The chia seed may be small, but it sure makes a big impact in the health world. Chia seeds are considered one of the most popular superfoods on the planet! People are adding these tiny seeds to everything, including yogurts, smoothies, and desserts. They can also be found in granola bars, cereals, breads, salad dressings, energy bars and even chia drinks.
What Are Chia Seeds?
Chia seeds are derived from Salvia hispanica (the chia plant) and are native to southern and central Mexico and Guatemala. The word chia translates to “strength” in Mayan. For thousands of years, chia seeds were considered a powerful fuel source for the Mayans, Incans, and Aztec warriors.
Chia seeds rose to popularity in the U.S. with sprouted chia pets in the 1980s. Chia seeds are more than just a novelty item—chia seeds are incredibly nutritious for you! They are considered one of the richest plant-based sources of the polyunsaturated fats—omega-3 fatty acids, especially alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). There is also a 3:1 ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 in chia seeds.
The chia seed is loaded with fiber and protein. They are a good source of manganese, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, zinc, iron, potassium, vitamin C, vitamin E, and the B vitamins B1, B2, and B3.
Chia Nutrition Chart
Just one ounce of chia seeds (28 grams) is loaded with nutrients. Here is a nutrition chart with the details on the superfood chia:
|Total Fat||8.6 g||13%|
|Saturated Fat||0.9 g||N/A|
|Monounsaturated Fat||0.6 g||N/A|
|Polyunsaturated Fat||6.5 g||N/A|
|Omega-3 Fatty Acids||4,915 mg||N/A|
|Omega-6 Fatty Acids||1,620 mg||N/A|
|Vitamin C||0.44 mg||N/A|
|Vitamin E||0.14 mg||N/A|
|Vitamin B1||0.174 mg||N/A|
|Vitamin B2||0.05 mg||N/A|
|Vitamin B3||2.47 mg||N/A|
|* N/A—Not Applicable|
10 Proven Health Benefits of Chia
Chia seeds are naturally void of gluten, so they belong in a gluten-free diet. There are also several other reasons why chia seeds should be included in your diet. Here are 10 prime chia seed health benefits:
1. Lower blood pressure
Chia seeds contain important nutrients, including potassium and magnesium that help reduce blood pressure. A 2007 study found that chia seeds could significantly lower blood pressure in patients with type 2 diabetes.
2. Combat diabetes
Chia seeds are also being studied as a treatment for type 2 diabetes. Rat studies have found that chia seeds can help regulate insulin resistance and stabilize blood sugar levels.
3. Important for heart health
Diabetes is also often a risk factor in cardiovascular diseases. In a 2007 study published in the journal Diabetes Care, researchers discovered that chia seed supplementation could improve major and emerging cardiovascular risk factors in patients with controlled type 2 diabetes. The 20 patients maintained good lipid and glycemic levels. The type 2 diabetes received 37 grams each day for 12 weeks of either chia seeds or wheat bran. The fiber and omega-3 ALA in chia seeds are thought to be beneficial for the heart. Rat studies have also found that chia seeds increase HDL (high density lipoprotein) and cholesterol, while decreasing inflammation.
4. Help improve digestion
Frequent constipation is known to affect more than four million Americans. The fiber found in chia seeds can also help reduce constipation. For best results, pre-soak the chia seeds for approximately 15 minutes and then combine a glass of water with one to two tablespoons of chia seeds.
5. Good for weight loss
Evidence suggests that the high protein found in chia seeds may help people control cravings. A 2011 study found that consuming frequent high-protein meals could reduce appetite and the desire to snack at night. Also, in a 2009 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, chia seeds were found to reduce the visceral fat in rats that were fed a sugar-heavy diet. The fiber content found in chia seeds also has you feeling fuller for longer periods of time.
6. Good vegan source of omega-3
Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) are two omega-3 fatty acids that are essential for inflammation reduction, heart health, and increasing cognitive function. Chia seeds contain 20% of the omega-3 ALA and plant-based sources of ALA, and are thought to have a problem converting to EPA and DHA. However, some studies suggest that humans will still convert meaningful quantities of ALA to EPA and DHA. In a 12-week study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2008, plant-based ALA effectively increased EPA and DHA in human red blood cells. A 2012 study also found that 25 grams daily of ground chia seed increased ALA and EPA blood levels in overweight women during a 10-week period. Another study from 2006 found that vegans who only consume ALA, but not DHA or EPA in the diet, had stable DHA concentrations in the blood.
7. Good for bone health
Chia seeds also contain nutrients important for bone health, such as calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and protein. Chia seeds are an excellent plant-based calcium alternative for vegans, and for those who can’t properly digest diary products.
8. Effective diverticulosis treatment
Fiber consumption is traditionally low in the U.S., and diverticulosis is a common inflammatory condition that may develop as a result. The high fiber in chia seeds can help increase bowel movements and reduce the development of diverticulosis.
9. Reduces risk of prostate, cervical, and breast cancer
Some research suggests that the high amount of ALA in the diet may increase the risk of prostate cancer. However, according to a meta-analysis published in 2010, dietary ALA may actually lower the risk of prostate cancer. Study participants with a decreased prostate cancer risk consumed over 1.5 grams daily of ALA foods like chia seeds. Other evidence suggests that the ALA may also inhibit cancer cell growth in cervical and breast cancers as well.
10. Increase performance
Did you know that the Mayans and Aztecs used chia seeds to boost fuel performance thousands of years ago? In a 2011 study, six participants “carb-loaded” with either Gatorade or a mixture that contained half-chia seeds and half-Gatorade. After the drink, they ran for an hour on a treadmill, then a 10-kilometer run. Researchers concluded that the chia drink was helpful for performance, and just as effective as the sugary sports drink.
11. Improve dental health
The zinc, calcium, and phosphorus in chia seeds are also important for strong teeth and dental health. A study published in the Journal of Chromatography in 2014 found that the antioxidants in chia seeds could help reduce up to 70% of free radical activity. Antioxidants can accelerate skin repair and prevent further skin damage from free radicals.
How to Use Chia Seeds
Chia seeds are found in multiple colors, including black, white, gray, and brown. These tiny colorful seeds are also very versatile. You can enjoy chia seeds whole, ground, or soaked in multiple ways. Here are some great uses of the chia seed:
- Egg replacer: Vegan baking can be challenging without eggs. Luckily, chia seeds are the best option for people with egg allergies or vegans. Chia seeds will form a gel when mixed with liquid for an easy egg replacement. Simply combine three tablespoons of water and a tablespoon of ground chia seeds, and let the mixture sit for 15 minutes. Grind the chia seeds in a coffee grinder.
- Cornstarch replacer: It is a challenge to thicken gravy or soup without cornstarch. Some people avoid corn products since corn is a common genetically modified food. A few tablespoons of chia seeds or chia powder are great options to help you thicken your meal.
- Meatball thickener: Chia seeds also make a useful gluten-free option for meatballs. A couple of tablespoons of chia seeds can replace breadcrumbs in meatball recipes.
- Sprouted chia seeds: Sprouted chia seeds are also a great addition for a salad. Combine one tablespoon of chia seeds and one cup of water in a jar, and let it sit for two days. You will have to change the water every 12 hours.
- Energy gel: Want a healthy hydration option after a workout? Chia seeds are also great in homemade hydration gel recipes. Simply combine one cup of coconut water and two tablespoons of chia seeds, and let it sit for around 10 minutes. The energy gel is great after high endurance exercises, like running or other cardio workouts.
Healthy Chia Pudding Recipe
Want to get the most from chia seeds? Get a good energy boost in the morning with a healthy chia pudding. You can make it at night, and by morning you will have a delicious breakfast.
- 2 to 3 tablespoons of black or white chia seeds
- 1 tablespoon of hemp seeds
- 1 teaspoon of Moringa powder
- 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon of dried goji berries
- 2 tablespoon of chocolate protein
- 1-2 cups of unsweetened almond milk or coconut milk
- 1 tablespoon of honey or a few drops of stevia tincture
- Mix all dry ingredients and sweetener in a medium bowl; or blend in a blender until smooth.
- Cover in almond milk and let it soak overnight in the fridge.
Are There Any Chia Seed Concerns?
The health benefits of chia seeds outweigh any negative side effects of the superfood. Chia seeds may also cause problems in people with a history of dysphagia or esophageal restrictions. Dysphagia is a condition that makes it difficult to swallow. In a case study from Carolinas HealthCare System in 2014, a 39-year-old with a history of breathing problems experienced severe dysphagia after swallowing a tablespoon of dry chia seeds and drinking a glass of water.
There aren’t any hard-and-fast guidelines on how many chia seeds you can eat per day, but realistically there’s no need to eat more than 20 grams a day—that amount will provide you with what you need.
This case study suggests there is a right and wrong way to eat chia seeds. Chia seeds will form a hydrogel coating when exposed to liquid, and may result in esophageal obstruction. Yet, others believe that soaking chia seeds can help improve digestion!
Speak with your doctor first if you have any concerns or experience any negative side effects.
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