Are Ground Chia Seeds Better Than Whole?

You can use ground or whole chia seeds for dietary benefits

Whole Chia seeds
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Chia seeds are praised as a superfood for their high dietary fiber content, along with omega-3 fatty acids. But do you need to grind chia seed or can you eat them whole?

Whole Versus Ground Chia Seeds

You can use chia seeds whole, unlike flax seed, which must be ground to release its pulp and beneficial oil. Chia seeds are easily broken open after they are moistened, as you can tell when they pop in your mouth as you chew them.

The whole seed will be digested enough in your body to allow the beneficial omega-3 fatty acids to be absorbed. Either whole or ground, they provide the benefits of fiber in your diet.

Whole chia seeds can be used without cooking, such as mixed with yogurt, sprinkled on salads, or making a no-bake pudding. They can also be included in baked goods, soups, and stews. Ground chia seeds produce a meal called pinole, which you can use as an addition to flour in baked goods. You can find both whole and ground chia seeds at health food stores and in many markets, or grind our own.

While you don't need to grind chia seeds, would you get more benefits from them if you ground them? Researcher David Nieman, Director of the Human Performance Lab at Appalachian State University, has been exploring that question. He was looking for effects of chia seeds on body weight and body composition, along with other indicators of health, such as blood pressure and blood lipids.

He didn't find those health or weight loss effects in his studies, but he found that the omega-3 fatty acids from ground chia are better absorbed than from whole chia.

Ground Chia Enhances Omega-3 Absorption

One study led by Nieman involved 56 overweight, post-menopausal women between the ages of 49 and 75 years.

The subjects were either given 25 grams (about 3 tablespoons) 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 and fish oil and limit fish and seafood to only one serving per week. These are sources of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), and the researchers wanted chia seeds to be the only dietary source during the study. When consumed, ALA is converted into either DHA or EPA. The subjects were tested for ALA and EPA levels.

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 grams (about 6 tablespoons) as whole seeds soaked in water—had raised blood ALA levels compared with placebo. But when compared with the ground chia study, those levels were much lower at the end of 12 weeks than the levels seen by participants in the later study who had ground chia for 10 weeks.

Grinding Chia May Be Better

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. The next time you decide to eat chia seeds for their nutritional benefits, consider grinding them. You can grind chia seeds in a clean coffee grinder or buy ground chia seed meal.

A Word From Verywell

Chia seeds are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids and you can use them whole or ground. They also provide fiber and bulk for good intestinal function no matter which way you use them.

You may enjoy using these versatile seeds in a variety of dishes.

Sources:

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.

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