Important Facts About Chia Seeds

I found an amazing buy today in a location that surprised me. While cruising through Costco with my hubby, we found a 32-ounce back of organic Chia Seeds for $6.89. For those who are familiar with chia seeds, you know that price is amazing. If you don’t have access to a Costco, you can also purchase chia seeds here: Two Pounds Chia Seeds.

I grabbed a bag and began using my new stash of chia seeds as soon as I got home. While pondering what to make first, it occurred to me that not everyone is familiar with chia seeds. This blog will hopefully change that. If you can make it to the end, you’ll find my favorite recipe.

The Latin name for chia seeds is Salvia hispanica. Please note: This variety of salvia is NOT the salvia that became a popular drug a few years ago due its hallucinogenic effects when smoked. (If you purchase chia seeds, you may want to explain this to your teenagers.) Chia seeds are, however, the same seeds that are used on Chia Pets. The seeds make great grass seed, too.

Chia seeds began being cultivated over 5000 years ago in Mexico. They were a dietary staple of the Mayan and Aztec cultures. “Chia” is actually a derivative of the Mayan word for “strength.” One Aztec legend claims Aztec warriors could survive for days on a very tiny amount (about a tablespoon) of chia seeds soaked in water. Modern-day athletes often find that chia seeds improve endurance and strength and help boost the effects of workouts. I find this very easy to believe, because the nutrient content of chia seeds includes extremely high quantities of the following nutrients:

  • Omega 3 fatty acids: Chia seeds are known for having strong anti-inflammatory properties, primarily because of the high amounts of omega 3 fatty acids they contain. One of the amazing things about chia seeds is that they provide a form of Omega 3s that does not have to be converted for use in the body, and the seeds are easily broken down during the digestive process. Many people rely on flax seeds as a vegetable source of Omega 3s, but the omega 3s in chia seeds are much more easily absorbed and do not need to be converted to be absorbed. The omega 3s in flax seeds must be converted before they can be absorbed by the human body, and the only way the essential fatty acids in flax seeds can be released for absorption is if the seeds are ground. Whole flax seeds pass through the digestive tract intact, providing little more than fiber. Chia seeds, on the other hand, have a seed casing that is easily broken down by the digestive process, allowing all of the nutrients in the seeds to be easily absorbed. The seeds also provide significant amounts of fiber. It’s a win-win! Ad additional advantage chia seeds have over flax seeds is that chia seeds can be stored up to two years in an air-tight container without having the oils in the seeds go rancid. The oils in flax seeds go rancid very quickly if the seeds are not refrigerated.
  • Calcium and other essential minerals: Ounce for ounce, chia seeds have 500% more calcium than milk (in a much more absorbable form) and also contain significant amounts of phosphorous, iron, potassium, magnesium, zinc, selenium, strontium, and other minerals. Because chia seeds are so easily digested and absorbed, some people consider them a “superfood” that is a viable alternative to multivitamins when combined with a green drink. Their large content of highly bioavailable calcium and strontium also make them a viable option for improving bone density.
  • Protein: Chia seeds are 20% protein, providing a complete protein containing all the essential amino acids the body requires but cannot manufacture for itself. This means that eating chia seeds by themselves provides a sustainable form of protein. Four tablespoons (two ounces) of dry chia seeds provides 8 grams of protein, which is a full serving. The protein in chia seeds is very easily absorbed. For that reason, chia seeds are often recommended to anyone needing additional protein in their diet, including children, pregnant women, and anyone recovering from surgery or trauma. Chia seeds have also recently become a popular food for body builders.
  • Fiber: One ounce of chia seeds contains 11 grams of fiber, which is about 1/3 of what most people require for good digestive health. Increased fiber intake is also often recommended to anyone trying to lose weight. An added benefit for weight loss is that one ounce of chia seeds contains 12 grams of carbohydrates. This makes chia seeds an extremely low glycemic-index food that impacts blood sugar very, very slowly. For me personally, I can eat a large amount of soaked chia seeds without seeing any increase in blood glucose levels and without requiring any insulin. Some diabetics report including chia seeds in any meal containing carbohydrates because the chia seeds help to delay the impact the carbohydrates have on blood sugar.
  • Antioxidants: Chia seeds are loaded with antioxidants. They have more antioxidants per ounce than blueberries, providing 844 ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) per ounce. Antioxidants are known to fight free radicals and slow the aging process, so eating high amounts is always advised.
  • Vitamins: Chia seeds contain significant amounts of all B vitamins, significant amounts of Vitamin C, and also contain high amounts of the fat-soluble vitamins E, D and K.
  • Water: Although dry chia seeds do not contain any water by themselves, they are capable of absorbing up to 20 times their weight in water, and they absorb it very quickly. This is helpful for anyone struggling with dehydration, as they can drink the soaked seeds and know the water will reach their large colon for absorption. Their ability to absorb large amounts of liquid also provides ample opportunity for experimentation making drinks and puddings. More on that in a bit. They make a great gel that has a variety of uses. To make a “pudding,” I typically blend three to four parts liquid to one part chia seeds by volume. Simply add more or less liquid to control the thickness of the blend. (A quick and easy pudding can be made by blending 3/4 cup chocolate hemp milk with 1/4 cup chia seeds and allowing to soak for 10-20 minutes. Delicious!)
  • Energy: I guess this isn’t a nutritional content topic, but most people find that eating chia seeds provides solid energy that doesn’t fade. Their nutritional content helps maintain stable blood sugars and provides plenty of protein and nutrition to keep a body going. I highly recommend!

You now know how wonderful chia seeds, so let’s talk about how to incorporate them in your daily meals. Please start with very small amounts if you have never tried Chia seeds before or if your diet does not contain high amounts of protein. Their high protein content can create some issues (diarrhea, bloating) if people start with too much too quickly. I also don’t recommend chia seeds to anyone with diverticular disease, as their tiny size easily fits into inflamed pockets.

By themselves, they are a bit crunchy and have a very slight nutty flavor. (Their flavor is so slight they are virtually unnoticeable when added to dishes or beverages.) They make a great addition to smoothies and taste wonderful sprinkled over salads, stirred into yogurt or cottage cheese, etc. Following are some unique ways to add them to common foods:

  • Sprinkle them over sandwiches (they are especially delicious in any sandwich containing almond or peanut butter)
  • Stir into protein drinks
  • Add to ice cream when making home made ice cream
  • Add to coffee beans before grinding to get a few of the health benefits without adding much taste to the coffee
  • Add them to salsa: they help prevent salsa from becoming “watery” as the juice leaks out of the tomatoes and add a nice texture to salsa
  • Sprinkle them over pizzas
  • Sprinkle over cucumber salads
  • Stir two tablespoons (or more based on your taste) into 16 ounces of fruit juice and allow to “gel” for ten minutes – this makes a drink called “Chia Fresca” that is very popular in Mexico and Central America. Several companies now make chia drinks that can be purchased in health food stores. The ones made by Mamma Chia are my favorites. (Their high carbohydrate content is somewhat offset by the chia seeds, but diabetics should consume them cautiously.)
  • Stir into hummus or any dip or spread
  • Stir a tablespoon or two into a 16-ounce glass of lemonade or other flavored drink
  • Mix one teaspoon of chia seeds with 1/4 cup water and use as an egg substitute
  • Grind and substitute for up to 1/4 any flour
  • Add to sauces you’re using to brush over meat while it cooks
  • Add to meat marinades
  • Grind and use in place of flour or bread crumbs in meatloaf
  • Add to pancakes (this is especially delicious if you soak them in fruit juice first)
  • Sprout the seeds and add to salads (or cover a terra cotta head … your choice)
  • Add to oatmeal or other hot cereal
  • Add to granola and include while making
  • Blend with butter and honey for a delicious spread for toast or bagels
  • Add to soups or to slow cooker masterpieces
  • In all honesty, I haven’t found any dish that can’t have chia seeds added successfully … have fun experimenting!

Here’s my favorite breakfast “pudding” blend. I love this because I can toss the jar in the car on my way to work and munch on the pudding throughout the day. It’s delicious, filling and very energizing!

Protein-Packed Chia Pudding

In a quart-size Mason jar, blend the following:

  • 24 ounces (3 cups) purified water or milk substitute of choice (You can also use regular milk, but I prefer not to)
  • 1 scoop protein powder of choice – use flavored or unflavored based on choice. My favorite is Vibrant Health PureGreen Protein in either vanilla, chocolate or berry.

Blend well and then add 1 cup of dry chia seeds. Stir and then shake the jar well. Allow to soak for five minutes and stir well. Stir again after ten minutes. If you want to enjoy the pudding immediately, allow it to soak 10-20 minutes. I blend mine at night and let it soak overnight. That way it’s ready to go as I walk out the door in the morning. Since I don’t use any ingredients that can spoil, I don’t refrigerate the pudding overnight, but do refrigerate it once I get to work.

If you would like to receive additional information about ways to improve your health using simple dietary changes, please feel free to schedule a consultation. You may email me or call 317.489.0909 to schedule.

Have you tried chia seeds? What did you think? Please share your experiences and thoughts.

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Dr. Pamela Reilly is a Naturopathic Physician dedicated to helping people improve their health and eliminate symptoms using natural, integrative methods. She has over 25 years of experience and has helped men, women and children improve their health using a holistic, client-centered focus. She sees clients in Indianapolis, does house calls, and also conducts consultations via Skype or telephone. Please feel free to contact her or visit her Consultations page for more information. Dr. Pamela speaks nationwide on a wide variety of health topics and welcomes speaking invitations.

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52 Responses to Important Facts About Chia Seeds

  1. Renee says:

    I have recently added chia seeds to help combat my iron induced constipation. I soak a tablespoon overnight in water and mix with more water, lemon juice and ACV in the morning. I am confused. A nutritionalist told me that you get more nutritional benefit from the chia seeds if they soak overnight at room temp vs. in the fridge, but I can’t find anything else about this anywhere. Does anyone have any info about this.

  2. Yolanda Tomas says:

    I’ve been looking all over the Internet but I could never find the answer to my question which is
    “Can chia seeds be placed in any liquid (Expect water) like coke, coffee,orange juice, etc… affect how well or how long it takes the chia seeds to expand?”

  3. Sarah Y. says:

    Can I add chia seeds to my almond milk or coconut milk before I freeze it into cubes to use in smoothies for later? I just wanted to make sure it doesn’t affect the nutritional value of the seeds.

  4. RSI says:

    If chia seeds are a perfect protein, why would you need to add protein powder to your recipe? Does it not have everything you need?

  5. lucy Hernandez says:

    Hi Dr . Pamela im a Lupus patient and un need of help

  6. Lenna says:

    I bought a bag of ground chia seeds. I did not see that they should be refrigerated after opening and used within 3-4 months unless frozen. Since you say they have a very long shelf life–are they still good? They have an expiration date of 4/16; however, they have been open for quite a few months unrefrigerated.

    • That’s hard to say. Expiration dates often refer to the best sell by date and not to the date the product expires. If the seeds don’t smell bad and the flour still flows well (isn’t clumped together), I would probably use it. It’s best to throw it away, though.

  7. Tracey says:

    I have some Costco Mamma Chia squeeze packs. Expired 10/14. Do you think I can still drink it? It is very good but I forgot I had them. I know it says “best used by”. I’m wondering if that’s because potency…

    Thanks in advance!

    • Not sure about that. Does it state it’s an “expiration” date or a “best by” date? Many package dates are not truly expiration dates but are guides for the store to know when an item should be sold by. If it were just the seeds, I’d say go for it. Since those drinks have sugars and liquids that could potentially grow bacteria, I’d proceed with caution.

  8. martha says:

    I have been consuming chia seeds for a long time and was dismayed when I bought them at Costco just recently. The cost could not be beat there and was so happy to find them organic and at such a good price. Though when I opened the bag, they smell rancid. My other chias don’t have a smell. Am I imagining this? I am very disappointed and they don’t expire until 2017. I do believe they keep well in general. I wonder if it just the plastic they used in the packaging. 🙁

  9. Anya says:

    Hi, I was wondering if it matters wether or not you eat the chia seeds dry? Will your body still absorb and get the same benefits or is it better if you let them soak in water? Thanks!

    • Hi, Anya. Chia seeds usually pass through undigested unless they’re soaked. They make a great source of fiber either way, but provide larger nutritional value when soaked before eating. Great question! Thanks!

  10. Brenda Moon says:

    Dr Pamela, Thank you so much for such an incredibly informative post about Chia! This is the best article I’ve ever read on the benefits of Chia! I’ve been making Chia pudding using Thai Kitchen coconut milk & homemade vanilla extract for a couple years and everyone loves it. Your post has certainly broadened my horizons for using Chia!

  11. Hello, I purchased chia seeds a couple of years ago and could never find an expiration date. Finally last week I did find that they expired 12/31/13. Do you think they are still ok? I purchased several in plastic jars and most have never been opened.


    • Chia seeds are an item stored by many preppers specifically because they store so well, so I doubt they’ve gone bad. If they smell fine and look fine, they’re probably ok. Thanks!

  12. Debbie says:

    Hi. I have am wondering, I make green smoothies almost on a daily basis. I put Chia seeds and flax seed powered in my drink. I am told that my breath smells like pot. Can you tell me which one might do it and why? Is it the way I digest it? Just so you know, my green in usually kale and cucumber or sometimes spinach.

    Please help thanks!

  13. Liz says:

    Pamela – I must share this story with you. A month ago you posted this article on Facebook. I read it, was intrigued and bought a bag the next times was at whole foods. I added it occasionally to meals but it wasn’t until this week that I found another hidden benefit! I broke my foot on Saturday and the doc gave me some heavy pain meds. As you know one of the negative side effects is constipation so I started eating chai seeds with every meal and I’d like to report that they worked perfectly. :-). Thank you for the recommendation!

  14. Geri says:

    Great information!!! Recently started trying chia seeds in our protein shakes but had no clue they were this nutritious! We will try some of your other suggestions for sure – thanks!

  15. Glenys says:

    I discovered Chia only recently and I profess that having suffered from joint problems and menopause and I am also diabetic and asthmatic, which medications have not helped at all, since using Chia I have had my first eye exam in almost 10 years where I have had no bleeds in my eyes, my first great control BSL in 3 months, my joints and mobility are much improved. My energy levels are much better and I suffer less from depressive mood swings. This is a great dietary addition and I cant recommend it enough. Chia keeps extremely well in the cupboard or the fridge and is just so easy consume. I now add it to most of my foods and cooking.

  16. Maggie says:

    Also, i’ve tried eating the “white” chia seeds raw and to me they’re bitter tasting than the black chia seeds.

  17. Maggie says:

    I had put chia seeds in my water bottle last night, but i forgot to refrigerate the water bottle. so essentially the water bottle has been sitting out for almost 24 hrs. should i toss the water or is it safe to drink?

  18. Jackie says:

    I recently found out the health benefits of chia seeds and just purchased my 1st bag. Is it ok to just pop a small amount into my mouth and eat them that way? I want to make sure I get the full health benefits from eating these seeds.

    • GWWR says:

      Hi, Jackie. Yes, you can just pop them in your mouth and eat them, but you’ll find they are easier to digest if they are included in a bit of liquid and allowed to soak a bit first. The nutrients will also be easier for your body to absorb and utilize.

  19. Denise says:

    Do chia seeds go rancid when stored outside of refrigerator or freezer? What is the best way to store them? How long will they keep? I bought 5 lbs and I know it will last a long time. I put them in a gallon glass container. Now I don’t know how I should store it. Thank you.

    • GWWR says:

      Hi, Denise. Chia seeds are known to have a shelf life of about five years, so yours should be fine unrefrigerated. The seeds are actually a very popular “survival food” stored for long periods of time by those wishing to stockpile foods for potential disaster.

      • Susan says:

        I bought the same chia seeds at Costco you did but then they got hidden behind things and when I found them they are way past the use by date (6/23/2012) so I am afraid to use them. D you think they are okay. They’ve been up in my cabinet. I guess they smell okay but since I don’t remember what they smelled like at the time a bought them… Tanks for any advice. I hate to throw it away.

        • GWWR says:

          They should be fine. Chia seeds can be kept for long periods of time without spoiling. That is why they were such a favorite of the Aztecs, and is also why many groups who advocate storing a year’s worth of food love them. Enjoy them to the fullest!

  20. Jenna says:

    Hi. I have made chia seed pudding before and loved it. I bought more of the same brand and this time they won’t gel no matter what I do. I keep adding more and still the almond milk won’t gel. Do you have any idea why this would happen? I have put almost about 1/2 cup chia to 1 cup of milk and it’s still entirely liquid after sitting over night. Thanks.

    • GWWR says:

      That’s kind of strange, Jenna. Does the Chia look like Chia? Is it raw? It does not sound as if what you bought is behaving as Chia seeds should. This makes me think it’s either not genuine Chia seeds or was perhaps toasted. Also … make sure it is indeed Chia seeds and not another seed or grain. Some of the seeds are easily mixed up. Good luck!

      • Veronica says:

        I’m having the same problem as Jenna. I recently read all about the great benefits that chia seeds have to offer & quickly ran out to purchase a bag. I bought my bag from Trader Joe’s but the seeds won’t gel in the almond milk (I was trying to make chia seed pudding). I have left them sitting overnight & though they have expanded a tiny bit, they have not fully “gelled” and they certainly do not look like any of the examples in the youtube videos that I’ve seen. Is it possible that I got a bad bunch?

        • That’s really strange. Please don’t be offended, but is it truly Chia seeds? Other seeds won’t absorb the liquid, but chia should. I’m not sure what’s wrong with the batch you got, but that is a very strange result. i hope you’re able to figure it out!

          • Jenna says:

            Just wanted to follow up. After checking with the company that I purchase the seeds from, they informed me that they had received a bad batch of chia seeds. They refunded me and I discarded them. I haven’t had any problems with the new brand I purchased.

          • So glad to hear that! Thanks for letting me know!! Glad things worked out well. Impressive customer service!

  21. Cindy Ortiz says:

    Thank you for the information on Chia Seeds!!!! I just heard about them the other day so it was great to find so much valuable information!

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