The Astounding Benefits of Chia Seeds
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably seen at least a few super-hip chia seed recipes pop up on your social media feeds. Chia pudding looks pretty darn strange, and I can’t imagine going out of my way to give it a shot without a good reason.
This leads me to believe that the chia seed benefits for health must be pretty incredible.
I decided to do some research to check out what adding chia seeds to your diet can do for you, and if there are any potential negative side effects. I’m sharing what I found (and my own personal chia experience) with all of you today.
What are Chia Seeds?
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of chia seeds? For me, it’s those little animal-shaped clay pots that you plant a little pack of seeds in. A remarkably short time later, you had a terra cotta pet covered in fine, green grass (I think the point was that it looked like hair!).
The chia health food you hear about today is in fact the same thing that was part of those novelty planters.
Chia seeds are part of the plant Salvia hispanica. The cultivation of this plant dates back to Aztec and Mayan times. The name ‘chia’ is thought to mean ‘strength’.
Salvia hispanica is an annual, meaning it must be replanted each year. It is considered an herb, though it also produces purple and white blooms. The mottled black, brown, gray, and/or white seeds themselves are very small - only about one millimeter around.
The Nutritional Value of Chia Seeds
When you take a look at the nutritional stats of chia seeds, it’s really no wonder they’ve become such a health food staple.
At just 139 calories per serving, that’s a lot of nutritional punch for such a tiny seed. They also contain vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. We know the critical role that these substances play in our bodies. So far, chia seeds seem a likely candidate for a super healthy food we should definitely add to our diets.
It’s no surprise that you hear the buzz word “superfood” associated with chia seeds. Chia seed benefits are pretty far reaching, even when you take into account only their basic nutrition facts.
How are Chia Seeds Prepared?
Chia seeds are often added to ‘healthy’ foods. You can add these little seeds to smoothies, yogurt, granola, cereal, tortillas, or bread for an extra boost of nutrition. They can safely be consumed raw and whole, and are equally effective when prepared or even simply ground.
Chia puddings are one of the trendiest recipes out there right now. These gelatinous desserts are made by mixing one quarter cup of chia seeds with one cup of liquid, plus any other ingredients one might desire. I think they’ve become so popular because they’re a rare, healthy dessert option.
Chia Seed Benefits for Health
As is the case with most superfoods, there are a ton of so-called experts out there spouting the incredible benefits of chia seeds, often times to sell them. The main health claims surrounding chia seeds are that they contribute to heart health and aid weight loss.
While there’s no denying that chia seeds can be exceptionally good for you, there is also little scientific evidence to back up these claims. They certainly aren’t going to hurt you, but neither are they a miracle cure for heart disease or obesity. They are a healthy part of a balanced diet, not a miracle worker.
In my mind, that’s really one of the biggest problems with this whole superfood craze. It tends to confuse people. It also allows ‘gurus’ looking to make a buck an in with potential customers, frequently based on scare tactics and false (or grossly overstated, at least) claims.
You should always do your best to check out these sorts of claims for yourself before taking them as absolutes. Do your research, find information from impartial and credible sources, and consider talking to a doctor or nutritionist if you have further questions.
Chia Seeds are Packed with Nutrition
Chia seeds earn their title of superfood due to the astonishing amount of nutrition packed into such tiny seeds. Plus, despite being nutrient dense, they are incredibly low on calories. Win, win right?
Just look at what 28 grams of chia seeds manages to pack into them (source):
As if that wasn’t good enough, chia seeds are considered a whole grain food, yet they are gluten free. Plus they’re usually grown organically and are non GMO.
Rich in Antioxidants
Being rich in free radical fighting antioxidants is yet another reason chia seeds are known as one of the healthiest foods on the planet. (source)
According to the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, getting antioxidants from whole-food sources has many more positive effects on the body than using antioxidant supplements (source).
Furthermore, other research tells us that antioxidants found in chia seeds can actually fight against free radicals which cause cellular damage. This means they could help prevent aging and diseases like cancer (source).
Filled with Omega 3s
Outdated dietary guidelines made fat seem like the enemy, but we now know that that’s not the case. Current medical science has determined that there are some types of fats that are not only not unhealthy, but are in fact great for the body.
Omega-3 fatty acids are one of those ‘good’ fats. Research now shows that they can help lower triglyceride levels (blood fat). They may also help reduce joint pain, prevent and improve brain diseases like Alzheimer’s and ADHD, and even play a role in reducing mental illness.
In fact, chia seeds contain more omega 3 fatty acids gram for gram than wild salmon which is often thought of as one of the best sources of essential fatty acids.
The only problem is, the omega 3 found in chia seeds is in the form of alpha linolenic acid or ALA. The human body has to convert ALA into EPA and DHA, these are the active forms of omega 3 that offer the many renown health benefits.
Unfortunately, we are not particularly good at converting ALA into EPA and DHA which means plant based sources of omega 3 are actually inferior to animal sources such as fish (source).
However, as so many people are continuously failing to get enough omega 3s into their diet (source) chia seeds could be a great dietary addition, especially for vegans and vegetarians.
Packed With Fiber
Fiber is a well known yet misunderstood nutrient which is incredibly important to one's digestive health.
Dietary fiber, like the fiber found in chia seeds, is an essential part of a healthy diet. While the most purpose of dietary fiber is to prevent constipation, there’s a lot more to it than that. The health benefits of plenty of dietary fiber are innumerable.
The kind of soluble fiber found in chia seeds promotes gut flora. This happens when the chia seeds pass through the digestive system unchanged until they reach the good bacteria.
The good bacteria then digest it and use it as energy. This is known as a probiotic effect.
Probiotics promote overall health and helps manage body weight (source). By helping out the good bacteria in your gut, you can help prevent inflammation which can lead to obesity and a number of serious diseases.
The fiber found in chia seeds can also assist with weight loss and weight management. Chia seed fiber absorbs 10 times its own weight in water, becoming incredibly high in viscosity and creating a gel like substance in the stomach (source).
This causes your stomach to empty at a much slower rate, which means it takes longer to absorb nutrients. You basically feel fuller for longer and your appetite will be reduced, therefore, promoting weight loss (source).
The fiber in chia seeds is also an excellent way to reduce the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Currently, over 10% of the world’s entire population suffers with the IBS, therefore, anything which can naturally reduce symptoms should be welcomed (source).
According to a recent report, getting a daily fiber intake of up to 34 grams per day is a simple yet effective way to reduce the symptoms of IBS (source).
As little as a 28 gram serving of chia seeds provides 11 grams of fiber, therefore, you can see how adding these little black seeds to your diet can be beneficial.
Quality Source of Protein
Chia seeds offer a very high content of protein, around 14% by weight which is higher than most other plant based protein sources.
High levels of protein in the diet promotes satiety and has been shown in studies to reduce appetite as well as cut obsessive thoughts about food by up to 60% (source). This itself makes chia seeds an excellent addition to the diet of anyone looking to lose weight.
With such a high protein content, chia seeds make an excellent diet addition for those who get no animal protein in their diets such as vegans and vegetarians.
Chia Seeds May Lower the Risk of Heart Disease
Cardiovascular disease (heart attack and stroke) is the world’s number one killer according to the World Health Organization (WHO). One of the biggest known pre markers for heart disease is high levels of LDL (the “bad”) cholesterol.
According to research, chia seeds may be able to lower your risk:
Studies have shown that a diet with chia seeds has been shown to lower LDL cholesterol and triglycerides as well as increase HDL (the “good”) cholesterol and reduce inflammation (source)
However, this study also included soy protein and oats, therefore, more research is needed to know exactly what effect chia seeds have on their own. But it is clear to see the results are promising.
Chia Seeds Can Help Promote Bone Health
Bone health is seriously important. As we age, our bones become weaker. Without the right nutrients and proper amount of weight bearing exercise, we can develop conditions like osteoporosis and osteopenia.
This is especially the case for postmenopausal women, as the adjustment in hormones leaves them at greater risk.
One way to improve or at least maintain bone health is by getting enough calcium each day.
Gram for gram, chia seeds have more calcium than most dairy products. In fact, just one 28 gram serving offers 18% of your RDA (source).
Asides from bone health, calcium also plays a huge role in the health and function of your muscles. Don’t forget, your heart is a muscle too! Calcium is also necessary for the transmission of nerve signals to and from the brain.
Chia Seeds Can Improve Type 2 Diabetes
So much research has been done into the benefits of chia seeds, it can be hard to keep track. However, the arguably most successful application of chia seeds is currently the effects they can have on type 2 diabetics.
One study which looked at 20 diabetic patients gave participants either 37 grams of chia seeds, or 37 grams of wheat bran, for 12 weeks (source).
The diabetics who were given the chia seeds saw incredible improvements in a number of ways.
Their blood pressure lowered by 3-6 mm/Hg and an inflammatory marker called hs-CRP was also lowered by 40%. Furthermore, a particular risk factor called vWF also decreased by 21%.
There was a noted small drop in blood sugar, but not enough to shout about.
Chia Seeds are Easy to Include in Your Diet
Chia seeds can be bought online or at your local health food store and are really easy to include in your diet. From smoothies to chia pudding, they are simple and tasty. So there is no excuse not to reap the benefits.
Potential Side Effects
There’s almost always some potential for negative side effects when consuming any food, particularly when eating a lot of it. Most of the time, these side effects are minimal. Moderation is almost always the key when it comes to nutrition.
Chia seeds are no exception. It has been found that too much of the types of fats found in chia seeds can raise triglyceride levels. Studies also show that large amounts of alpha-linolenic acid may contribute to the development of prostate cancer.
Dry chia seeds have the potential to take in a lot of water. There is some concern that, in eating large amounts of dry chia, the seeds may absorb moisture your body needs for its healthy function, causing dehydration. Drink plenty of liquids or soak chia seeds before consumption to avoid this.
The Final Word on Chia Seeds
While the potential chia seed benefits are real, they are no miracle cure. They aren’t likely to solve all of your health problems. You won’t automatically get skinny due to chia seeds, nor will heart health issues resolve themselves.
They do, however, offer some very powerful nutritional benefits. The vitamins and minerals chia seeds contain can help maintain your overall health when consumed in moderation. They have a lot to offer as a part of a balanced diet with plenty of fruits, veggies, and other healthy foods.
Use chia seeds to create healthier homemade granola, as a tasty, textured topping on hand crafted bread, or in a unique chia pudding to add this beneficial whole grain seed to your diet.