Ways to Add Chia Seeds to Your Low-Carb Diet

Chia seeds in a crock and on a wooden spoon
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Chia seeds are not new, in fact, chia was believed to have been used as a standard crop of the Aztec people primarily because of its high nutritional content. The seed has made a comeback with even more force than in the 1970s and 80s when it was then mainly used as the little seed that sprouted the coats of "Chia Pets," a novelty household item.

Chia is native to regions of Mexico, Central America, and South America.

The name, chia, pronounced like cheetah without the "t," came from the language of the Aztecs. 


When you think about it, it is not surprising that seeds would be high in nutrients—after all, the purpose of a seed, any seed, is to be able to get a whole new plant started.

What sets chia seeds apart from other seeds is that they have some properties that are not generally found in other seeds.

Nutrients in chia seedsEffects of the nutrient
High in Omega-3 fatsLike 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 fiberIf you add water to chia seeds, you very quickly will see a gel-forming around the outside of the seeds, which is a form of soluble fiber. As a gel in our digestive tract, it tends to slow digestion and can blunt the impact of carbs on blood sugar.
Low in carbsAlmost all of the carbs in chia seeds is fiber, which means that almost none of those carbs are sugar or starch. This is great for people on low-carb diets.
High in calcium and magnesiumAn ounce of chia seeds, which equals about 2 tablespoons, has about 180 mg of calcium, a significant contribution to your daily requirement. It has 96 mg of magnesium, which is 30 percent of the needs of most people.
High in antioxidantsLike flax seeds, the delicate omega-3 fats are protected to an extent by the antioxidants in the seeds.

Their high nutritional value, numerous health benefits both for your body and brain, and recent studies show that there may be some great benefits eating these seeds.

Chia Seed Nutritional Fast Facts (1 ounce, 2 tablespoons)

  • Calories: 138
  • Total carbs: 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

More research studies are being conducted to look at the potential health benefits of chia seeds. One study looked at adding chia seeds to the diets of people with diabetes. A study group eating about 3 tablespoons of chia seeds daily did have better blood sugar control and a few other health benefits. Those in the study that added chia seeds to their diet ate fewer carbohydrates and more healthy fat (they went from 55% to 45% of calories from carbs). There are preliminary results suggesting possible benefits to lowering diabetes and cardiovascular risk.

Potential Problems

If you are not used to a high-fiber diet, it is probably best to start out a small amount and see how you do—maybe a teaspoon or two at first and gradually build up. Some people are not used to eating a high fiber diet and may report intestinal gas when they first start eating chia seeds.

Also, because chia seeds soak up a lot of water, it is vital to have enough liquid with them. Also, some people who are allergic to mustard seeds have reported having allergic reactions to chia seeds. It is possible that taking medication at the same time as eating chia seeds could slow down the absorption of the medication, which in some cases, might be a good thing and in other cases, not.

Choosing and Storing Chia

Ultimately, you want to get the freshest chia seeds you can. The good news is that 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, as they do not have added sugar or preservatives. Chia flour is sold, or you can make it yourself, it can be used as a gluten-free alternative in low-carb recipes.

Whole Seeds or Ground?

To get the full nutritional benefit out of chia seeds, the seed can be ground or chewed. Unlike flax seed, which gives up very few of their nutrients until they are ground, when the hulls of chia seeds are softened, usually in most preparations, most of the nutrients emerge.

A fun thing about eating the seed whole is the chia seed "pops" softly when you chomp down on the softened seed.

Low-Carb Ways to Serve Chia Seeds

Unless you are eating chia seeds raw, you will want to let the seeds soften up in liquid or yogurt, before eating it. This can take about 20 minutes with cold foods, and 5 to 10 minutes if boiling water is used in the preparation. The gel that comes from the seed as it softens may get slimy in some preparations, which can be off-putting to some, but for those who love tapioca pearls, it should be a fast favorite.

  • Yogurt
  • Chia pudding, similar to rice or tapioca pudding: Chia pudding recipe
  • Sugar-free Jell-O (masks the gel consistency): Lime coconut Jell-O with chia seeds
  • Popular Mexican drink agua fresca with chia seeds
  • Blend into smoothies and shakes
  • Salad dressing
  • Soups or stews
  • Baked goods
  • Stir-fried entrees
  • Omelets
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