Chia seeds, known to be used by Aztecs years ago, enjoy popularity in our modern world. Despite their small size, they have great power. The amazing health properties of chia seeds have made them loved by those who choose a healthy lifestyle with complex, nutritional diet choices. What makes chia seeds so special? We explain the strength contained within the tiny seeds of this inconspicuous plant.
What are chia seeds?
Chia seeds are the tiny black seeds of a plant called Spanish Sage, which belongs to the same family as mint and lemon balm. The plant is native in Mexico and Guatemala and has wide leaves and small purple or white flowers. Its fruits contain a large number of small oval seeds that we all call chia seeds. They can be white or black.
In ancient times, chia seeds were an important food for the Aztecs and Mayans. In fact, the word “chia” is a translation from the ancient Mayan word that means “strength”.
Chia seeds are valued for their ability to provide the body with a balanced energy. Despite being used for centuries as a food additive, only recently have chia seeds been recognised as a valuable food for health. Chia’s popularity has grown considerably over the past few years and it is now an element of healthy diets all over the world. Even small amounts of chia seeds provide a powerful dose of nutritional value. They have therefore gained popularity amongst health aware people, vegetarians, vegans, and athletes.
Why are chia seeds healthy?
Chia seeds are described as superfoods because eating them can bring many benefits to our health. Check out all the advantages of adding these extremely nutritional seeds to your diet.
Chia seeds are a great source of fibre
We all need fibre in our diet, as it helps to improve the digestive system and prevent the development of heart diseases. Fibre also plays an important role in the regulation of bowel movements and therefore prevents constipation.
=> Find more about the benefits of fibre in your diet.
Despite the benefits of fibre, according to Health Direct Australia most Australians eat less fibre in their food than the recommended intake. This is one of the reasons why you should introduce chia to your diet.
Chia is an extremely valuable source of both soluble and insoluble fiber. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends having at least 35g of fibre a day. Chia seeds have 34.4g of fibre in 100g, which covers almost the entire daily requirement. In fact, they are the second most valuable source of fibre after wheat bran (42g/100g).
High in protein – perfect for vegetarians
Chia seeds contain 31% protein (15.6g of protein in 100g of chia seeds). What’s important is that they have the best quality protein, which is complete and wholesome and contains all the necessary exogenous amino acids – ones that the body does not produce itself.
This makes chia seeds a great source of protein for vegetarians and vegans, who should add chia to their daily diet.
Another reason chia is great for vegetarians and vegans is because they are high in calcium. 100g of chia seeds contain as much as 631 mg of this bone strengthening element. That’s more than twice as much calcium as there is in a glass of milk (about 240mg). They can therefore be a healthy alternative to milk for those who are lactose intolerant or follow a plant based diet.
Chia seeds and weight loss
Chia seeds swell when combined with liquid, and can absorb 10 times more water than their weight. As a result, they fill the stomach and give the sensation of fullness for a long time. This means that after eating a meal with chia seeds, you won’t feel hungry for a longer period of time. Theoretically, that means you will eat less and lose a few kilograms as a result. This is why you should introduce chia seeds to your diet if you are trying to lose some weight.
Omega-3 in chia seeds
Just like linseed and flaxseed, chia seeds are very rich in Omega-3 fatty acids. In fact, chia seeds contain more omega-3 than salmon. That said, the type of fatty acids isn’t the same as the ones taken from fish. Omega-3s in chia seeds are mainly ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), a plant form of omega-3 which is not as beneficial as some people believe.
Eating omega-3 foods is extremely important because they are less accessible than omega-6 (most nuts contain mostly omega 6). Their regular consumption is an effective form of protection against heart disease and cancer.
Slow down the aging process
Chia seeds can also be a helpful tool in maintaining a youthful appearance. Due to their high antioxidants content – β-tocopherol and α-tocopherol – chia seeds can have an impact on your skin condition. When regularly eating chia seeds, your skin can be more elastic, better moisturised and regenerate faster. A diet rich in antioxidants not only slows down the aging process of the body, but also supports the circulatory and immune system.
Chia seeds and cholesterol
When you have high cholesterol levels, you should add some chia seeds to your meals. They are known for lowering LDL cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol) without affecting levels of good high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol.
=> Find out more about foods that are high in cholesterol.
Full of minerals and vitamins
Protein, omega-3, and fibre are not the only healthy ingredients that are found inside the small chia seeds. You can also find a lot of vitamins and minerals needed in the daily diet. Chia seeds contain vitamin A which helps with vision, vitamin C which supports the body’s immunity, and also vitamins E and B. They also contain iron, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium, as well as zinc, copper, and selenium. If you suffer from deficiencies of these micronutrients, chia seeds will help you replenish them.
Chia seeds help you sleep well
If you have trouble sleeping, eat some chia seeds 2-3 hours before going to bed. They are a good source of tryptophan, an amino acid that is involved in the production of melatonin and serotonin, both of which are natural sleeping hormones.
Chia seeds help to fight cancer
Because of their high levels of ALA fatty acid, chia seeds can contribute in lowering the risk of developing breast and cervical cancer. A study published in the Journal of Molecular Biochemistry showed that ALA acids can kill cells that are responsible for the development of these tumours, while it does not affect healthy tissues.
However, there have also been studies (published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition) which show that higher consumption of ALA fatty acids present in chia seeds may slightly increase the risk of prostate cancer. We need to remember, however, that these studies are not conclusive and do not concern the direct impact of chia seeds on the prostate gland, but the fatty acids that are present in them.
The perfect addition to sweet cocktails and juices
Adding chia seeds to your diet can help to lower the glycemic load of the food you eat. In the case of fruit cocktails or juices, where we get a large dose of sugar (even if it’s a natural source), adding chia seeds can slow down the absorption of carbohydrates. At the same time, they increase the absorption of some vitamins soluble in fats.
Drinking a sweet cocktail with chia seeds will therefore have a better effect on the concentration of glucose, insulin in the blood, than drinking such a cocktail without chia.
Chia seeds or flax seeds?
Many people who follow a healthy lifestyle choose superfoods like chia seeds or flax seeds. But which one is better?
Both flax seeds and chia seeds are a great choice. Both are full of omega-3 fatty acids, fibre, and antioxidants. They’re also high sources of protein, vitamins, and minerals. They share important benefits like supporting the brain and heart, lowering levels of LDL cholesterol (‘bad’ cholesterol) in the blood, and improving metabolism.
You can add chia seeds or flax seeds to smoothies, juices, and some meals.
When comparing these seeds you will notice small differences. Flaxseed contains about 20% more omega-3 fatty acids than chia seeds, and a much higher amount of antioxidants. Chia seeds, on the other hand, have 50% more fibre than flax seeds. They also contain more magnesium and iron, and are lower in calories than flax seeds.
It is impossible to decide which is better: flaxseed or chia seeds. Both of them have a significant amount of beneficial properties. Regardless of what you choose, eating them will be a good choice for your health.
How to eat chia seeds
Chia seeds can be eaten raw and are also a great addition to some meals. You can add them whole or ground to muesli, yoghurts, salads, and baked foods. They can also be soaked in water or juice and used as a natural thickener, e.g. for soups.
You can also find chia oil, which is a great addition to salads much like olive oil. However chia oil should not be used for frying as these types of oils lose most of their nutritional properties when heated.
Can I eat chia seeds when pregnant?
Chia seeds are also recommended for pregnant women. They have a beneficial effect not only on the health of the future mother, but also on the development of the baby.
They do not cause any side effects and are a source of many valuable nutrients.
Eating chia seeds is also beneficial for women who breastfeed. To produce breast milk, a woman’s body needs an extra 450-500 calories a day. Chia seeds are high in calories with the addition of fibre and protein to help with the digestion.
Consuming chia seeds can also increase the DHA content in breastmilk, which is very beneficial for the brain development of an infant. Let’s not forget about the high calcium levels in chia seeds, which is very important for the growth of all children.
Is chia gluten free?
Chia seed’s popularity isn’t only because of its long list of health benefits and nutrients. They are also a great gluten free food.
Chia seeds can be a valuable addition to any diet. They can be eaten by people who are gluten intolerant, lactose intolerant, vegetarian, or vegan. Thanks to their consistency, when mixed with water, they are a great replacement of eggs in baking.
Does eating too many chia seeds have side effects?
As with everything in your diet, you shouldn’t eat too many chia seeds every day. While they are very healthy and have many benefits, they can cause some severe reactions when consumed in excess.
As you know by now, chia seeds are very rich in fibre, which is responsible for a healthy bowel movement. Too much fibre, especially when we are just starting to introduce it into our diet, can cause abdominal pain, bloating, or diarrhea.
To avoid any reactions, you should slowly introduce chia seeds to your diet and limit your intake to small amounts 1-2 times a day.
There is no doubt that chia seeds are a great choice for a healthy diet. A serving of just 15 chia seeds contains:
- 8 times more omega-3 fatty acids than salmon,
- 6 times more calcium than milk,
- 3 times more iron than spinach,
- 15 times more magnesium than broccoli,
- 2 times more dietary fibre than bran, and
- 4 times more selenium than flax.
There are plenty of health benefits that come from eating chia seeds. They improve brain function and concentration, prevent dementia, and make you feel full (which can help when you’re trying to lose weight). They also improve metabolism and help cleanse the body of toxins, thanks to high amounts of fibre. Chia seeds also improve the condition of the skin, hair, and nails thanks to their minerals and antioxidants. In addition, they can supplement many vitamin and mineral deficiencies, strengthen bones and teeth, lower “bad” cholesterol, and prevent diabetes.
This list of health benefits and nutritional value shows that chia seeds are the ones to choose! Even small amounts of them can improve your health and help you live a long, happy life.