Health Benefits of Chia Seeds – Small but Powerful Superfood

When we talk about good health, what comes to mind are fruits and green, leafy vegetables. They’re nutrient-rich and full of fiber that can do wonders for our digestion and promote good health. They’re not all that we can eat to make us healthy, look good, and feel good, too.

Take chia seeds, for instance. They are fast becoming the most in-demand superfood in the health and wellness world. Chia seeds are easy to digest and can be added to different recipes with ease. You may be clueless now on how to incorporate chia seeds into your daily diet, but not after reading this article. Gone are the days when chia seeds were mainly used as equine food. We don’t want to miss the healthy goodness chia seeds have to offer.

What are Chia Seeds?

Chia Seeds

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Chia seed comes from an herbaceous plant in the mint family, Salvia hispanica. The literal meaning of chia is “oily” according to the Nahuatl word “chian.” When you say chia, it actually pertains to two plants, one of which is chia seeds, Salvia hispanica, and the other being golden chia, Salvia columbariae.

Chia seed is rich in nutrients and is an excellent source of energy-boosting power. Several research reports stated that there is more to chia seeds than meets the eye. They offer healing benefits giving you more reasons to include chia seeds in your meals from now on.

Many people get confused whether chia seeds or flax seeds are more nutritious. It’s not surprising that chia seeds will soon outshine flax seeds because the former goes rancid much later and doesn’t need to be grounded before consumption. According to the nutrition and cooking teacher, Drew Rosen, chia seeds can actually last for up to two years even without putting them in the fridge. On top of that, 60% of the 40% oil content of chia seeds is omega-3.

Scientific Name: Salvia hispanica
Common Names: Chia

Plant Description

Chia seeds which are from the chia plant which is an annual herb that can grow up to 5.7 feet tall. It has opposite leaves and bears white or purple flowers in different clusters on a spike at the tip of every stem.

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The chia plant is mainly grown for its seed. Chia seeds are an excellent source of Omega-3 fatty acids. Its seeds can yield around 25% to 30% extractable oil such as alpha-linoleic acid.

Chia seeds are tiny ovals around 1 mm. in diameter. They are mottle colored in shades of white, gray, brown, and black. What makes the chia seeds special is that they are hydrophilic, meaning they absorb as much as 12 times their weight when soaked in liquid. Once soaked, chia seeds produce a mucilaginous coating giving chia drinks their trademark gel texture.

Where do chia seeds come from?

Chia seeds were originally grown in Mexico, but are also native to Guatemala. The seeds have high value for their nutritional and medicinal properties. There was even a time when chia seeds were used as a currency for trading goods in addition to maize.

For an energy and endurance boost, Aztec warriors consumed a diet that included lots of chia seeds daily. According to them, eating just a spoonful can provide unending energy that can last an entire day. Also according to the Mayan language, chia means strength and is considered to be a “runner’s food” since both warriors and runners ate chia seeds to fuel them during battles or while running long distances.

People during ancient times even gave chia seeds to 21 out of the 38 Aztec provincial state rulers as a yearly tribute. Up to now, people from Argentina, Bolivia, Guatemala, Mexico, and Paraguay use whole or ground chia seeds to make healthy drinks and dishes.

Black vs. White Chia Seeds

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Does it matter if you consume black or white chia seeds? Both colors have the same nutritional content, except that the black chia seeds are loaded with more antioxidants and a special type of antioxidant, quercetin, as reported by the Nutritional Science Research Institute. Most experts suggest mixing both colors in a single serving to maximize the health benefits they offer.

Chia Seed Nutrition Facts

Chia seeds are a healthy addition to your diet because they are rich in Omega-3 fats (healthy fats), proteins, fiber, vitamins and minerals like:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids (4915 mg -20 %)
  • Omega-6 fatty acids (1620 mg)
  • Protein (4.4 g – 9% recommended daily value)
  • Zinc (1.0 mg – 7% RDV)
  • Calcium (77 mg – 18% RDV)
  • Copper (0.1 mg – 3% RDV)
  • Dietary Fiber (11 g – 42% RDV)
  • Phosphorus (265 mg – 27% RDV)
  • Potassium (44.8 mg – 1% RDV)

Other Compounds Present in Chia Seeds

  • Antioxidants
  • Vitamins A, B, E and D
  • Essential fatty acids (EFAs) linoleic acid, alpha-linoleic acid, strontium, and cumin
  • Minerals like iodine, iron, magnesium, manganese, sulphur, niacin, and thiamine

Health Benefits of Chia Seeds

chia-seeds

Why are chia seeds good for you?

1. Promote Healthy Skin and Delay Aging – Mexican researchers revealed in a study published in July 2016 that chia seeds had a total antioxidant (natural phenolic) concentration that is twice higher than in previous reports. Its antioxidant properties were able to prevent and reduce free-radical activity by up to 70%. (1)

Now you know that chia seeds are one of nature’s most potent antioxidants. Antioxidants prevent skin damage and boost the skin’s healing abilities. Chia seeds benefits for skin include stopping premature aging caused by free-radical damage and inflammation.

2. Promote Healthy Gut Health – With about 11 grams of fiber per ounce, chia seeds are indeed a good source of fiber. It’s enough to provide the daily recommended fiber intake as specified by the American Dietetic Association.

The body needs fiber to maintain normal insulin levels. The National Institute of Health reported that chia seeds can naturally balance blood sugar because of the high fiber content and healthy fats. There are about 10 grams of fiber in two tablespoons of chia seeds.

Thus, chia seeds help maintain normal bowels and healthy stool.
Also, the fiber in chia seeds boosts satiety because you can easily absorb it and it expands in the gut once consumed.

3. Are Chia Seeds good for Weight Loss?
Another clinical study also supports the claim that chia seeds suppress the appetite and curb hunger leading to weight loss. That’s because chia seeds form a gelatin-like substance that once ingested, that makes them glue-like or “mucilaginous,” (2) not only curbing the appetite but it also acts like a prebiotic promoting probiotic growth in the stomach.

4. Heart-friendly – Chia seeds can lower the blood pressure, regulate cholesterol levels, eliminate cardiac inflammation, and lower total, LDL, as well as triglyceride cholesterol. It can also lower C-reactive protein, an inflammatory marker among patients with type-2 diabetes. (3) Regular consumption of chia seeds reverses oxidative stress, protecting you from developing atherosclerosis. The Reviews on Recent Clinical Trials journal sums up the heart benefits you can get from chia seeds.

That’s why you should never underestimate the power of chia seeds despite their small size. These tiny seeds are rich in the fatty and linoleic acids, both being healthy fats comparable to those found in salmon. So, protecting your heart is among the major benefits you get from eating this type of seed.

5. Chia Seeds and Diabetes – The British Journal of Nutrition published a study conducted by Argentinian researchers from the University of Litoral on how chia seeds aid in preventing metabolic disorders such as insulin resistance and dyslipidemia (too much fat in the blood). These are two risk factors in developing diabetes. What these researchers discovered was that:
Chia seeds consumption among healthy rats totally prevented them from developing insulin resistance and dyslipidemia. The second test proved that the sick rats were able to recover from their sickness after chia seeds were added to their diet for two more months.
What it means is that chia seeds can prevent diabetes or reverse it among those who are already diagnosed with the disease. (4)

Another study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that the intake of chia seeds can improve blood pressure and other previously observed coagulation and inflammatory markers among type-2 Diabetes patients. (5)

6. Boost Metabolism and Energy – The Journal of Strength and Conditioning published a recent study concluding that eating chia seeds improved exercise performance when doing exercises that lasted over 90 minutes, similar to the effects of a sugar-filled sports drink but without the sugar. Half of the athletes who participated in the study drank Gatorade while the rest drank half Gatorade and half with a drink made with chia seeds. (6)

Other Benefits of Chia Seeds

If you are wondering how to eat chia seeds to enjoy all the nutritional and medicinal benefits, you can use it as a topping or add it to yogurt, smoothies, bread, tortillas, breakfast cereals, and energy and granola bars. You can go old-school and consume it raw or make the seeds into a gelatin-like substance. You can also extract the gel from ground chia seeds and use it for baking cakes instead of eggs and oil. It’s also an excellent natural source of gum in the food industry. (7)

Where to Buy Chia Seeds

The downside of chia seed is that it’s not the most affordable seed and nut in the market. But considering how healthy and nutritious it is, the benefits of chia seeds far outweigh the cons, even its cost.

When buying chia seeds, consider whether it is better to purchase them from reputable companies, shop online, or from small and local health food stores. The advantage of buying from major reputable companies is that they adhere to high quality and food safety standards. Always buy chemical-free and organic chia seeds when possible. Even Amazon.com sells these tiny, edible seeds, exported from Australia and grown in a natural environment. The chia seeds they sell are without a doubt organic, clean, pure, and free of chemicals without compromising their nutritional properties.

Since they don’t spoil easily, you can buy chia seeds in bulk. Even though you can store them for years, just bear in mind that their nutritional value decreases over time.

Cooking with Chia Seeds

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It’s easy to incorporate chia seeds in different recipes because of their mild and nutty flavor. What’s even better is that chia seeds are gluten-free. So, rejoice if you are intolerant to gluten, have celiac disease or simply want to avoid food with gluten in it.

Soaking chia seeds in water makes the antioxidants in them readily available rather than consuming them dry. Also, chia seed sprouts release enzyme inhibitors protecting the seed, making it easier to digest and making the nutrients readily accessible.

Chia Seeds Recipes

1. Chia Seeds Pudding with Almond Milk

chia-pudding

Soaking chia seeds in water overnight gives it a tapioca-like texture the following morning. Add some almond milk or cinnamon and honey to enjoy a pudding-like treat you can eat anytime of the day.

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup chia seeds
  • 1 cup almond milk
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoon honey
  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt

Procedure:

  1. Prepare the ingredients.
  2. Mix well and put in the fridge for 30 minutes or overnight to make the chia seeds thick and gelatinous.
  3. Spoon into a cup or glass.
  4. Add toppings and enjoy.

2. Chia Seeds and Yogurt

Get the energy boost you need to last you the entire day and feel fuller without the fuss. Start your day healthy by fueling your body with a superfood like chia seeds.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of plain or Greek yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons of chia seeds
  • Honey or vanilla extract (optional)

Toppings:

  • Honey
  • Orange sections
  • Wheat germ

Procedure:

  1. Mix the seeds in the yogurt.
  2. Add vanilla or honey if desired.
  3. Put in the fridge for two hours or even overnight.
  4. Top with a drizzle of lemon, some orange sections, or a sprinkle of wheat germ before serving.

3. Blueberry Banana Smoothie with Chia Seeds

Blueberry Banana Smoothie with Chia Seeds

Chia seeds also go great with smoothies to add more creaminess to the already creamy texture. It’s not too late to indulge yourself in a healthy smoothie rather than most commercial drinks filled with sugar.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons chia seeds
  • 1 cup low fat milk
  • 1 cup frozen blueberries (replace with strawberry for a strawberry smoothie)
  • 2 medium sliced and frozen bananas

Procedure:

  1. 15 minutes before making the smoothie, take the banana out of the fridge or put it in the microwave for 20 to 30 seconds.
  2. Slice the banana.
  3. Add a cup of frozen blueberries and the cup of low fat milk.
  4. Add the chia seeds.
  5. Blend well until the mixture looks smooth and creamy.

What else can you do with Chia Seeds?

  • Chia seed toppings
  • On–the-go snacks
  • Chia seed spread (add berries to make jam)
  • Healthy breading
  • Body scrub

Chia Seeds Supplements


Like all the other superfood and functional foods nature has provided, there are also chia seeds supplements available that you can buy in the market. The supplements are for people who can’t tolerate eating raw chia seeds or do not have the time to wait for delicious chia seeds smoothies or puddings. Chia seeds oil has more benefits than flaxseed oil because it contains more nutrients than the latter. It’s good to know there are other options to consume chia seeds apart from consuming the seeds itself.

Precautions

Consume chia seeds with caution if you have:

  • Trouble swallowing
  • History of dysphagia

There is a reported incident of a person who drank water right away after swallowing dry chia seeds and experienced severe dysphagia. It can lead to an obstruction in the esophagus leading to breathing problems because chia seeds quickly increase in size and turn into a gel-like texture. Also, exercise the same caution when giving it to young kids.

How much Chia Seed you should consume each day

For adults: 2 tablespoons of chia seeds daily (15 grams) containing 5 grams fiber and 3000 mg. omega-3 fatty acids
For kids 4 ½ to 18 years old: 1 tablespoon of chia seeds daily

Drug Interactions

It interacts with the drug Warfarin and Coumadin. People taking blood pressure and blood thinning drugs are advised to be cautious when they consume chia seeds.

Side Effects of Chia Seeds

Like any other superfood, too much of the seeds can still have some negative side effects.

  • GI issues (stomach pain, diarrhea, hard stools, gas, and bloating)
  • Bleeding/low blood pressure (blood thinner because of the high concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids)
  • Allergic reactions (watery eyes, rashes, and hives)
  • Affect blood sugar levels
  • Increase triglyceride levels
  • Risk of prostate cancer in men (from too much alpha-linoleic acid)
  • Unknown effects on pregnant women

The saying that small is terrible truly applies to chia seeds. These tiny, edible seeds are packed with so much nutrition than most other fruits and veggies out there combined. It is a good thing that nutrition experts revived chia seeds, so we can also enjoy all the health and medicinal benefits they offer that were also enjoyed by ancient Mayan and Aztec people. Consuming chia seeds daily was one of the reasons why their civilization flourished during their time, and still much talked about even today.

If you want to try something new that can help you lose weight and boost your immunity without sacrificing taste, chia seeds are a great alternative to most treats we love snacking on.

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Other Sources:
https://en.wikipedia.org/
https://draxe.com/
http://www.clevelandclinicwellness.com/
http://articles.mercola.com/
http://www.healwithfood.org/
http://theviewfromgreatisland.com/
http://www.sweetanddelish.com/
http://www.bustle.com/
http://www.livestrong.com/
http://www.healwithfood.org/
http://www.webmd.com/
http://www.eatright.org/

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