Chia seeds are being hailed as a modern-day superfood for their high dietary fiber content, along with the omega-3 fatty acids that are beneficial for your heart health. But do you need to grind chia seeds to reap their health benefits, or can you eat them whole?
Whole vs ground chia seeds: A few different randomized controlled trials have examined whether whole or ground chia seeds have an effect on body weight and body composition (the varying components such as fat and muscle in the body), along with other indicators of health and disease susceptibility, such as blood pressure and blood lipids.
For example, a 2012 study published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine involved 56 overweight, post-menopausal women between the ages of 49 and 75 years. The subjects were either given 25 g (about 3 tbsp) of whole or milled (ground) chia seeds, or a poppy-seed placebo each day for 10 weeks. They were instructed to maintain their usual dietary and activity patterns, as well as to avoid flaxseed products (both seeds and oil) and fish oil. They were also told to limit fish and seafood to only one serving per week.
Led by David Nieman, Director of the Human Performance Lab at Appalachian State University, the team writes that consuming the healthy omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) from fish and fish oil supplements has been shown to reduce mortality from all causes, as well reduce sudden cardiac death and possibly stroke. Because of concerns about the safety of mercury poisoning from fish, however, many people are turning to plants that contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), such as chia seeds, flaxseeds and walnuts. When consumed by the body, ALA is converted into either DHA or EPA.
- Read more: Are fish oil pills safe?
What they found: At the end of the 10-week period, the subjects who received ground chia seeds had higher blood levels of both ALA and EPA. No significant increase in either of these healthy fatty acids was found in either the whole chia seed or placebo groups. The authors cite their own previous research, in which subjects who consumed twice as much chia each day — 50 g (about 6 tbsp) as whole seeds soaked in water — were found to have substantially lower levels of blood ALA at the end of that 12-week study.
This small study suggests that grinding chia seeds helps the body reap greater nutritional benefits from them, perhaps by increasing their so-called "bioavailability". Previous trials have reported similar results from ground flaxseed compared with whole flaxseed.
See tips on how to grind chia seeds in this article.
- Read more about chia seeds and health:
- Can chia seeds give me an energy boost?
- Which are healthier: white or black chia seeds?
David Nieman, Director of Human Performance Laboratory, Appalachian State University. Interview conducted April 30, 2013.
Nieman DC, Cayea EJ, Austin MD, Henson DA, McAnulty SR, Jin F. "Chia seed does not promote weight loss or alter disease risk factors in overweight adults." Nutr Res. 2009 Jun;29(6):414-8.
Nieman DC, Gillitt N, Jin F, Henson DA, Kennerly K, Shanely RA, Ore B, Su M, Schwartz S. "Chia seed supplementation and disease risk factors in overweight women: a metabolomics investigation." J Altern Complement Med. 2012 Jul;18(7):700-8.