Ever heard of the term ‘superfood’?
You probably would have. And you also would have thought that it is something that grows in the wilderness of the remotest part of the world.
But no – the superfood I am talking about is easily available. Yes, chia seeds are what I am talking about. But superfood? How? That’s why we have this post! Read on to know more about chia seeds benefits and how to use chia seeds.
What Are Chia Seeds?
Scientifically known as Salvia hispanica, chia seeds are considered to be one of the few superfoods nature has bestowed us with. Originating in Mexico, and dating back to the Mayan and Aztec cultures, these seeds are known for their richness in omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, protein, antioxidants, and calcium. They also act as a natural laxative.
It is believed that Aztec warriors consumed chia seeds for endurance. According to popular legend, one spoonful of chia seeds could sustain them for 24 hours.
In the Mayan language, ‘chia’ means strength. The seeds are an unprocessed, whole-grain food that are absorbed by the body as seeds (1). Though originally used as equine feed, the benefits are found to extend to humans as well (2).
Chia seeds are often confused with basil seeds (we will look at the differences later), and there is speculation as to which type is called sabja. So, what is the taste of chia seeds? Well, chia seeds usually taste like alfalfa sprouts.
In the recent times, research has found the benefits of chia seeds to be far greater than what anyone knew – which is precisely what we will see as we go ahead. This was about what are chia seeds good for, now you will learn are chia seeds healthy.
Why Are Chia Seeds Good For You?
Chia seeds are a member of the mint family, and, as we already discussed, have gained immense popularity in the recent years. So much that food companies are fortifying cereals, breads, bars, puddings, and chia seed drink.
Now, the question that arises is – are chia seeds really that good? If yes, why? A few pointers can give us the answer:
- Firstly, it is the omega-3 fatty acids. Consuming chia seeds is probably the easiest way to intake these healthy fatty acids. Yes, we have flaxseeds or salmon that are good sources of omega-3, but it’s all about the ease of intaking. You don’t have to grind or cook the chia seeds. Also, one serving of chia seeds contains 5 grams of omega-3 fatty acids.
- Secondly, it’s the soluble fiber. Simply get the chia seeds a little wet, and you will see them turning into a gel – which is the soluble fiber. The benefits of soluble fiber are many – it helps manage blood sugar, feeds the gut-friendly bacteria, and even bulks up the stool (3). A single serving of chia seeds meets almost a third of your daily fiber requirement.
- If you have bone issues, you can swear by chia seeds. A high content of calcium, phosphorous, and manganese make them good for the bones.
How Much Chia Seeds Per Day?
Usually, you can take 20 grams of chia seeds (1 ½ tablespoons) twice a day. You can add the seeds to your food or snack and enjoy – and when you do that, believe me, you will be blessed with the following benefits.
What we have seen is just the tip of the iceberg (or probably not even that). What we are going to see next is the real deal – the numerous benefits of chia seeds you would have never known before.
Top Chia Seeds Benefits
1. Stimulate Weight Loss
Weight loss is probably the number one reason most people do what they do. In fact, it is a multi-billion dollar industry. And if you are looking to lose weight, chia seeds could be one the first options you can consider.
Of course, no single food can aid weight loss or cause weight gain. It all depends on our food habits and lifestyle. However, what makes chia seeds a good weight loss food is the excellent fiber content. A normal intake of chia seeds a day, which amounts to 25 to 38 grams a day, can go a long way in helping you shed those kilos.
Wondering how to prepare chia seeds for weight loss? It’s simple. Just add two tablespoons of raw or whole chia seeds into a glass of water. Stir well. After allowing the mixture to settle (for a few minutes), drink them quick before they get swollen due to water absorption.
Fiber in chia seeds also helps you feel full for longer periods of time. It promotes satiety. The seeds absorb water in the stomach and then expand, thereby suppressing your appetite (4). This can eventually lead to weight loss.
[ Read: Drinks That Help You Lose Weight ]
2. Rich In Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Chia seeds are one of the few types of seeds that are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids (7). And the importance of omega-3 is not unknown. In fact, a study conducted by The University of Arizona on broiler chicks had recorded an improvement in fatty acid content and growth performance following the intake of omega-3s (8).
3. Prevent Constipation
Since they are packed with fiber, especially insoluble fiber, chia seeds turn into a gel when they come in contact with water. This adds to your stool and aids bowel movements, thereby relieving constipation (9). Fiber also has been found to improve digestion.
4. Regulate Blood Sugar Levels And Help Prevent Diabetes
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, chia is one of those foods considered to be useful in diabetes treatment (11). The seeds were also found to improve the blood pressure levels in diabetics (12).
Another reason chia can be good for diabetics is the presence of omega-3 fatty acids that are known to be nutritionally important for the treatment of the disease (13).
5. Fight Breast Cancer And Other Forms Of Cancer
As per a report published by the UCSF Medical Center, chia seeds are a good source of alpha-linoleic acid, which can help prevent breast cancer (14). The same goes for omega-3 fatty acids as well.
The chia seeds oil was also found to have anti-cancer properties. It appeared to reduce tumor growth and inhibit the replication of cancer cells.
6. Help Lower Cholesterol
The omega-3 fatty acids get the credit, again. These fatty acids help lower blood cholesterol and prevent coronary heart disease in the process (15). The monounsaturated fats in chia seeds help lower the cholesterol levels (16). The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics also states that adding chia seeds to the diet can keep a check on the cholesterol levels (17).
7. Improve Cardiovascular Health
According to a report published by the West Virginia University, the chia seeds omega-3 fatty acids content can enhance heart health and prevent any heart-related ailments (18).
The omega-3s also reduce triglycerides, a type of fat in the blood. In addition, they reduce the risk of irregular heartbeat, lower blood pressure, and slow down the accumulation of arterial plaque (19).
8. Boost Energy And Metabolism
Chia seeds are packed with B vitamins, zinc, iron, and magnesium – all of which help boost energy (20). You can add the seeds to your favorite smoothie and enjoy a refreshing burst of energy. As per a report published by the University of New Hampshire, chia seeds can also boost your metabolism (21).
9. Can Be Used As A Workout Drink
Workouts can get tiring at times. But with chia seeds, that shouldn’t be a problem anymore. Given the amount of omega-3s they contain, chia seeds can be used for sustaining energy.
Taking chia seeds a few hours before an intense workout can provide fuel to the body after the carbs burn off. Chia seeds, when taken after working out, can provide protein that helps repair tissues.
10. Packed With Protein
We don’t have to discuss the importance of protein, do we? Chia seeds are a great source of protein. As per a Brazilian study, chia seeds had shown great protein quality (22). They also had improved the lipid profiles (cholesterol levels, basically) in rats.
Chia seeds contain 19% protein. And according to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a high-protein diet can reduce hunger and encourage satiety (23). The seeds contain high-quality protein with all the necessary amino acids (24).
11. Enhance Mood
Chia, considered a superfood, is believed to enhance your mood upon regular consumption (25). As per a Pittsburgh study, omega-3 fatty acids are associated with improved mood and behavior (26). Consuming chia seeds might also help you combat depression.
12. Rich In Antioxidants
We all know how important antioxidants are. And chia seeds have them in abundance (27). The antioxidants are not only good for the cells, but for the skin as well – as they help slow down the signs of aging (28). The antioxidants in chia seeds have also been found to reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease (29). A high antioxidant content is what makes chia seeds more shelf-stable than other seeds (30).
[ Read: Best Sources Of Antioxidants ]
13. Good For Bones And Teeth
One study has shown that increased consumption of calcium-rich foods, like chia seeds, can improve skeletal health (31). Consumption of chia seeds is also considered an effective way to improve calcium intake (32).
In addition to calcium, chia seeds are also rich in manganese – both of which are crucial for maintaining strong bones and teeth (33).
14. Can Improve Skin Health
The omega-3 fatty acids in chia seeds have been found to increase circulation and reduce dryness and skin inflammation (36). And as per a Manchester study, omega-3s help protect the skin from UV radiation (37). Chia seeds contain anti-inflammatory properties that could help prevent wrinkles (38). The seeds also help reduce skin sagging.
15. Can Treat Dyslipidemia
Dyslipidemia is a metabolic disorder where there is an abnormal amount of cholesterol in the blood. As per a study, chia seeds were found to mitigate this condition (39). In another Argentine study, the alpha-linoleic acid in chia seeds had improved the condition of rats suffering from dyslipidemia (40). In addition to treating dyslipidemia, chia seeds were also found to increase the levels of HDL or good cholesterol.
16. Help Treat Diverticulosis
Diverticulosis is the presence of tube-like structures in the intestine with no signs of inflammation. Chia seeds, simply because they are vegetarian and rich in omega-3s, are found to help prevent diverticular disease (41).
Lack of fiber has also been linked to diverticulosis – and chia seeds, being an excellent source of fiber, can help treat this condition (42). They absorb the water in the colon and smoothen the bowel movements.
17. Can Be Used As A Substitute For Eggs
If you think you want protein but don’t take eggs, you have some good news! You can use chia seeds as a substitute for eggs.
The process is simple. All you need are a tablespoon of chia seeds and 3 tablespoons of water. Ground the chia seeds, and then mix them with water in a small bowl. Keep it aside for 5 minutes, post which the mixture takes on a gooey consistency – similar to raw egg yolk. You can add this to your dishes and enjoy the goodness of high-quality protein.
18. Have Anti-Inflammatory Properties
The presence of omega-3s, fiber, and protein make chia seeds one of the best anti-inflammatory foods out there (43). The anti-inflammatory properties of chia seeds can also aid in the treatment of arthritis (44).
19. Are Gluten-Free
Gluten is the protein present in cereal grains, especially wheat, and is responsible for the elastic texture of dough. In certain individuals, gluten is known to cause allergies and gluten intolerance. However, with chia seeds, it’s a different scenario. It is 100% gluten-free.
It is particularly helpful in gluten-free baking. Chia seeds are especially beneficial for individuals suffering from celiac disease. As per studies, people with celiac disease tend to consume less calcium and fiber than recommended – and chia seeds, being rich in these two nutrients, can bridge the gap.
20. Rich In Manganese
In addition to numerous other nutrients, chia seeds are also rich in manganese (45). Manganese might help in the treatment of arthritis, diabetes, and epilepsy (46). Manganese also has excellent antioxidant properties. It improves metabolism and accelerates wound healing (47).
[ Read: Foods High In Manganese ]
21. Rich In Magnesium
One serving of chia seeds contains 30% of the RDA of magnesium. The mineral has several benefits – a few them include treatment of hypertension and heart disease, osteoporosis, and type 2 diabetes (48).
Magnesium also helps in the production of energy in the body, and a lack of it can cause fatigue, insomnia, irritability, and poor memory (49).
22. Improve Sleep
There are two hormones that are essential for sleep – serotonin and melatonin. These two hormones are produced by tryptophan, an amino acid in the body. Chia seeds, being high in tryptophan, aid good sleep and relaxation (50). According to an American study, tryptophan is also used for treating numerous sleep disorders (51).
We have seen the many health benefits of chia seeds. But chia seeds work great for pregnant women as well. Wondering how? Keep reading!
Chia Seeds During Pregnancy
The seeds are one of the few foods that provide all the essential nutrients required during pregnancy.
1. Protein, Calcium, And Iron
The nutrient needs of a pregnant woman are more than any other person. This is simply because she needs to support the growth of the baby. Protein and calcium are more important during pregnancy as they aid the development of tissues and bone growth.
Iron is another important mineral as the blood needs of the mother and baby increase during this period.
Finding a single food that can take care of all these needs can be taxing, unless you have a pack of chia seeds at your home.
A single serving of chia seeds offers a pregnant woman about 15% of her daily protein needs, a third of her daily fiber needs, and almost all of her additional calorie needs during the first trimester.
2. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
The omega-3 fatty acids in chia seeds are particularly essential for the baby’s brain development. Yes, salmon and other fish oil supplements can offer the required omega-3s – but the speculated mercury levels in fish oil make most women skeptical. The best solution? Chia seeds.
3. Other Chia Seeds Benefits
Chia seeds also replenish lost nutrients and keep the mother and the baby in their best health. The seeds also slow down sugar absorption, which might lead to spikes in blood sugar levels that have been linked to high birth weight and preeclampsia.
The seeds also have shown to help treat constipation in pregnant women.
That’s about chia seeds and pregnancy. There is but one question about chia seeds that is as popular as chia seeds themselves. What is it?
White Chia Seeds Vs Black Chia Seeds
There is the white type. And then there is the black type. But which is the better type?
Nutritionally speaking, both are the same. There is no major difference between white or black chia seeds in terms of the nutrient content. Any minor difference would solely be based on where the plants were grown.
As per studies, mature chia seeds are either black, white, gray, or cream. Any other color simply indicates the seeds are immature. Especially when the chia seeds are brown, it only means they haven’t got enough sunlight or water (or they were hit by some climatic event).
How To Eat Chia Seeds
There are three common ways of incorporating chia seeds into your diet. Let’s discuss each:
1. Soaked Form
You can soak chia seeds in water overnight as this maximizes the benefits. Soaked chia seeds turn into chia gel, which can be added to your smoothies or protein shakes as a base. This creates a gluey effect and aids digestion. Soaked chia seeds are also easily absorbed by your body.
If you are in a hurry, you can simply swish the seeds and water in a jar (with the lid closed, obviously) for about 5 minutes. Let it sit for about 10 minutes, and you will see a gel-like consistency.
2. Powdered Form
You can also grind the seeds into fine powder. You can use this method if you want to use the seeds as a thickener. Wondering, how do you grind chia seeds? Grinding chia seeds is simple – you can use a coffee grinder. But, ensure you grind some rice first so that the grinder is clean, and the chia seeds don’t get the smell of coffee.
After grinding, simply mix the chia seed powder with your favorite pudding or dish and have it.
3. The Whole Seeds
The simplest way is to mix chia seeds in yogurt and have it for breakfast. You can also add the seeds to a smoothie.
You can sprinkle the seeds on other foods to keep them crunchy.
You can also add chia seeds to soups or sauces to thicken them. And oatmeal as well – they thicken a bowl of oatmeal and also add additional fiber.
Those are a few ways on how to consume chia seeds. And yes, how about a couple of recipes with chia seeds?
Chia Seed Recipes
1. White Chia Seed Pudding
- 1/3 cup of white chia seeds
- 1 1/2 cups of milk
- 2 tablespoons of maple syrup
- 1/2 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract
- Take a pint jar and mix all the ingredients in it. Cover the jar with a lid and shake vigorously.
- Keep it aside for about 4 hours.
- The chia seeds will expand and turn into a pudding, with a slightly thicker consistency.
- Add sliced fruit or toasted nuts and serve.
2. Blueberry And Chia Seed Smoothie
- 2 tablespoons of chia seeds
- 1 1/2 cups of almond milk
- 1 cup of blueberries
- 1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon of coconut oil or coconut butter
- A pinch of cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon of raw honey
- Add the chia seeds to a jar along with half a cup of almond milk. Stir well.
- Keep the mixture aside for about 10 minutes. You can also refrigerate it for about 4 hours.
- Transfer the entire mixture to a blender. To this, add blueberries, vanilla extract, coconut oil (or coconut butter), and cinnamon.
- Blend until it is smooth.
- You can add honey to taste.
We have seen the great chia seeds health benefits and the ways you can include them in your diet. How about a few fun facts?
Chia Seed Facts
- Chia, being a member of the mint family, is safe from insects. This is because insects don’t like mint, and hence, the plant can be grown without the use of pesticides.
- Chia seeds had such great reputation amongst the beAztecs that they even used it as currency.
- The chia seed plant is very temperamental and needs specific growing conditions. Hence, it is grown between 23 degrees north and 23 degrees south latitude.
- Chia was discovered by Dr. Wayne Caotes in the 1990s, when he led a project in Argentina in search of cash crops that could benefit the farmers in the area.
- The flowers of chia seeds are purple and white.
Now for the chia nutrition facts…
Chia Seeds Nutrition Facts
Following are the major nutrients present in chia seeds:
One serving of chia seeds equals 28 g. The nutritional values are based on one single serving of chia seeds.
|Dietary fiber||10.6 g (42% of daily value)|
|Protein||4.4 g (9% of daily value)|
|Calcium||17 mg (18% of daily value)|
|Manganese||0.6 g (30% of daily value)|
|Phosphorous||265 mg (27% of daily value)|
|Potassium||44.8 mg (1% of daily value)|
|Zinc||1 mg (7% of daily value)|
|Copper||0.1 mg (3% of daily value)|
|Total omega-3 fatty acids||4915 mg|
|Total omega-6 fatty acids||1620 mg|
Where To Buy Chia Seeds
Ideally, you can buy chia seeds from any organic store. But, ensure you buy whole instead of ground chia seeds. Chemical-free or organic chia seeds are the best, which are marketed by reputed companies.
You can also buy chia seeds online.
How do you store chia seeds? Storing them is pretty simple. You can store chia seeds in a plastic or glass container with a tight lid.
Till now we have seen the what is chia seed good for. Now, let’s see the other side of chia seeds, which is equally important.
Chia Seeds Side Effects
Yes. Chia seeds are probably the best thing out there. But they still do have their share of side effects.
1. Gastrointestinal Problems
These are the most common side effects of chia seeds. These can include constipation, hard stools, and bloating (52).
2. Might Increase The Risk Of Prostate Cancer
As we have seen, chia seeds contain high amounts of alpha-linolenic acid. A few research studies suggest that extremely high amounts of alpha-linolenic acid can increase the risk of prostate cancer (53).
3. Other Side Effects Of Chia Seeds
Since chia seeds are high in fiber, it can, at times, get worse. Excessive fiber can cause flatulence, diarrhea, and constipation.
Chia seeds also act as natural blood thinners. Hence, if you are already on any blood thinning medication (like warfarin), avoid chia seeds. Also, stay away from chia seeds immediately after surgery to avoid bleeding.
Given the chia seeds protein content, they can also cause allergies if you are allergic to them. If you have a nut or seed allergy, you must avoid chia seeds.
There also is a risk of choking with chia seeds. If you don’t pre-soak the seeds or eat them without roasting, you might choke on them. This is because dry and unroasted chia seeds can absorb 27 times their weight of water. This might cause the sticky mass to expand and get stuck in your esophagus.
Chia seeds might also cause your blood pressure levels to drop drastically. They can affect the blood sugar, cause abdominal cramping, and even have certain (but unclear) effects on pregnant women. Check with your prenatal care provider for better advice in this regard.
Expert’s Answers For Readers’ Questions
Can I substitute chia seeds for flax seeds?
Yes, you can. The two types of seeds can be a nutritious addition to your daily diet. If you don’t have one of these seed types, you can use the other. Both have a gel-forming ability and contain similar amounts of numerous nutrients.
Can chia seeds be eaten raw?
Yes – and one of the most common ways of eating the seeds raw is sprinkling or mixing them with other dishes.
Can I drink chia seeds in yogurt?
Yes, you can add raw chia seeds to yogurt and have it along with your meal.
Is basil seeds the same as chia seeds?
There are numerous differences, the significant difference being the method of consumption. Chia seeds can be eaten raw, but basil seeds cannot be eaten without preparation.
Basil seeds are tiny and round, while chia seeds are a little larger and oval in shape.
How can I make chia seed gel?
You can make your own chia gel by soaking one-third cup of seeds in two cups of water or juice (after letting it sit in a sealed glass container overnight).
Are chia seeds legumes?
No. They are just seeds.
Can chia seeds be included in the Paleo diet?
Yes, the seeds can be included in the Paleo diet. But ensure you restrict the quantity to a minimum.
A superfood indeed, isn’t it? With nutritional value of chia seeds and ease of consumption, they can benefit you in multiple ways. Buy a pack of chia seeds today and stock in your kitchen – of course, it’s never too early to think of health, isn’t it?
Tell us how this post on chia seeds benefits has helped you. Do comment in the box below.
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