Chia Seeds – the Legendary Superfood
Chia seeds is one of the most popular superfoods in the health community now. They’re easy to digest when prepared properly and a very versatile ingredient that adds easily to recipes. Nutritious and easy to prepare, Chia seeds come from the desert plant Salvia Hispanica, a member of the mint family that grows abundantly in south Mexico.
You may have also seen chia sprouts growing on the novelty planters called Chia Pets, but many of us many not realize that chia seeds is nutritional and medicinal and has been consumed for centuries for its beneficial properties…
In pre-Columbian times they were a main staple of the Aztec, Incan and Mayan diets and were the basic survival ration of Aztec warriors. A tablespoon of chia seeds was believed to pack energy boosting power to sustain a person for 24 hours. The Aztecs highly valued the medicinal and nutritional properties of Chia, using it to stimulate saliva flow and to relieve joint pain and sore skin, and even they were even used as currency. Chia means “strength” in the Mayan language, and chia seeds were known as “runners’ food” because runners and warriors would use them as fuel while running long distances or during battle.
100 grams (about 2 tablespoons) contains the following :
- 4 g of protein
- 9 g fat
- 12 g carbohydrates
- 11 g of fibre
- 139 calories
- Vitamin B, D & E
- Minerals – Calcium, Magnesium, Iron, Zinc, Boron, Niacin
By weight (gram for gram comparison), chia seeds surpass atlantic salmon in Omega-3, milk in calcium, bran flakes cereal in fibre, raw spinach in iron, and contains around 75% of protein in kidney beans.
Health Benefits of Chia Seeds
Recent research has found that the chia seeds benefits are even greater than we realized. Chia seeds benefits include promoting healthy skin, reducing signs of aging, supporting the heart and digestive system, building stronger bones and muscles, and more. They’ve even been linked to helping reverse diabetes.
Being rich in so many key nutrients, research has reported that regular consumption of chia seeds can help improve your health in many ways. Below are some of key benefits of chia seeds :
Improve Skin and Delay Aging
Mexican studies have shown that chia seeds had a total natural phenolic (antioxidants) concentration of almost 2 times higher than previously reported, and the antioxidant activity may prevent up to 70% of free radical activity.
This research shared that chia seeds are one of nature’s riches high-antioxidant foods. Antioxidants speed up the skin’s repair systems and prevent further damage, and hence prevent premature skin ageing.
Chia is very high in fibre, providing approximately 11 g per ounce, hence 1 serving can provide the recommended fibre intake for a day, according to the American Dietetic Association. Also according to the National Institutes of Health, seeds like flax and chia can be a natural blood sugar balancer due to their high fibre content and healthy fats.
With its right dietary fibre content, chia seeds benefits bowel regularity and healthy stool, and helps you feel full quicker because it absorbs a considerable amount of water and immediately expands in the stomach when eaten. This may explain why clinical studies have proved that chia curbs hunger and suppresses appetite, and hence helps those who wants to lose weight.
When consumed, chia seeds create a gelatin-like substance in the stomach, which is a soluble fibre that can work as a prebiotic that supports the growth of probiotics in the gut.
Improve Heart Health
Chia seeds’ ability to reverse inflammation, regulate cholesterol and lower blood pressure make it very beneficial for heart health.
In a nutshell, according to research out of Massachusetts:
For such a tiny seed, chia is quite high in healthy fats, boasting more omega-3s than salmon. Omega-3s work to protect the heart by lowering blood pressure, bad cholesterol and inflammation. Inflammation can put strain on blood vessels and cause heart disease.
Help Cure Diabetes
Because chia seeds are rich in alpha-linolenic acid and fibre, researchers from the University of Litoral in Argentina set out to determine how chia seeds can help prevent metabolic disorders like dyslipidemia (excessive fat in the blood) and insulin resistance, which are two factors in the development of diabetes. Published in the British Journal of Nutrition, this research is extremely fascinating because these scientists conducted two studies at the same time and concluded that chia seeds were able to halt diabetes and reverse it.
Increase Your Energy and Metabolism
A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning concluded that consuming chia seeds enhanced exercise performance for workouts that lasted 90 minutes the same way a sugar-laden sports drink would, but without all the unhealthy sugar.
By adding a serving of chia seeds a day, you can help boost your metabolism and burn belly fat as well. Studies show that the addition of chia seeds to your diet also reduces visceral adipose tissue, a “belly fat” tissue that effects the metabolism of the body and is a component of obesity.
Improve Bone Health
An ounce of chia seeds has about 18% of the recommended daily amount of calcium. Calcium is fundamental in bone health and helps maintain bone strength and mass.
Chia also contains boron, which is another essential nutrient for bone health. Boron helps metabolize calcium, magnesium, manganese and phosphorus for healthy growth of bones and muscles.
Help Weight Loss and Muscle Building
Chia seeds rank amongst the top plant-based sources of protein. This is another reason this wonderful seed is a top choice for those trying to put on lean muscle, burn fat and balance blood sugar levels.
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.
One of the characteristics that make chia seeds so unique is they can absorb up to 10 times their own weight in water. Because of this, chia seeds can prolong hydration and improve nutrient absorption of electrolytes. This also slows digestion and keeps you feeling fuller longer, reducing sugar cravings.
Since chia seeds are high in zinc, they help your body increase leptin. Leptin is a key hormone that regulates appetite, how your body spends energy and regulates your energy levels. This improves stamina and endurance, making chia a great source of nutrition if you want to lose weight and gain muscles.
Remember though that there is no magic bullet (or seed) for weight loss. If you want to lose weight, you’ll need to follow a healthy, calorie-controlled diet and get more physical activity. While there may be lack of concrete evidence for the weight loss benefits of chia, it can be a nutritious addition to your diet.
Fight Breast and Cervical Cancers
Chia seeds are rich in alpha lipoic acid (or ALA), which is an omega-3 fatty acid. In 2013, the Journal of Molecular Biochemistry found that ALA limited the growth of cancer cells in both breast and cervical cancers.
Studies have also shown that Chia Seeds caused cell death of the cancer cells without harming the normal healthy cells. While more research still needs to be done to find out the deeper implications of ALA on other types of cancer, this is an early stage discovery that spells great news for women!
Improve Dental Health
With chia seeds packed with calcium, phosphorus, vitamin A and zinc, it’s no wonder that they’re a top food to help your teeth. Calcium is the building block of your teeth and necessary for tooth health, and Zinc prevents tartar by keeping plaque from mineralizing onto your teeth and has an antibacterial effect that keeps bad breath germs away. Vitamin A and phosphorus are also important for strong teeth and a healthy mouth.
Best Way to Consume Chia Seeds
Chia seeds have a mild, nutty taste and can easily be added to most dishes as a garnish, yet chewing small seeds like flax or chia generally is not the best way to digest and absorb the omega-3s and other nutrients. The best way to access their vitamins and minerals is to either grind or soak them.
Raw vs Soaking
There seems to be much debate as to whether you need to soak chia seeds before eating. It won’t hurt to eat them straight, but if you soak them, then you “sprout” them, which releases the “enzyme inhibitors” that are used to protect the seed.
This makes it much easier to digest, and your body can then access the dense nutrients inside the seeds.
How to Soak
To soak chia seeds, simply mix them in a 1:10 ratio chia to water. That’s about 1.5 tablespoons chia seeds in one cup of water. You don’t need to be exact, all you need is to have it gel all the way and not be too watery. Then let them sit for about 30 minutes to two hours.
Since chia seeds can hold up to 12 times their weight in water, they’re wonderful to prevent dehydration. Even if you choose not to soak them, they can also absorb water from you during digestion. Do ensure you drink plenty of water throughout the day to keep your body hydrated.
An alternative is to grind chia seeds in a coffee grinder to break down the hard outer shells before eating them. When pulverized, chia seed flour can be used in most gluten-free recipes like pancakes, muffins, breads and even pastas. When grinding omega-3-rich seeds, however, it’s important to store them in a sealed, glass container in your refrigerator.
Unlike flax seeds, you do not have to grind chia seeds to absorb their nutrition. You can eat them whole and still get their “energy-packed” punch. You can even just eat a spoonful straight, but beware as they have a tendency of sticking to your teeth.
Potential Side Effects and Allergies
There are very few side effects associated with chia seeds. There has been some conflicting research about the effect of chia seeds on prostate cancer, however. A study done with ALA and prostate cancer showed that this fatty acid could increase the risk of prostate cancer, but the study was later shown to have some bias. In fact, according to a study in 2010, ALA did not increase prostate cancer risk and actually decreased the risk in participants.
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.
If you have food allergies (especially to sesame or mustard seeds) or are on high blood pressure medications or blood thinners, you should ask your health care provider before adding chia to your diet.
There are so many good reasons to consume chia seeds, and so many ways to incorporate it into your diet. Start now to get all the wonderful chia seeds benefits !