most cereals and grains (13, 24, 25, 26).

High protein intake is associated with increased fullness after meals and reduced food intake (27, 28).

Notably, these seeds offer all nine essential amino acids and are thus a high-quality plant-based protein. However, they are not recommended as the sole protein source for children (29, 30).

SUMMARY Chia seeds are packed with fiber and among the best plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which have numerous health benefits. They’re also loaded with quality protein.

Chia seeds provide high amounts of many minerals but are a poor source of vitamins.

The most abundant minerals are:

  • Manganese. Whole grains and seeds are rich in manganese, which is essential for metabolism, growth, and development (31).
  • Phosphorus. Usually found in protein-rich foods, phosphorus contributes to bone health and tissue maintenance (32).
  • Copper. A mineral often lacking in the modern diet, copper is important for heart health (33).
  • Selenium: An important antioxidant, selenium is involved in many processes in your body (34).
  • Iron. As a component of hemoglobin in red blood cells, iron is involved in the transport of oxygen throughout the body. It may be poorly absorbed from chia seeds due to their phytic acid content.
  • Magnesium. Often lacking in the Western diet, magnesium plays important roles in many bodily processes (35).
  • Calcium. The most abundant mineral in your body, calcium is essential for bones, muscles, and nerves (36).

The absorption of some minerals, such as iron and zinc, may be reduced because of the phytic acid content of chia seeds.

SUMMARY Chia seeds are an excellent source of many essential minerals but a poor source of vitamins. They are high in manganese, phosphorus, copper, selenium, iron, magnesium, and calcium.

Chia seeds contain a number of beneficial plant compounds, including (12, 14, 37):

  • Chlorogenic acid. This antioxidant may lower blood pressure (38, 39).
  • Caffeic acid. This substance is abundant in many plant foods and may help fight inflammation in your body (40).
  • Quercetin. This powerful antioxidant may reduce your risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, and certain forms of cancer (41, 42, 43).
  • Kaempferol. This antioxidant has been associated with a decreased risk of cancer and other chronic diseases (44, 45).

Clean, dry chia seeds have an extended shelf life, as their antioxidants protect their fats from damage (46, 47).

SUMMARY Chia seeds contain many powerful antioxidants that may reduce your risk of chronic illnesses, such as heart disease and cancer.

Chia seeds have become increasingly popular in recent years because of their high nutritional value and alleged health benefits.

Their main health benefits are listed below.

Increased Blood Levels of Omega-3

Omega-3 fatty acids are incredibly important for your body and brain, and chia seeds are an excellent source of the omega-3 ALA.

However, ALA needs to be converted into the active forms, such as EPA, before your body can use it.

Studies in humans and animals have shown that chia seeds may raise blood levels of ALA up to 138% and EPA up to 39% (23, 48, 49, 50, 51).

Improved Blood Sugar Control

Having healthy blood sugar levels is crucial for optimal health.

Animal studies demonstrate that chia seeds reduce insulin resistance and improve blood sugar control, which are important risk factors for metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease (52, 53, 54, 55).

Human studies show that bread made with chia seeds causes a reduced blood sugar response compared to more traditional breads (56, 57).

Lower Blood Pressure

High blood pressure is a major risk factor for chronic diseases, such as heart disease.

Chia seeds and chia flour have both been found to lower blood pressure in individuals who already have elevated levels (58, 59).

Increased Fiber Intake

Most people don’t consume enough fiber (60).

High fiber intake is linked to improved gut health and a lower risk of numerous diseases (61, 62).

A single ounce (28 grams) of chia seeds provides 11 grams of fiber, which is 29% and 44% of the RDI for men and women, respectively.

Due to their extraordinary water-absorbing capacity, chia seeds increase the volume of foods in your digestive tract, leading to increased fullness and decreased food intake.

What’s more, they’re particularly high in insoluble fibers, which have been linked to a decreased risk of diabetes, increased stool bulk, and reduced constipation (8, 9, 63).

SUMMARY Chia seeds have numerous benefits, including lower blood pressure, improved blood sugar control, and higher fiber and omega-3 levels.

No adverse effects have been reported from consuming chia seeds (64).

However, to avoid possible digestive side effects, drink plenty of water when eating them — especially if they have not been pre-soaked.

Phytic Acid Content

Like all seeds, chia seeds contain phytic acid.

Phytic acid is a plant compound that binds with minerals, such as iron and zinc, and inhibits their uptake from foods (65).

Blood-Thinning Effect

Large doses of omega-3 fats, such as those from fish oils, may have blood-thinning effects (66).

If you are taking blood-thinning medications, consult with your medical provider before incorporating large amounts of chia seeds into your diet. Omega-3 fatty acids may affect the activity of your medication (67, 68).

SUMMARY Chia seeds generally do not cause any adverse effects. However, they may have blood-thinning effects in large doses, and they contain a plant compound that can reduce mineral absorption.

Chia seeds are very rich in fiber, antioxidants, minerals, and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.

They have been linked to improvement in risk factors for heart disease and diabetes, as well as benefits for digestion and gut health.

Chia seeds are very easy to incorporate into a healthy diet.