Can You Eat Chia Sprouts?

Introduction

Chia, also known as salvia hispanica, is a flowering plant belonging to the mint family (Lamiaceae). It is native to the Americas, being commercially grown in many countries in Central America and South America. Historically, it may have been the main crop of the Aztecs ahead of maize and corn. In addition, it is one of two plants referred to as chia, with Salvia columbariae being referred to as “Golden Chia”. 

Its seeds are the main product of its cultivation. They are tiny seeds measuring 2 * 1 * 0.8 mm, which is just smaller than sesame seeds and roughly 10 times smaller than pumpkin seeds. The seeds can be used for a variety of purposes beyond eating them, such as in decorative and gel products. In addition, they are known to be hydrophilic (water-loving), and soaked chia seeds can absorb 17 times their weight in water. Once watered and planted, the seeds can be sprouted. This article will explore the health benefits of chia seeds and growing them into sprouts.

Health benefits of chia seeds

Chia seeds have a wealth of health benefits promoted online. Chia seeds have omega 3/6 fatty acids and phenolic acid. However, while these ingredients are known to produce health benefits from foods such as salmon, the benefits produced by chia seeds are debatable and yet to undergo scientific assessment. Here, we will separate fact from fiction in relation to the health benefits of chia seeds.

Omega 3 fatty acids are well-known to reduce cardiovascular disease risk. They can be found in fish such as salmon and flax seeds. They can also be found in chia seeds. This leads to the conclusion that chia seeds must also reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. However, this conclusion in relation to chia seeds is not supported by the scientific community. A recent systematic review of chia seeds found that there was no significant effect of chia seeds on cardiovascular health.1 In addition, studies on chia and cardiovascular health are mostly performed on animals.2 This brings into question the benefits that can be seen in humans. Therefore, the link between chia seeds and cardiovascular disease is unclear. 

Diabetes and obesity have also been an area of interest in relation to chia seeds. Research into diabetes is scarce compared to cardiovascular disease, but it is promising. Chiefly, chia seeds have been investigated for regulating blood glucose and weight loss. A trial investigated treatment with chia seeds on type-2 diabetes patients and found significant benefits over treatment without chia seeds.3 This included promotion of weight loss and reduction in waist circumference while maintaining good blood glucose levels. Similar studies involving rats and chia sprouts as well as seeds support these results.4,5 Therefore, chia seeds have significant health benefits in diabetes.

Chia seeds are also high in fibre. Chia seeds contain 34.4 grams of fibre per 100 grams. In comparison, pumpkin seeds only contain 6 grams of fibre per 100 grams. Fibre is the portion of plants and other foods that our body cannot digest, and is needed for a healthy diet. Fibre helps the digestive tract pass food and waste throughout the body. In addition, studies have found that it is vital to gut microbiome health. Therefore, if you suffer from indigestion, diarrhoea, or poor gut health, chia seeds can be an option for you.

Overall, chia seeds can produce good health benefits for those that are trying to fight diabetes or aim to promote their gut health. This means chia seeds are a good option to supplement your diet to maintain a healthy lifestyle. However, some health benefits stated in the literature are unsubstantiated. In addition, it should be noted that research into chia seeds is early and health benefits may still be found. 

How to grow chia seeds

Growing chia seeds is simple, and they can either be grown outdoors or indoors. All you need is the seeds and water. The seeds are readily available online and in stores from around £1.00 per 100g. They can be stored in a cool, dry environment such as a jar in a cupboard. Usually, sprouting can be done in jars, but this is not the case with chia as they form a gel with water.

To grow outdoors, chia seeds need to be planted in early spring in well-drained soil. Simply break up the soil and sprinkle the seeds over the top. Then rake the earth over the seeds. As the seeds come from a desert environment, they are incredibly drought-resistant so only need to be watered lightly. They will sprout in 4 to 7 days and take up to 12 weeks to flower. Once they are established they are very low maintenance. They can even self-germinate, ensuring that they return year after year in your garden.

To grow indoors, the use of a terracotta pot is essential. Terracotta can hold water and release it slowly. This is perfect to avoid gelling of the seeds, which will inhibit growth. Simply place the seeds on a terracotta dish and cover them with a lid. To water the seeds, simply use a couple of sprays from a spray bottle. This will make the ideal conditions for the chia to sprout.

Chia seeds can also be grown as microgreens. The difference between sprouts and microgreens is that sprouts include all roots, stem, and leaves, whereas microgreens exclude the root. This is because the roots are grown in a medium such as a paper towel and aren’t taken with harvest. These take a little longer to grow but can give a crunchier texture.

Once your chia seeds have sprouted, they are ready to be eaten. They’re great to add to salads or sandwiches. They can be stored in the fridge for around one week. However, it is always best to eat fresh. 

Ways to consume chia seeds

Chia seeds can be used in a variety of ways and can be consumed raw. They are mostly used in breakfast yoghurts and desserts. For great recipes to use chia seeds, see BBC Good Food and Bon Appetit

Should you eat chia seeds on their own?

Chia seeds are perfect to eat on their own. They don’t need to be cooked or treated in any way to be eaten. 

Creating a chia pet

Chia pets are a novelty terracotta item that uses chia seeds. The chia seeds are planted in the terracotta, which often looks like an animal, to grow into the animal’s fur. They look great and can make a lovely addition to a window sill or bookshelf. 

To make a chia pet, there are several simple steps:

  1. Soak the chia pet in water for 24 hours. This will moisten the pet and help the seeds stick to it
  2. Soak the chia seeds in water for 24 hours. This creates the gel like before however this is needed for the seeds to stick to the chia pet. Soak roughly 5 grammes in 60 millilitres of water
  3. Fill the chia pet with water. After the pet is soaked, it can be filled with water as it is hollow. It can then also be placed on a drip tray or dish. Make sure to top the pet up over the days.
  4. Plant the seeds on the pet. The pet will have grooves to plant the seeds onto and the gel from the seeds will help this. The seeds will then sprout over the next few days to create your pet!

Top tips:

  • If you’re placing the pet in a dry environment, putting a plastic bag over it will create a mini-greenhouse effect for the seeds to sprout
  • Place the pet in a sunny spot and rotate if necessary to get sunlight to all the sprouts.

Summary 

Chia seeds and sprouts are a great addition to your diet. While they may not have beneficial cardiovascular effects, they may have promising effects for those that are overweight or have type II diabetes. In addition, they are easy to grow either inside or outside. They even make for great decorative pets.

References

  1. Ferreira CD, Fomes LDD, da Silva GES, Rosa G. Effect of chia seed (Salvia hispanica L.) consumption on cardiovascular risk factors in humans: a systematic review. Nutricion Hospitalaria. 2015, Nov, 01;32(5):1909-18.
  2. Parker J, Schellenberger AN, Roe AL, Oketch-Rabah H, Calderon AI. Therapeutic Perspectives on Chia Seed and Its Oil: A Review. Planta Medica. 2018, Jul. 04;84(9-10).
  3. Vuksan V, Jenkins AL, Brissette C, Choleva L, Jovanovski E, Gibbs AL, et al. Salba-chia(Salvia hispanica L.) in the treatment of overweight and obese patients with type 2 diabetes: A double- blind randomized controlled trial. Nutrition Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases. 2017, Feb, 01;27(2):138-46.
  4. Gomez-Velazquez HDJ, Aparicio-Fernandez X, Mora O, Davalos MLG, de los Rios EA, Reynoso-Camacho R. Chia seeds and chemical-elicited sprouts supplementation ameliorates insulin resistance, dyslipidemia, and hepatic steatosis in obese rats. Journal of Food Biochemistry. 2022, Jul, 30;46(7).
  5. Gomez-Velazquez HDJ, Aparicio-Fernandez X, Reynoso-Camacho R. Chia Sprouts Elicitation with Salicylic Acid and Hydrogen Peroxide to Improve their Phenolic Content, Antioxidant Capacities In Vitro and the Antioxidant Status in Obese Rats. Plant Foods for Human Nutrition. 2021, Aug, 15;76(3):363-70.

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Miles Peter Bremridge

Masters of Science - MSc Neuroscience Student and Neurosoc Chair, The University of Manchester, England

Miles Bremridge is a MSc Neuroscience Student who is working as a Neurosoc UoM Social Secretary at The University of Manchester. He is also an experienced Medical Writer.

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