Chia seeds are amongst the healthiest foods available, a true ‘superfood’. Chia seeds are packed with nutrients that have a huge array of health benefits for the body.
Chia = ‘Strength’
The discovery of Chia seeds dates back at least as far as the Aztecs and the Mayans, and they valued these little seeds for their ability to provide sustainable energy, giving them high energy and endurance. Originally grown in Mexico, the seeds were highly valued for their medicinal properties and nutritional value. In fact, they were even used as currency! The word ‘Chia’ itself is derived from the Mayan word for ‘strength’.
Chia was a dietary staple for the Aztecs and Mayans, and yet it is only in recent times that we have come to recognise it as a modern-day superfood, which in turn has led to Chia being consumed by health-conscious people all over the world.
So, why is Chia rated so highly by those ‘in the know’?
(1) Packing A Punch
Despite their small size, Chia seeds pack a mighty punch. Calorie for calorie, they are one of the world’s best sources of several important nutrients. For example, a mere 28g (2 tablespoon) serving contains:
- Calories: 137 (of which only 101kcals end up as usable calories)
- Fibre: 11g (42% of RDA – Recommended Daily Allowance)
- Protein: 4g
- Fat: 9g (of which 5g is Omega3 and 3g is healthy unsaturated/polyunsaturate fats)
- Carbohydrate: only 1g of digestible carbohydrate
- Calcium: 18% of RDA
- Manganese: 30% of RDA
- Magnesium: 30% of RDA
- Phosphorous:27% of RDA
- Zinc: 7% of RDA
- Potassium: 1% of RDA
- Copper: 3% RDA
- They also contain decent amounts of Vitamin A, Vitamin B1 (Thiamine), Vitamin B2, Vitamin B3 (Niacin), Vitamin D and Vitamin E.
Chia seeds are packed with antioxidants, these antioxidants protecting the healthy fats in the seeds from going rancid. Antioxidants fight the free-radicals which damage molecules in body cells and contribute towards ageing and development of certain diseases including cancer. Antioxidants speed up the skin’s repair systems, and help prevent further damage.
As a food-based antioxidant, Chia seeds are generally more beneficial to the body than antioxidant supplements.
(3) May Help Reduce The Risk Of Heart Disease
Chia seeds’ ability to reverse inflammation, regulate cholesterol and lower blood pressure make it extremely beneficial to consume for heart health.
Various studies have shown that Chia seeds can reduce levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides, increase levels of HDL (good) cholesterol and reduce inflammation – as well as reducing insulin resistance and belly fat. However, like all ‘healthy’ foods, the benefits therein are unlikely to be realised in isolation and should form part of an improved diet and lifestyle.
(4) Can Improve Bone Health
Chia seeds are high in several nutrients that are beneficial for bone health, including
Gram for gram, Chia contains more calcium than milk – around 18% of your RDA in a single ounce – and are therefore good for everyone but especially those that are dairy intolerant.
(5) May Help Reduce The Risk Of And Improve The Symptoms Of Type II Diabetes
In a recent study, Chia seeds were shown to significantly reduce blood pressure and other markers for inflammation.
20 Diabetic patients received either 37g of Chia seeds or 37g of wheat bran daily for 12 weeks. Those that ate the Chia seeds saw improvements in several important health markers – blood pressure reduced 3-6 mm/Hg, Hs-CRP (an inflammatory marker) reduced by 40% and another risk factor called vWF decreased by 21%. There was also a small drop in blood sugar too.
It is thought that being high in fibre, Chia seeds can help reduce blood sugar spikes after meals.
In a nutshell, Chia seeds have proven in studies to halt diabetes and reverse it.
(6) High In Omega3 Fatty Acids
Chia seeds are high in linoleic, a fatty acid which helps the body absorb fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K. For such a tiny seed, chia is quite high in healthy fats boasting more Omega-3 fatty acids gram-for-gram than salmon. Omega-3’s work to protect the heart by lowering blood pressure, bad cholesterol, and inflammation. Inflammation can put strain on blood vessels and cause heart disease. So by eating chia seeds you can boost and protect your heart.
(7) Can Help Build Muscle and Encourage Fat/Weight Loss
Chia seeds also rank among the top plant based sources of protein. This is another reason this super seed is great to consume for those trying to put on lean muscle, burn fat, and balance blood sugar levels.
Due to the high level of fibre, Chia seeds absorb large amount of water (x10 their own weight) and these expand in the stomach – increasing the sensation and satiety and fullness, and also slowing the absorption of food.
Chia seeds pack a powerful antioxidant punch to help replace some of those nutrients lost when exercising. They’re high in essential minerals like calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, copper, zinc, iron and niacin.
Chia seeds can prolong hydration and improve nutrient absorption of electrolytes. This also slows digestion and keeps you feeling fuller longer reducing sugar cravings.
And because chia seeds are also high in zinc, they help your body increase leptin. Leptin is a key hormone that regulates your bodies appetite, how your body spends energy and regulates how your energy levels. It also improves stamina and endurance, making chia a great source of nutrition if you are looking to get in shape.
(8) High In Protein
Chia seeds are around 14% protein by weight – very high compared to most plants. They also have a good balance of essential amino acids, which makes the protein therein more bio-available for our body.
Regular consumption of Chia increases protein intake, which may in turn help with weight-loss, help in suppressing appetite, and help reduce cravings.
As a good plant-based source of protein, Chia seeds are excellent for Vegetarians and Vegans.
(9) Full Of Fibre
An ounce of Chia seeds have 12g of Carbohydrate in them – however 11g of those are fibre and are therefore indigestible.
Fibre does not raise blood sugar and does not provoke an insulin reaction, and is therefore the 11g of the 12g of Carbs are discounted as being calorific. Fibre is essential for your body’s ability to balance insulin levels.
At 1g of Carbohydrate per 28g of seeds, Chia is very much a low-carb food. The fibre in Chia helps feeds the friendly bacteria in your gut, which helps your overall digestive health (promoting bowel regularity and healthy stools) and can help boost your immune system.
Chia are 40% fibre by weight, making them one of the best sources of fibre available.
Ways To Incorporate Chia In To Your Diet
Chia seeds are very versatile and have a mild nutty taste. They can easily be added to most dishes as a garnish, yet chewing small seeds like flax or chia generally doesn’t make the omega-3’s and other nutrients readily available for digestion and assimilation. The best way to access their vitamins and minerals is to either grind or soak them (one of the easiest ways to consume Chia is to mix a dessert spoon or two in to 500ml of water (add a little juice, to taste, if required) and leave for 10-30 minutes. Stir well with a fork. Then simply drink down the mixture). It won’t hurt to eat them raw, but if you soak them, then you “sprout” them and it releases the “enzyme inhibitors” that are used to protect the seed. This makes it much easier to digest the seeds, allowing your body to then access the dense nutrients inside the seeds.
Other ways to consume Chia include
- eating raw
- sprinkling on top of cereal, yogurt, vegetables and rice dishes
- using in sauces as a natural thickener
- adding to porridge, puddings and baked goods
Adding Chia to recipes will significantly improve the nutritional value.
There are very few side effects associated with chia seeds. Occasionally some people may experience stomach discomfort when consuming chia seeds especially in large amounts due to the high fibre content. As with any food, eat in moderation and always drink plenty of water unless soaking your seeds.