Ways to Add Chia Seeds to Your Low-Carb Diet

Low-Carb Superfoods | 10 Ways to Eat Chia Seeds

Chia Seeds
Chia Seeds. Kristin Duvall/Photolibrary/Getty Images

Chia seeds are nothing new, but recently, their popularity has been really hitting new heights. The plant chia seeds are derived from is native to regions of Mexico, Central America, and South America and is thought to have been a standard crop grown by Aztec people. In fact, the name chia (pronounced like cheetah without the t) came from the language of the Aztecs. Recently, the seeds have caught the attention of people again, once it became known that the tiny seeds are abundant in many nutrients.

And yes, these are the same seeds once popularly used to grow "chia pets".

Chia Seed Nutrition

When you think about it, it isn't surprising that seeds would be high in nutrients -- after all, their purpose is to be able to get a whole new plant started. Chia seeds have some properties that aren't generally found in seeds, however:

  • High in Omega-3 fats - Like flax seeds, chia seeds have a lot of omega-3 fatty acids (most seeds have a lot of omega-6 fat, but very little omega-3 fat)
  • High in soluble fiber - If you add water to chia seeds, you very quickly will see a gel forming around the outside of the seeds. This is a form of soluble fiber which offers many benefits. Among them is that the gel in our digestive tract tends to slow digestion, and thus blunt the impact of carbohydrate on blood sugar.
  • Very low in usable carbohydrate - Almost all of the carbohydrate in chia seeds is fiber (either soluble or insoluble), which means that almost none of it is sugar or starch. This is great for people on low-carb diets.
  • High in calcium and magnesium - An ounce of chia seeds (about 2 tablespoons) has about 180 mg of calcium, which would be a significant contribution to the daily requirement. It would also bring you 96 mg of magnesium, which is 30% of the needs of most people.
  • High in antioxidants - Like flax seed, the delicate omega-3 fats are protected to an extent by the antioxidants in the seeds, and these are good for us, too!

    More Nutritional Information for 1 Ounce (2 tablespoons) of Chia Seeds

    • Calories - 138
    • Total Carbohydrate 12 grams
    • Fiber - 10 grams
    • Net (Usable) Carbs - 2 grams
    • Total Fat - 8.6 grams
    • Omega-3 Fatty Acids (Alpha Linolenic Acid) - 5.1 grams
    • Protein - 4.7 grams

    Health Benefits of Chia Seeds

    More research is being done about chia seeds to help us better understand how adding them affects our bodies. One study looked at adding chia seeds to the diets of diabetics. Although the group eating the chia seed (37 grams, which is about 3 tablespoons per day) did have better blood sugar control and a few other health benefits, it turns out that adding the chia seeds resulted in those people eating less carbohydrate and more fat (they went from 55% to 45% of calories from carbohydrate). So were the benefits produced by the chia seeds themselves, or a change in the amount of carbohydrate eaten? As far as I know, this has not been tested. Still, there are preliminary results suggesting possible benefits to diabetes and cardiovascular risk markers.

    Potential Problems with Chia Seeds

    Most of the possible problems revolve around the high amount of fiber in chia seeds. If you are not used to a high-fiber diet, it's probably best to start out with small amounts and see how you do -- maybe a teaspoon or two at first, and gradually build up. Some people report intestinal gas when they first start eating chia seeds. Also, because chia seeds suck up a whole lot of water, it is vital to have enough liquid with them, either with the food they are served in, or with a big drink of water. Some people who are allergic to mustard seeds (which I do not imagine is very many people) have reported also having allergic reactions to chia seeds. Also, it is possible that taking medication at the same time as eating chia seeds could slow down the absorption of the medication. This might or might not be a problem, depending on the medication.

    Choosing and Storing Chia Seeds

    Although you obviously want to get the freshest chia seeds you can, whole chia seeds can remain good for up to 2 years, and do not need to be refrigerated. You may find chia seed drinks and other chia seed products, which are all good to have as long as they don't involve added sugar or preservatives. Chia flour is sold (or you can make it yourself) and I have heard it can be useful in some low-carb baked goods, but I have not yet experimented with it.

    Whole Seeds or Ground?

    Unlike flax seed, which gives up very few of their nutrients until they are ground up, when the hulls of chia seeds are softened (which they usually will be before eating them) does make most of the nutrients available to us. Still, to get the full benefit, they can either be ground or chewed. The cool thing about chewing chia seeds is that they "pop" softly when you chomp down on the softened seeds.

    10 Low-Carb Ways to Serve Chia Seeds

    Unless you are eating chia seeds "raw" you'll want to let them soften up in the liquid, yogurt, etc, before eating -- this takes about 20 minutes with cold foods, and 5-10 minutes if boiling water is involved. Note: because of the gel that emerges from chia seeds, they can get kind of slimy in some preparations which can be off-putting to some. It's similar to tiny tapioca pearls in this way.

    Here are ten low-carb ways to serve chia seeds:

    1. In yogurt (see Yogurt on a Low-Carb Diet)

    2. In sugar-free Jello - no textural conflict with the gel and Jell-o. Definitely use the kind you make yourself. For example, try this Lime Coconut Jell-o with Chia Seeds

    3. Make a sort of tapioca/rice pudding with coconut milk, cream, or milk. Chia Pudding Recipe

    4. Agua Fresca is a Mexican drink, and I'm told it's common to put chia seeds it. 

    5. Blend into smoothies and shakes.

    6-10. I have heard of (but not tried) putting them into salad dressings, soups or stews, baked goods (usually as flour), stir fries, and omelets.


    Norlaily, MA, et al. "The promising future of chia, Salvia hispanica L." Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology. 2012:October. The PDF can be downloaded here.

    Reyes-Caudillo E, Tecante A, Valdivia-López MA. "Dietary fibre content and antioxidant activity of phenolic compounds present in Mexican chia (Salvia hispanica L.) seeds". Food Chemistry 2008;107(2):656-663.

    United States Department of Agriculture National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 26. "Nutrient data for 12006, Seeds, chia seeds, dried." 

    Vuksan V, et al. "Supplementation of conventional therapy with the novel grain Salba (Salvia hispanica L.) improves major and emerging cardiovascular risk factors in type 2 diabetes: results of a randomized controlled trial." Diabetes Care. 2007 Nov;30(11):2804-10.

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