Here’s what you need to know.

By Corey Williams
February 19, 2020
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It seems like chia seeds, of Chia Pet fame (ch-ch-ch-chia!), are popping up everywhere these days. If you’re wondering what they are and how to eat them, you’ve come to the right place.

What Are Chia Seeds? 

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Chia seeds come from Salvia hispanica, a flowering plant in the mint family

Native to Central America, the tiny, black and gray seeds were likely a staple in Mesoamerican cultures. Evidence shows that they were widely cultivated by the Aztec people in pre-Columbian times, or before Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the Americas. 

Chia seeds can absorb 12 times their weight in liquid and, when soaked, develop a gel-like coating and texture.

How to Eat Chia Seeds

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Chia pudding—seeds soaked and submerged in liquid—is one of the most common ways to eat the seeds.

Dry chia seeds make a delicious (and nutritious!) addition to yogurt or smoothies

If you do choose to eat dry seeds, be aware that they will absorb water in your body during digestion. Make sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day to counteract this effect. 

If you have a history of esophageal disorders, it’s probably best to avoid dry chia seeds altogether: In 2014, a 39-year-old man with swallowing problems ended up in the hospital after eating a tablespoon of dry chia seeds. He quickly followed up his spoonful of seeds with a glass of water, which caused them to expand in his esophagus and cause a blockage. 

Chia Seeds vs. Flax Seeds

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Chia seeds are native to Central America and come from the Salvia hispanica plant. Unless they’re mixed with spices or other flavorings, their flavor is pretty bland.

Flax seeds are native to the Middle East and come from the Linum usitatissimum plant. Flax seeds have a nuttier flavor than chia seeds. 

Chia Seeds Benefits

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Good news, chia fans: The tiny seeds are incredibly good for you. Here are a few nutritional highlights:

  • They contain a lot of nutrients and very few calories. This means you get a lot of bang for your buck, especially if you’re trying to lose weight.
  • A great source of fiber, which is essential for digestive function (among many, many other things). 
  • They’re antioxidant-rich. Antioxidants can positively affect your health in a number of ways, but it’s especially effective for disease prevention. 
  • High in omega-3 fatty acids, chia seeds may help lower blood pressure and protect against heart disease.
  • They’re high in protein (A.K.A the building blocks of bone, muscle, and, well, everything). 

Can You Eat Too Many Chia Seeds? 

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Unfortunately, you can have too much of a good thing. Overeating chia seeds can cause digestive issues, especially if you’re not used to consuming a lot of fiber. 

Too much fiber can cause constipation, diarrea, abdominal pain, and gas. 

These symptoms can be exacerbated by not drinking enough water with the fiber-rich foods. 

Adequate hydration is especially important when it comes to chia seeds, since they absorb liquids from your body. 

How to Buy Chia Seeds

It’s not uncommon for neighborhood grocery stores to sell chia seeds, but a health food store is probably your best bet.

They’ll likely be in the rice, baking, or health aisles. 

How to Store Chia Seeds

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You can store dry chia seeds in a cool, dark place in an airtight container for months. 

Soaked chia seeds will keep in the fridge for up to a week.

Chia Seed Recipes

Photo by Ari Taymor