Chia Seeds: Should You Eat Them Whole or Ground?
Chia seeds are super nutritious and make a great plant-based pantry staple. Should you eat them whole or ground? Does it make a difference? Let’s find out.
Am I showing my age when I talk about how I remember seeing chia pet commercials on television? While the attention is on the chia seeds today, they got their start as those quirky character plants you could buy on QVC. But I digress.
Today, chia seeds are best known for their nutrition. Chia seeds are the edible, gray and black seeds of the Salvia hispanica flowering plant. In their whole form, they’re oval-shaped and tiny, at only around 2 millimeters long each.
And many people – including myself – love to use chia on a regular basis. Plant-based or not, these little seeds have a lot to offer.
Benefits of chia seeds
While chia seeds may be small, they’re a great source of protein, omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, B vitamins, calcium, and iron.
Plus, research shows that chia seeds offer the following health benefits:
- Full of antioxidants
- Offer a good balance of amino acids
- May be helpful in weight loss
- Can increase blood levels of the omega-3s EPA and ALA
- May reduce heart disease risk factors
- Improve insulin sensitivity and blood sugar control
- May help reduce chronic inflammation
Chia vs. flax
Many members of the chia seed fan club also love flax seeds. Personally, I tend to keep both in my kitchen at any given time. But you may be wondering, is one more nutritious than the other?
While both are great sources of fiber, chia seeds actually contain about twice as much as flax seeds. Both are also rich in the omega-3 fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), but chia seeds contain slightly more. Flax and chia offer around 1.6 and 1.8 grams of ALA per tablespoon, respectively.
Furthermore, chia seeds contain slightly more protein and iron per serving. They also have around 60 mg more calcium per tablespoon compared to flax.
But back to chia seeds. How should you eat them?
Should you eat chia seeds whole or ground?
You may have heard that it’s better to grind or roll flax seeds before consuming them because of their tough outer hull. This makes them easier to digest, and their nutrients become much more available. Whole flax seeds tend to pass right through the body, undigested.
Does the same rule apply to chia?
It depends on the nutrients you’re hoping to get from them. Chia seeds in their whole form are easier to digest than whole flax seeds because they don’t have that same tough outer hull. There’s not a ton of research on this topic yet, but it does appear that certain nutrients, like ALA, become more bioavailable when chia seeds are ground.
In one 2012 randomized controlled trial, 62 overweight adult women were given 25 grams per day of either ground or whole chia seeds for 10 weeks to see if there was a difference in how processing influenced disease risk factors. The authors found that the ground chia significantly increased the participants’ blood levels of ALA and EPA, compared to whole chia or placebo. But otherwise there were no major differences in how chia preparation influenced inflammation or disease risk factors. The same results were seen in another similar study.
And in a 2020 study, researchers examined the impact of processing on the digestibility of chia seeds. They found that grinding did increase the digestibility and uptake of antioxidants, protein, and omega-3 fats compared to whole seeds as they pass through the intestines.
What’s the bottom line here? Chia seeds may offer more ALA and EPA when ground, but they’re certainly not devoid of nutrients if left whole. Keep in mind that while ALA is important, its conversion rate to DHA – another essential omega-3 fatty acid that’s generally more lacking on plant-based diets – remains low, so I wouldn’t be relying totally on chia seeds to meet all of your omega-3 needs anyway.
Should you decide to grind chia seeds, you can easily do this using a coffee grinder, a high speed blender, or a food processor. Store them in the refrigerator or freezer to preserve their omega-3s and optimize their shelf life.
How to eat chia seeds
I love using chia seeds! Below are some of my favorite ways to include them in my diet:
- In smoothies
- Sprinkled onto green salads
- Mixed into pancake, waffle, or muffin batters
- Used to make chia pudding
- Added to oatmeal, muesli, or other cold breakfast cereal
- Included in homemade granola
- To make chia seed jam
How to make chia eggs
Like ground flax seeds, whole (or ground) chia seeds can be used to make a vegan egg used for most baking purposes. Chia seeds have a similar ability to thicken liquids and hold batters together as they bake.
In fact, chia seeds can absorb up to 12 times their weight in water.
To make 1 chia “egg”, gently stir together 1 tablespoon of chia with 2.5 tablespoons of water. Let the mixture sit for 5 minutes to gel, and then add it to your batter. To make two eggs, simply double this recipe.
Chia seeds are incredibly nutritious no matter how you choose to use them. Whether you choose to eat them whole or ground, you can enjoy many of the benefits they have to offer.
Weigh in: How do you like to use chia seeds? Do you usually eat them whole or ground?
For more nutrition tips and plant-based basics, read these other posts:
- Food Combining: Fact or Fiction?
- Seed Cycling for Fertility and Hormonal Balance
- Food and Acne: What the Evidence Says
- How to Tell if a Supplement is Trustworthy