Chia Seeds: All the Health Benefits
Chia seeds are the small black seeds of the chia plant (Salvia hispanica). While small in size, these tiny seeds offer a big nutritional value and provide many diverse health benefits. In this article, we are going to discuss chia seeds benefits in depth.
What Are Chia Seeds?
Chia seeds are small oval-shaped seeds from the chia plant. They range in color from white to brown or black. The chia plant is native to Mexico and Guatemala, where the word "chia" actually means "strength." Chia seeds were a staple food crop for the ancient Aztec and Mayan people, and they continue to be eaten in these areas for their amazing health benefits.
What Are the Benefits of Chia Seeds?
The health benefits of chia seeds are diverse. Chia seeds contain large amounts of fiber and omega-3 fatty acids, as well as ample amounts of high quality protein, and several essential minerals and antioxidants. They are known to improve digestive health, blood levels of heart-healthy omega-3s, and to reduce the risk factors for heart disease and diabetes. Below are some of the top health benefits of chia seeds:
Chia Seeds Contain Many Important Nutrients
Chia seeds are packed with nutritional value. Just one ounce of chia seeds contains 11 grams of fiber, 4 grams of protein, and 9 grams of fat. Chia seeds also contain many important vitamins and minerals such as calcium, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, potassium, and vitamins B1, B2 and B3. Given that one ounce of chia seeds is about 2 tablespoons, this is a pretty impressive nutritional profile.
Chia Seeds Are High in Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Chia seeds contain very high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. The amounts are so high in fact, that chia seeds, gram for gram, contain more omega-3s than salmon. Omega-3s are nutrients you get from food (or supplements) that help build and maintain a healthy body. They’re key to the structure of every cell wall you have. They’re also an energy source and help keep your heart, lungs, blood vessels, and immune system working the way they should.
Omega-3 fatty acids come in three primary forms—ALA, DHA and EPA. Of these, ALA is the only one considered to be an “essential fatty acid.” Chia seeds are particularly rich in ALA omega-3s, but they are not efficient sources of EPA or DHA.
Chia Seeds May Lower Your Risk of Heart Disease
Chia seeds are high in fiber, protein and omega-3s—all of which are important for reducing your risk of heart disease. Studies on chia seeds have shown that chia seeds can lower certain risk factors for heart disease, including triglycerides, insulin resistance, inflammation and belly fat. They are also known to raise HDL cholesterol, known as the “good” cholesterol (as opposed to LDL cholesterol). Further studies on chia seeds have also shown that they can significantly reduce blood pressure in people with hypertension, which is another strong risk factor for heart disease.
4. Chia Seeds Contain High Amounts of Antioxidants
Aside from being highly nutritious and rich in fiber, chia seeds also contain a very high number of antioxidants. These antioxidants protect the fatty acids in chia seeds from oxidizing. Once fats oxidize they tend to go rancid and can cause inflammation if consumed, being quite harmful to our health.
Antioxidants fight the production of free radicals, which can damage cell molecules and contribute to aging and disease. Free radicals are oxygen-containing molecules with an uneven number of electrons. The uneven number allows them to easily react with other molecules. Free radicals can cause large chain chemical reactions in your body because they react so easily with other molecules. These reactions are called oxidation and can either be beneficial or harmful.
Essentially, oxidation is any chemical reaction that involves the moving of electrons. Specifically, it means the substance that gives away electrons is oxidized. Oxidation is a normal and necessary process that takes place in your body. However, oxidative stress occurs when there’s an imbalance between free radical activity and antioxidant activity. This can result in damaged cells and ultimately ill health.
Antioxidants are molecules that fight free radicals in your body. Antioxidants can donate an electron to a free radical without making themselves unstable. This causes the free radical to stabilize and become less reactive.
As oxidation is a process that is constantly occurring due to numerous chemical reactions in the body, antioxidants must also regularly work to keep free radicals in balance. When there is an imbalance between free radical activity and antioxidant activity it leads to oxidative stress.
Consuming foods rich in antioxidants is essential to maintaining balance and health, and chia seeds are a great source of antioxidants in the diet.
Chia Seeds May Reduce Blood Sugar Levels
Blood glucose is a sugar that the bloodstream carries to all cells in the body to supply energy. A person needs to keep blood sugar levels within a safe range to reduce the risk of diabetes and heart disease. High fasting blood sugar levels are a typical symptom of untreated type 2 diabetes. Consistently high fasting blood sugar levels are associated with an increased risk of several chronic diseases, including heart disease.
But not only are high fasting blood sugar levels linked to many diseases, but temporary spikes in blood sugar levels after meals may also have adverse health effects, especially when this occurs on a regular basis.
Studies on chia seeds have found that they may improve insulin sensitivity and blood sugar control, helping to stabilize blood sugar levels after meals. Chia seeds may lower the rise in blood sugar after a high-carb meal, possibly benefiting people with type 2 diabetes.
Inflammation is an important healing function of the body. It helps your body fight foreign invaders and also has a role in repairing damage. Without inflammation, pathogens like bacteria could take over your body and kill you. Although acute, short-term inflammation is beneficial, it can become a major problem when it becomes chronic and inappropriately attacks your body's own tissues.
Chronic inflammation can be caused by a number of factors—exposure to toxins, pollutants, and chemicals in the air or in food, untreated illness or infection, consuming high amounts of sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, consuming a lot of refined carbs, such as white bread, eating processed and packaged foods that contain trans fats, excessive intake of alcohol and processed meat, leading a sedentary or non-active lifestyle, and many others. There are also some cases of chronic inflammation that don’t have a clear underlying cause. When prolonged, chronic inflammation can negative impact on your tissues and organs.
In fact, scientists now believe that chronic, low-level inflammation plays a major role in almost every chronic, Western disease.
Chia seeds are one dietary method of keeping inflammation levels low. One 3-month study compared chia seeds to wheat bran and showed that eating 37 grams of chia seeds (about 3 tablespoons) daily reduced the inflammatory marker hs-CRP by 40%, while those who ate wheat bran didn’t experience much benefit.
Chia Seeds Are High in Dietary Fiber
Chia seeds are a great source of dietary fiber. In fact, chia seeds are 40% fiber by weight, making them one of the best source of fiber in the world.
Fiber is an important part of a healthy diet and supports many different body systems. Dietary fiber is the part of plant-based food that mostly passes through your digestive system without breaking down or being digested. There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble fiber.
Soluble fiber dissolves in water, and includes plant pectin and gums. Insoluble fiber doesn’t dissolve in water. It includes plant cellulose and hemicellulose.
Chia seeds are high in insoluble fiber. Insoluble fiber attracts water into your stool, making it softer and easier to pass with less strain on your bowel. Insoluble fiber can help promote bowel health and regularity. It also supports insulin sensitivity, and, like soluble fiber, may help reduce your risk for diabetes.
How Do You Eat Chia Seeds?
Chia seeds are pretty versatile and can be incorporated into the diet in a number of ways. Chia seeds can be soaked and made into pudding, added to oatmeal, or simply sprinkled on top of salads or yogurt. Some also add them to detox drinks and smoothies. Because of their ability to absorb liquid and form a gel, some also use chia seeds to thicken sauces or as an egg replacement.
The flavor of the seeds themselves is rather bland, so they won't make much difference in taste to whatever they are added to. They also don’t need to be ground like flax seeds do, which makes them much easier to prepare.
Adding chia seeds to recipes will dramatically boost their nutritional value. A common recommended dosage is 20 grams (about 1.5 tablespoons) of chia seeds, twice per day.
How to Soak Chia Seeds
Soaking chia seeds before eating them is a great way to enhance their nutritional value. When you soak chia seeds, they expand in size and take on a gelatinous texture. This is because chia seeds contain a high amount of a type of soluble fiber called mucilage. The mucilage is highly absorbable and can absorb up to nearly 30 times its weight in water.
This mucilage also stores nutrients in like proteins, carbohydrates, and lipids. When submerged in water, these nutrients become more bioavailable—which means you get more nutrients than you would get from non-soaked chia seeds. All seeds also have an outer coating on them that helps them grow. This coating is made of phytic acid. While this compound has benefits for plant growth, it acts as an anti-nutrient for humans, impairing the absorption of important minerals like zinc, iron and calcium.
When you soak chia seeds, it removes the phytic acid, as well as other enzyme inhibitors that may prevent nutrient absorption. If you don’t soak your chia seeds before you eat them, these enzyme inhibitors can bind to the nutrients that we need and may create nutritional deficiencies. They can also irritate your gut. So, if you haven’t been soaking your chia seeds, now is the time to start!
Soaking chia seeds makes them more nutritious, more bioavailable, and less irritating to your gut. Not only should you soak chia seeds, but all nuts and seeds become more nutritious after being soaked.
So, how do you soak chia seeds?
Soaking chia seeds turns them into a type of chia gel that is nutrient-rich and great for digestion. In order to get the most out of your chia seeds, you need to soak them properly. This means you need the right chia seed to water ratio to ensure that the chia seeds soak up as much water as possible, without becoming too thick or too watery.
Make sure that you use whole chia seeds to soak, not ground chia seeds. Additionally, it’s important that you get high quality, raw, organic Chia Seeds. If you don’t, you could end up soaking up pesticides or other toxins that could be on the seeds.
Exactly how thick you want your chia seed gel to be will depend on your personal preference. However, the best overall ratio for soaking chia seeds is a water to chia seed ratio of 6:1. This means if you are soaking 1 TBSP of chia seeds, you’ll want to soak the chia seeds in 6 TBSP of water.
You can experiment with using more or less water depending on your preference and also depending on what food you will be combining your chia seeds with. If you are adding chia seeds to food, the 6:1 ratio is best. If, however, you are adding chia seeds to a smoothie or want to drink them on their own, then a ratio of 9:1 is better and will create a thinner chia seed gel.
To make your chia seed gel:
- Use room temperature or even slightly warm water
- Pour the desired measurement of water into a container that can be closed with a tight lid
- Pour the desired amount of chia seeds into the water
- Vigorously shake the container for 30 seconds to mix the water and chia seeds
- Seal the container tightly and place it in the fridge for however long you need to
- The chia seed gel will be ready to consume after about 30 minutes, and can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 5 days
Chia seeds are the small black seeds of the chia plant (Salvia hispanica). While small in size, these tiny seeds offer a big nutritional value and provide many diverse health benefits.
Chia seeds contain large amounts of fiber and omega-3 fatty acids, as well as ample amounts of high quality protein, and several essential minerals and antioxidants. They are known to improve digestive health, blood levels of heart-healthy omega-3s, and to reduce the risk factors for heart disease and diabetes.
Chia seeds are easy to incorporate into your diet. They can be added to salads, smoothies, porridge, and much more. They are very bland and don’t have much flavor, but they are packed with nutrients. Adding chia seeds to your diet is a great way to improve your health and well-being.