In recent years, chia seeds have become enormously popular within the fitness community as somewhat of a super food. The reason for this is that they are digested very easily provided they are cooked properly and a very convenient ingredient to add in a variety of recipes.
The place of origin is Mexico, where they have been highly valued because of the numerous benefits to our health, as well as their tremendous nutritional value. And get this: in old times they were even used as a currency!
The seed is packed with nutrients and delivers a powerful punch of energizing power. The great Aztec warriors used them to provide them with high levels of energy throughout the day and increased stamina.
They consumed just one spoonful of chia seeds to sustain them for the entire day. The word “chia” means “strength” in the Mayan language. Chia seeds were also known as the “food for runners” since warriors and runners were able to use the seeds as an energy source to sustain them while running long distances or while in battle.
And that’s not all. Current research has shown that chia seeds offer benefits that are much greater than we previously thought. The main benefits include reduced signs of aging, improving skin health, heart function, digestive system function, making stronger muscles and bones and much more.
Recently, they’ve been shown to have the potential to treat diabetes. In this article, we present to you all the seeds’ benefits, the possible side effects they bring and cooking suggestions.
Chia Seeds Nutrition
Among the many reasons why chia seeds are so beneficial include having high amounts of fiber, protein, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals.
Fiber – 11g which is 42% RDV (Recommended Daily Value)
Protein – 4.5g – 9% RDV
Omega-3 fatty acids – 4910 mg
Omega-6 fatty acids – 1630 mg
Calcium – 76 mg – 17% RDV
Copper – 0.1 mg – 3% RDV
Phosphorus – 266 mg – 26% RDV
Potassium – 44.7 mg – 1% RDV
Zinc – 1.1 mg – 7% RDV
Chia seeds contain several essential fatty acids like alpha-linoleic and linoleic acid, strontium, mucin, vitamins A, B, E and D, minerals such as iron, sulfur, iodine, manganese, magnesium, thiamine, niacin and they have an abundance of anti-oxidants.
The top 8 benefits of chia seeds
Having such a high quantity of essential nutrients, it’s no wonder that regular consumption of chia seeds has the potential to improve your health in lots of different ways. These are the top 8 benefits:
Skin health and aging
Scientists from Mexico have discovered that chia seeds contained a total natural concentration of phenolic (antioxidants) nearly 2 times higher than was previously thought and the activity of the antioxidants was discovered to be able to top up to 70 percent of the free radical activity.
This basically proves that chia seeds represent nature’s gold mine of antioxidants. Antioxidants can speed up the skin healing process and prevent future damage. Consuming chia seeds can inhibit premature aging of the skin because of inflammation caused by damage from free radicals.
Digestive system health
Chia seeds are extremely high in dietary fiber, providing almost 11 grams per oz. Just one serving is enough to provide you with the daily recommended fiber intake.
Dietary fiber is a key ingredient for your body to be able to control insulin levels. Research has shown that some seed types like chia and flax can balance natural blood sugar levels because of their high content of fiber and healthy fats.
Another benefit of high fiber consumption is that it can help with bowel regularity and healthy stool. The high amount of fiber in chia can help you feel fuller a lot quicker since they absorb a relatively high amount of water, which makes they expand and take up more volume in the stomach.
This might be the reason why so many studies have shown that chia seeds can curb hunger and suppress your appetite, which will ultimately lead to healthy weight loss. Another characteristic of chia seeds is that when eaten, they create a substance akin to gelatin, in the stomach.
This is because of the soluble fiber found in chia seeds works as a probiotic, which in turn supports the growth of probiotics in the intestines.
Heart health and function
The reasons why chia seeds are so beneficial for your heart’s health is because they are able to reverse inflammation levels, maintain healthy cholesterol levels and lower your blood pressure.
Plus, by reversing the process of oxidative stress, a person will have a smaller risk of developing atherosclerosis when they consume chia seeds regularly.
All the studies done on human and animal subjects have shown chia seeds’ potential effectiveness in combating angina, allergies, enhancing athletic performance, preventing cancer, heart attacks, coronary heart disease, hyperlipidemia, hormonal or endocrine conditions, hypertension vasodilatation and strokes.
Some of the evidence has also suggested potential antioxidant, anticoagulant and antiviral properties of chia seeds. Plus, as we previously mentioned, chia seeds are extremely high in linoleic, which is a fatty acid which can help the body absorb fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin A, D, E and K.
Considering it’s such a small seed, chia actually has an impressive amount of healthy fats, like omega-3, which it actually has more than salmon.
Omega-3 help protects your heart by lowering bad cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and inflammation. Inflammation can really strain your blood vessels and cause numerous types of heart diseases.
So, when you eat chia seeds, you will actually improve your heart’s health and protect it thanks to the omega-3 fatty acids.
Help treat diabetes
Since chia seeds have such high amounts of alpha-linoleic acid and dietary fiber, scientists have tried to find out how they can help with the prevention of metabolic conditions like dyslipidemia, which is the presence of extra fat in the blood and insulin resistance, the two key reasons for developing diabetes.
Two studies were conducted at the same time and some profound discoveries were made:
The first study tried to evaluate how healthy rats would respond to a 3-week diet rich in sucrose where chia made up the primary dietary source.
The second study again took healthy rats and fed that sucrose-rich diet for 3 months so that they would develop insulin resistance and dyslipidemia. Afterward, they fed the now diseased rats, sucrose-rich diet and chia seeds for the next 2 months.
And what they discovered was nothing short of astounding:
In the first examination, consuming chia seeds prevented the onset of dyslipidemia completely, as well as insulin resistance. The rats’ blood levels didn’t change at all despite 65% of their diet being comprised of sugar for 3 weeks.
In the second examination, after the diseased rats were given chia seeds, plus were fed with sucrose-rich diet for 2 months, they recovered from their conditions completely.
The scientists also found out that the addition of chia has also decreased the visceral adipose tissue, which is the fat around your belly, affecting your metabolism and a major contributor to the development of obesity.
The ultimate conclusion was that chia seeds were able to stop diabetes and even reverse it.
Boost energy levels and the metabolism.
One study has concluded that eating chia seeds improved exercise performance for training sessions lasting an hour and a half, in the same manner, a sports drink full of sugar would, but, of course, without all the nasty sugar!
In the study which was made on experienced athletes, half of them drank 100% Gatorade, and the other half drank 50% Gatorade and 50% chia drink. The runners time were matched and the 2nd groups ate a lot smaller amount of sugar.
With the addition of chia seeds serving a day, you can greatly boost the metabolism and burn stomach fat. Studies have shown that adding chia seeds to your diet can also decrease visceral adipose tissue, which is the belly fat tissue that affects the metabolism and as we previously mentioned, greatly contributes to the development of obesity.
Build stronger bones
Consuming just 1 oz of chia seeds can provide you with 18% of the daily recommended amount of calcium. Calcium is an essential mineral for bone health and helps in maintaining bone mass and strength.
Chia seeds also have boron which is another key mineral for bone health. Boron can help metabolize manganese, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus for healthy bone and muscle growth.
Build more muscle and lose weight
Chia seeds are ranked in the top plant-based protein sources. This is one of the biggest reasons why people who are trying to build lean muscle, burn the excess fat and balance their blood sugar levels need to consume chia seeds.
These super seeds have a high amount of antioxidants which can help replace nutrients that have been lost while working out. They are also high in many key minerals like phosphorus, calcium, manganese, magnesium, zinc, copper, iron and niacin.
One of the many characteristics which make chia seeds so unique is that they can absorb up to ten times their own weight in water. This makes chia seeds being able to prolong hydration and improve nutrient absorption of various electrolytes.
This will also slow digestion and make you feel satiated much longer and decrease sugar cravings. And since they also have high amounts of zinc, they can help the body increase leptin production.
Leptin is an essential hormone which regulates your appetite, how the body expends energy, as well as energy levels. It can also improve endurance and stamina, which makes chia a great nutritional choice for those trying to get in shape.
Combats cervical and breast cancer.
Chia seeds have a high amount of alpha-linoleic acid which is an omega-3 fatty acid. It has been discovered that alpha-linoleic acid limited cancer cells’ growth in both cervical and breast cancers.
It has also been found that it caused the death of cancer cells without destroying the normal healthy cells. Even though more research has to be done to discover the full scope of ALA’s effectiveness against other types of cancer, this is nevertheless an enormous discovery for the women suffering from these types of cancer.
The side effects of consuming chia seeds
The truth is that there a few known sides effects associated with consuming chia seeds. There’s been some conflicting research on how chia seeds consumption affects prostate cancer.
A study done with alpha-linoleic acid and prostate cancer showed that ALA could increase the risk of developing prostate cancer, however, this study was shown to have some bias.
And another study done in 2010, concluded that ALA did not increase the risk of developing prostate cancer, on the contrary, it was shown to decrease the risk in the participants.
A slight discomfort in the stomach has been reported occasionally by some people when eating chia seeds, especially when eaten in large quantities because of the high content of fiber. Like any other food, eat it in moderation and make sure that you drink lots of water.
How to eat chia seeds
Chia seeds possess a mild nutty taste and can be added to many dishes as a garnish, however chewing the tiny seeds usually does not make the omega-3 fatty acids and the other nutrients readily available for digestion and absorption.
The most optimal way to get the vitamins and minerals in the seeds is to either soak or grind them.
Eating chia seeds raw vs. soaking them
It seems that there’s quite a debate on whether you should soak the seeds before eating them. It certainly won’t hurt you to eat them as they are, but when you soak them, you basically “sprout” them, thus releasing the “enzyme inhibitors” which are used to protect the chia seed.
First of all, this makes the digestion much easier and second, the body can better access the dense nutrients found inside the seed. As a general rule, you should always get the most nutritional benefit out of every food you eat, so it is recommended that you soak them before adding them to your dish.
How to soak chia seeds:
Simply put them in a glass of water, where the chia to water ratio is 1:10. That would be around one and a half tablespoons of chia seeds in one cup of water.
You don’t have to use this exact amount, but you certainly want it to gel completely and not be too watery. Then, let it sit for half an hour to two hours.
Since the seeds can hold up to 10 times their weight in water, they are very useful in preventing dehydration. But, if you do not wish to soak, then the seeds can absorb the water from you during the digestion process.
That’s why you need to make sure that you drink lots of water during the day to prevent dehydration.
Grinding chia seeds:
The second option is to grind the seeds in a coffee grinder to break down the outer shell before consuming them. When pulverized, the flour from chia seeds can be added in most recipes free of gluten, such as muffins, pancakes, bread, and pasta.
When grinding the seeds, it’s important to keep them in a sealed glass container in the fridge or the freezer.
Eating chia seeds whole:
You don’t have to grind chia seeds to get the nutrients, which is not the case with flax seeds. You can eat chia seeds whole and still get the dense nutrient pack hidden inside. You can eat a whole spoonful, but be careful, because they can get stuck in your teeth.