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The health benefits of chia seeds — and how to use them

There’s a reason why so many health and nutrition pros keep chia seeds on hand.

Prized by the Aztecs and Maya for their ability to provide long-lasting energy, chia seeds have long been used as a superfood. Native to Mexico and Guatemala, chia seeds are related to mint and come from the Salvia hispanica plant. And yes, they are the same chia seeds sold in “Chia Pet” kits.

Chia seeds have become a common ingredient in healthy recipes, from pumpkin spice muffins to overnight oats to TikTok famous chia seed water. But many people wonder just how many chia seeds they can eat on a daily basis, what the best way is to make chia pudding and whether there are any downsides to eating the tiny seed. We break this wellness trend down for you right here!

 Spiced Pumpkin Muffins

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Spiced Pumpkin Muffins

Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN

The health benefits of chia

There’s a reason why so many health and nutrition pros keep chia seeds on hand. They’re a good source of protein, high in fiber and gluten-free. Plus, they’re rich in alpha linolenic acid (ALA), a type of plant-based omega-3 fatty acid that has anti-inflammatory benefits. A 2-tablespoon serving (which is a TON of seeds) has 150 calories, 10g of fiber, 6g of protein and 10g of fat, most of which is the healthy polyunsaturated variety.

In terms of how much chia to use each day, it’s smart to stick to the 2-tablespoon serving size. You’ll probably want to break this up throughout the day, adding a teaspoon or two to your smoothie, another teaspoon in your mid-morning yogurt, and the rest in recipes like chia pudding.

Chia and hydration

The diminutive seeds can absorb up to 10 times their weight in water. This means that when you eat chia pudding or chia gel, you’re also getting the liquid they absorbed along with it. Consuming liquids via chia can be smart for times when you don’t want to drink a lot of water, like before a race or a run, or even before bed.

Chia’s hydration benefits mean that the ingredient is also beneficial for healthy, glowing skin. Because chia include healthy fats, they’re also a smart ingredient for anyone dealing with dry skin.

The downsides of using chia seeds

When used properly, chia is an incredibly healthy ingredient. But some influencers on TikTok are recommending using it in a way that could be harmful to certain individuals. So-called “chia water” has been touted as a weight loss aid. Proponents of the trend claim that drinking the water helps promote weight loss by making you feel full due to the expansion of the seeds in your stomach.

While the fiber and protein content of chia seeds do make them a smart ingredient choice for anyone who wants to feel fuller longer — and avoid too many between meal snacks — they are not meant to block hunger. The potential danger of using chia water (basically chia seeds mixed with water) is that if you don’t allow the chia seeds to expand first, they could potentially cause an issue for people with dysphagia, other swallowing disorders, or diverticulitis. Chia seeds should not be consumed dry by the spoonful as they can mix with saliva to form a gel and possibly block the esophagus.

How to use and store chia seeds

Sprinkle chia seeds over cereal and yogurt, add them to smoothies and even soup. You can make a chia gel to use as a thickener in creamy soups and as an egg replacement. Combine ¼ cup of seeds with 2 cups of water, let stand for 15 to 30 minutes, then stir with a whisk. You can mix the get with mashed fresh fruit to make a jam, or with fruit juice or plant-milk to make chia pudding.

Berry-Chia Jam

You can also use chia seeds as a coating for energy bites. Simply roll the mixture into balls, then roll in the chia seeds to coat. And it’s a fantastic addition to homemade granola.

Due to their fat content, chia seeds should ideally be stored in a sealed bag or container in the refrigerator or freezer to increase their shelf-life.

Have fun experimenting with chia and don’t forget to stock up on dental floss — the seeds love to get stuck in your teeth!