At just 129 calories and less than 9 grams of fat alongside a whopping 11 grams of fiber and 4 grams of protein per ounce, chia seeds can stabilize blood sugar, boost weight loss, keep your hunger at bay (hello, willpower!) and even help keep your body hydrated throughout the day. Are you on Team Chia yet? If you’re still on the fence about adding this health-store staple to your daily diet, here are five reasons to begin your courtship with this super-seed that go way beyond its affiliation with the furry toy garden you grew as a kid:
They Have Omega-3s Left, Right and Center
“Chia seeds are one of the best plant-based sources of omega-3s,” explains Carolyn Brown, MS, RD at Foodtrainers on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Omega-3s act as an anti-inflammatory and lower blood triglycerides, but, continues Brown, “omega-3s can also help you lose inches.” And, according to one Pennsylvania State University research study, the specific type of omega-3s derived from plant-based sources like chia seeds and flax, called ALAs, can decrease the risk of heart disease in the same way as those found in fish.
Get the Benefits: Kickstart your day with the power of omega-3s by having an all-star breakfast. Simple, easy-to-prepare foods like yogurt with one tablespoon of chia seeds on top or a quick, homemade smoothie with chia seeds, unsweetened almond milk and your favorite fruits will give you energy and keep your body humming all day.
Their Fiber Does the Body Good
We’ve said it once, but it’s worth saying again: Chia seeds pack in an impressive 11 grams of fiber in just two tablespoons, making it a fantastic appetite suppressant and one of the best weight loss foods. “All that fiber slows down the absorption of nutrients and the conversion of carbs to sugar, meaning you’ll be less likely to nosh an hour after breakfast or lunch,” Brown says. And science proves that fiber is even more powerful than that: In addition to lowering the risk of heart disease and type II diabetes, one study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that increasing dietary fiber intake can significantly lower the overall risk of death, meaning that tiny tablespoon of chia seeds will help you live a longer, healthier—and trimmer—life.
Get the Benefits: Getting a boost of fiber with your morning meal is the perfect way to keep yourself full and avoid giving in to those donuts in the office. Try sprinkling one tablespoon of chia seeds on a bowl of oatmeal to add texture and feel satiated straight through the morning.
One of the best ways to quell your mid-afternoon snack cravings is to make sure you’re getting enough water. Water will fill up your belly, preventing snacking, but it also does something much more important: It keeps your body hydrated so you can operate at your best all day long. Brown tells us that chia seeds are an easy way to ensure you get all the water you need in a day, helping you power through your endless lineup of meetings. “Chia is hydrophilic, which is a fancy way of saying it soaks up water,” she explains. “Chia seeds expand to as much as 10 times their size when in liquid, helping you feel full and reducing your appetite.” This process makes chia seeds fantastic pre-workout fuel because they’ll help keep you hydrated and functioning at your best until you’ve logged your last lap. “As they’re digested and start breaking down, chia seeds release all that water they soaked up. This way, they’re actually hydrating, even though they’ve already been ingested.”
Get the Benefits: Use chia seeds as a way to stave off hunger when a midday craving strikes. Opt for a nutrition bar like Health Warrior Chia Bars, which makes our list of the best snack foods, and follow it up with a tall glass of water to rehydrate your body and fill up your belly.
They Give You Energy to Be Productive All Afternoon
Chia seeds produce the top-notch energy you need to fuel busy work days through a powerful trifecta of nutrients. “Chia seeds give you stable energy because of their great ratio of protein, fats and fiber combined with the fact that they’re low-carb,” Brown raves. “They won’t cause spikes and drops in blood sugar or insulin levels, preventing cravings and overeating later.” That means you’ll be that much more likely to walk past the vending machine on your way back from your 2 pm meeting without stopping to drool—or worse, buy.
Get the Benefits: Bring a chia-based snack to work that you can reach for (guilt free!) if the midafternoon yawns hit hard. Try making chia pudding with 1/2 cup chia seeds, 2 cups unsweetened almond milk and vanilla extract to taste. Play around with your spice rack to find your favorite combo–just be sure to avoid too much added sugar! Always in a rush? Stock up on Chia Pods for a quick grab-and-go snack.
They Fuel Your Hardest Workouts
Chia has a long-standing reputation for being all-star pre-workout fuel. “Chia was known as a ‘running food’ in ancient Mayan and Aztec cultures,” Brown explains. “In fact, ‘chia’ is actually the Mayan word for ‘strength.’” We certainly think those Mayans may have been onto something, because, as Brown argues, the pre-sweat diet is just as important as the workout itself. “The better you fuel for workouts, the better those workouts—and resulting calorie burning and weight loss—will be.” And since this mega-hydrating seed is packed with a one-two punch of fiber and protein to help you feel energized and build lean muscle, it will keep you cruising through your gym sessions at maximum power and certainly deserves the hype.
Get the Benefits: 1-2 hours before you hit the gym, try a tablespoon of chia seeds sprinkled over a cup of plain, low-fat Greek yogurt. You’ll get extra protein to power your pump session and reap the benefits of major hydration.