Chia Seeds-Benefits Of Chia Seeds
Chia seeds impart many health benefits, which include skin care, weight loss, lowering cholesterol levels, protecting the heart health, controlling diabetes, and improving the digestive system. Also, they help in controlling hypertension, preventing osteoporosis and arthritis, treating cancer, and aiding in pregnancy. Chia seeds give a great energy boost to athletes around the world.
Chia seeds are among the healthiest foods on the planet.
They are loaded with nutrients that can have important benefits for your body and brain.
What are Chia Seeds?
Let’s get the history lesson out of the way. The word chia is Spanish from chian, or oily. Oily means they’re high in fat content. (Lots more on that in a minute.)
Chia seeds come from the flowering plant of chia, which is native to Mexico and Guatemala. The scientific names of the plant are Salvia hispanica and Salvia columbariae, which is also called ‘golden chia’. Both of these belong to the mint family (Lamiaceae). Chia seeds look similar to sesame seeds.
Humans have been eating them for about 5,500 years. Aztecs and Mayas people used chia seeds to prepare folk medicines, food, and even canvases. During pre-historic times in Columbian societies, chia was the second main crop after beans.
The chia plant had been cultivated by the Aztecs, Mayans, Incans, and other tribes for a very long time. Originally ‘chia’ meant ‘strength’ in the Mayan language. It was, therefore, a staple food for them and historians considered it an important plant and food source for Native Americans. With the fall of the Aztecs and the general decline of the native population in the North American region, the use of chia seeds also declined.
This change in the staple food can be attributed to the travelers from Europe colonizing the New World and bringing forth their food grains like wheat, rice, corn, potatoes, and sweet potatoes.
The general preference of food changed over the years. Chia seeds had been forgotten for a long time until recently. The beginning of the 20th century saw a revival of chia seeds as more and more people started knowing about their benefits.
According to USDA, 100 grams of chia seeds contain no cholesterol, 486 kcal of energy, 16 grams of protein, 30 grams of fat, 43 grams of carbohydrates, and 37 grams of dietary fiber. They also have 630 mg of calcium, 948 mg of phosphorus, 160 mg of potassium, 19 mg of sodium, and 3.5 mg of zinc. Chia seeds are also rich in vitamins such as vitamin C, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and vitamin E.
Chia seeds are a good source of antioxidants as well. The antioxidants present in chia seeds include flavonol glycosides, chlorogenic acid, caffeic acid, kaempferol, quercetin, myricetin, and linolenic acid. These antioxidants help in curbing the levels of free radicals in the body. They reportedly also contain very high concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids that have many benefits.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Nutrient Database, a 28-gram, or one-ounce serving of chia seeds contains:
- Calcium: 18% of the RDA.
- Fiber: 11 grams.
- Protein: 4 grams.
- Fat: 9 grams (5 of which are Omega-3s).
- Manganese: 30% of the RDA.
- Magnesium: 30% of the RDA.
- Phosphorus: 27% of the RDA.
- They also contain a decent amount of Zinc, Vitamin B3 (Niacin), Potassium, Vitamin B1 (Thiamine) and Vitamin B2.
- No sugar
Eating once ounce of chia seeds each day would provide 18 percent of daily calcium needs, 27 percent of phosphorus, 30 percent of manganese, and smaller amounts of potassium and copper.
Chia seeds provide more omega-3s, calcium, phosphorus, and fiber than flaxseeds. Most people do not consume enough of these essential nutrients.
Fast facts on chia seeds:
- Chia seeds are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, antioxidants, iron, and calcium.
- A 28-gram, or 1-ounce, serving of chia seeds also contains 5.6 grams of protein.
- Mixed with water, they can replace egg in vegan cooking.
- Chia seeds can be eaten cooked or raw, but they should be added to another food or soaked before eating.
Prevent Heart Diseases
Studies show that consumption of chia seeds increased HDL or good cholesterol levels but decreased the total cholesterol levels simultaneously. Chia seeds are considered as a heart-friendly food. The reason is that they are the richest source of omega-3 fatty acids and alpha-linolenic acid in the vegetarian world. Omega-3 fatty acids are the good fats (HDL cholesterol) that protect the heart and prevent the onset of heart diseases by reducing the levels of omega-6 fatty acids (LDL cholesterol) and maintaining a stress-free cardiovascular system.
Chia and the power of fiber
The United States (U.S.) dietary guidelines for 2015 to 2020 suggest that men under the age of 50 years should consume 30.8 grams (g) of fiber per day and women under the age of 50 years should consume 25.2 g per day.
For adults over 50 years of age, the recommendation for men is 28 g per day, and for women, it is 22.4 g per day. Most people consume less than half of that recommendation.
The easiest way to increase fiber intake is to eat more plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and unprocessed grains. Just one ounce of chia seeds provides 10 grams of fiber, almost half the daily recommendation for a woman over 50 years.
Chia Seeds Are Loaded With Antioxidants
Another area where chia seeds shine is in their high amount of antioxidants.
These antioxidants protect the sensitive fats in the seeds from going rancid.
Although antioxidant supplements are not very effective, getting antioxidants from foods can have positive effects on health.
Most importantly, antioxidants fight the production of free radicals, which can damage molecules in cells and contribute to aging and diseases like cancer.
There are some claims online about chia seeds having more antioxidants than blueberries, but I was unable find a study to verify this claim.
As a general rule, omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory while omega-6 fatty acids are inflammatory. (There are exceptions, like gamma-linolenic acid or GLA, an omega-6 fatty acid that’s anti-inflammatory. But that’s another article.)
That doesn’t mean you should (or could) completely avoid omega 6s. Arachidonic acid (AA), which you’ll remember is the longer-chain omega-6 fatty acid from LA, contributes to membrane flexibility and permeability.
Only when you eat too many of those omega 6s – and most of us do – can AA create problems including obesity.In fact, studies show chronic inflammation – and by default, omega-6 fatty acids like AA – contribute to nearly every disease on the planet.
But back to these two “starter kit” fatty acids. Theoretically, your body can convert the omega-6 LA and omega-3 ALA into longer-chain omega-3 and omega-6 derivatives, but here’s the thing: Your body isn’t great at doing that because you share one set of enzymes to convert both LA and ALA into their longer-chain derivatives.
Whereas researchers estimate Paleolithic humans got about equal amounts of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, today we get about 20 times more omega-6s.
In other words, you’ve got one set of enzymes running around trying to convert LA and ALA into longer-chain fatty acids, but with way more omega 6s, oftentimes converting ALA into EPA and DHA becomes a challenge.
Think of it this way. Let’s say you’ve got a dinner party and one hostess is serving you in one room and 25 people in the other room. Maybe you’re just feeling antisocial or just want to be alone and watch the new Will and Grace rather than hang out with these 25 dinner guests.
Guess where that hostess is going to spend almost all of her time? Yup: In the room with 25 people. That’s how your enzymes work with elongating omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
With a high antioxidant capacity, chia seeds can repair skin cells and prevent further damage. The omega 3 fatty acids help in maintaining moisture levels in the skin, prevent dryness, delay aging and the appearance of wrinkles. Chia seeds, because of their inflammatory properties, are also used to treat acne.
Almost All The Carbs in Them Are Fiber
Looking at the nutrition profile of chia seeds, you see that an ounce has 12 grams of "carbohydrate." However... 11 of those grams are fiber, which isn't digested by the body.
Fiber doesn't raise blood sugar, doesn't require insulin to be disposed of and therefore shouldn't count as a carb.
The true carb content is only 1 gram per ounce, which is very low. This makes chia a low-carb friendly food.
Because of all the fiber, chia seeds can absorb up to 10-12 times their weight in water, becoming gel-like and expanding in your stomach.
Theoretically, this should increase fullness, slow absorption of your food and help you automatically eat fewer calories.
Fiber also feeds the friendly bacteria in the intestine, which is important because keeping your gut bugs well fed is absolutely crucial for health.
Chia seeds are 40% fiber, by weight. This makes them one of the best sources of fiber in the world.
Boost Digestive Health
The high dietary fiber content in chia seeds is good for regulating bowel movements and it also helps to keep up your overall gastrointestinal health. Also after consumption, these seeds create a gel-like substance in the stomach which acts as a prebiotic and supports the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut. Chia seeds make you feel full for longer, thereby reducing your urge to overeat.
Foods that are high in fiber help people to feel full for longer, and they are usually lower in calories. Increased fiber intake and a high fiber diet have been shown to help with weight loss.
Aside from chia seeds' fiber content, their high levels of omega-3-fatty acids and alpha-linoleic acid may be useful for weight loss.
However, evidence is scant. A review, published in the Journal of Obesity, concludes that "there is limited data to suggest the use of chia seeds for weight loss."
Another study, published in Nutrition Research, concludes that, in overweight adults, chia seeds have "no influence on body mass or composition, or various disease risk factor measures."
The starches and carbohydrates present in chia seeds are released slowly in comparison to conventional foods and are, therefore, ideal for type 2 diabetics as blood sugar level would not surge soon after having meals. A slower release of sugars into the bloodstream can aid in the optimum absorption of these sugars by each of the cells in the body. Hence, it is believed that the need for insulin diminishes with chia seeds.
Chia Seeds Fiber Content
Besides its fatty acids, dietary fiber might be chia seed’s staring factor. Of its 12 total carbohydrates, one ounce of chia seeds contains an impressive nearly 10 grams of dietary fiber.
Researchers estimated Paleolithic humans got about 100 grams of dietary fiber daily. That’s far below what we get today: The American Heart Association Eating Plan recommends total dietary fiber intake of 25 – 30 grams daily, yet intake among American adults averages about 15 grams a day.
Dietary fiber rocks for so many reasons. Yes, it keeps you regular, but that alone doesn’t really sell this nutrient.
“Fiber fills you up—literally,” write Bowden and Masley. “Fiber-rich solid foods take longer to chew, which allows your body to get the signal to your brain that your hunger is being dealt with. [F]iber-rich foods also take longer to digest and absorb, leaving you satisfied for much longer… And with high-fiber foods, you’ll have fewer cravings, more energy, and you’ll be less likely to overeat at your next meal, or worse, make a bad snack choice to tide you over until the next meal.”
Dietary fiber has other benefits beyond satiety and weight loss, including preventing colorectal cancer , cardiovascular disease , and Type 2 diabetes.
Just as importantly, chia seeds have about equal amounts of soluble and insoluble fiber. Among their benefits, soluble fiber optimizes your lipid profile (read: your doctor will be happy with your labs) while insoluble fiber keeps you regular.
You need both types of fiber, and chia seeds provide them in ideal amounts. And, worth repeating, a mere one ounce contains about 10 grams (40 percent) of your day’s fiber intake.
The amount of calcium found in chia seeds is considered to be higher than what is found in skimmed milk. These seeds also contain boron. It helps to metabolize calcium, which is needed for improved bodily functions and for bone health, helping to prevent osteoporosis, joint weakness, and general body flexibility.
Having a handful of chia seeds daily is recommended to eliminate dental issues. Chia seeds, being rich in calcium, phosphorus, and zinc, are amazing for the teeth. They keep the teeth healthy, eliminate bad breath, and help in overall oral care.
Cardiovascular disease and cholesterol
Increased fiber intake has been shown to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
A review of 67 separate controlled trials found that even a modest 10-gram per day increase in fiber intake reduced LDL, or "bad" cholesterol, as well as total cholesterol.
Recent studies have shown that dietary fiber may play a role in regulating the immune system and inflammation. In this way, it may decrease the risk of inflammation-related conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and obesity.
Omega-3s to fight heart disease
Research suggests that omega-3s can decrease the risk for thrombosis and arrhythmias, disorders that can lead to heart attack, stroke, and sudden cardiac death.
Omega-3s may also decrease LDL, total cholesterol and triglyceride levels, reduce atherosclerotic plaque, improve endothelial function, and slightly lower blood pressure.
The richest sources of plant-based omega-3s are chia seeds, flaxseeds, flaxseed oil, hempseeds, hempseed oil, and walnuts.
Improve Athletes Performance
Chia seeds drink can prove to be a great energy drink that boosts energy without contributing to any unhealthy sugar levels. Athletes around the world agree with these claims as they use chia seeds to get a quick health boost to their energy levels. Apparently, you can also see a boost in your metabolism by consuming these ‘superfoods’ or more appropriately ‘superseeds’.
The nutrients in chia seeds can play a significant role in keeping a person’s weight under control in the long run. Also, the fact that these seeds control the appetite, makes it easier for overweight people to stick to their goals and the lean ones to maintain their shape.
They Are High in Many Important Bone Nutrients
Chia seeds are high in several nutrients that are important for bone health.
This includes calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and protein.
The calcium content is particularly impressive... 18% of the RDA in a single ounce.
Gram for gram, this is higher than most dairy products.
Chia seeds may be considered an excellent source of calcium for people who don't eat dairy.
Chia seeds have high levels of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which can be easily converted into omega-3 fatty acids to act as an ideal inflammation controller. These fatty acids control inflammation in the joints and arteries. It is estimated that a daily intake of about 4 grams of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is enough to prevent arthritis.
Aid in Pregnancy
Considered an ideal food for pregnant women, chia seeds can aid in the baby’s brain development, replenish all the lost nutrients, and increase the energy levels. Fish being a great source of omega 3, sometimes can threaten the unborn baby’s health with high mercury levels. So chia seeds are a safe option for all the mothers-to-be! Also, these seeds keep the blood sugar levels under control and help prevent conditions like high birth weight in the baby, C-section delivery, and preeclampsia.
Where to Buy Chia Seeds
If you’re looking for ways to incorporate more chia seeds into your diet, you’re going to have a problem finding good recipes online.
Just kidding. Seriously: A quick Google search will reveal a plethora of shakes, smoothies, puddings, and other concoctions that incorporate chia seeds. Like I said, these little seeds are massive nutrient rock stars, and they’re also incredibly versatile.
How to eat Chia Seeds?
- Chia seeds can be soaked in a glass of water and consumed the next morning with breakfast.
- Water-soaked chia seeds can be added to cakes or cookies to eliminate the use of butter. Eating sprouted chia seeds can also be very beneficial.
- They can be added to various drinks, juices, protein shakes, and milkshakes as a healthy component.
- Chia seeds can also be sprinkled on various foods in your breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
- They can be added to eggs to make a healthy omelet or to salads as a dressing.
- Add a handful of chia seeds to milk and boil the mixture for some time to have a healthy porridge.
- Chia seeds can be ground up and the powder can be added to flour, milk, and yogurts.
- Chia seeds can be added to stews as a thickening agent.
Side Effects of Chia Seeds
- Allergies: Chia seeds may cause rashes, hives, vomiting, and diarrhea. Also, cross-reactions exist between chia and closely related foods like oregano, sesame, and mustard.
- Digestive Issues: If eaten in excess, chia seeds cause stomach issues in some people. This effect is because of the high fiber content in the seeds.
- Cancer: There are controversial studies regarding chia seeds’ effect on cancer, which say that the seeds increase the risk of prostate cancer. Consult your doctor before consuming the seeds.
- Blood Pressure: Chia seeds are known to treat hypertension as they act as blood thinners. So people taking medications for high blood pressure should avoid the intake of these seeds as there is a risk of hypotension.