Chia seeds are undoubtedly one of today’s most popular superfoods among the health conscious. They’re an easy-to-digest source of protein, healthy fats, dietary fiber, minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants which makes for a versatile (and mildly flavored) ingredient that can be quickly incorporated into a wide variety of recipes. They’re especially useful for making a gel that can be substituted for oil or other fats in many recipes. Chia gel can also be added to sauces, jellies, and baked goods and desserts.
Here’s a quick sample of some of the benefits chia of these little superfood marvels.
- help the body to retain fluids and electrolytes
- are a source of boron, which supports the absorption of calcium
- slow the conversion of carbohydrates to sugar
- help to build muscle and other tissues
- promote healthy skin
- reduce the signs of aging
- support the heart
- are a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids
While chia seeds have health effects similar to the mighty flax seed, chia offers some important benefits over flax seeds. They don’t have to be ground prior to use, and they don’t go rancid so quickly. In fact, because of the high levels of antioxidants they contain, chia seeds are claimed to last up to two years without any refrigeration. Gram for gram, chia seeds contain more fiber, protein, omega-3 and antioxidants than flax.
Chia seeds contain up to 40% fat with 60% of that comprised of beneficial omega-3.
- 1 What Are Chia Seeds?
- 1.1 Chia Seed Nutrition Profile
- 1.2 Supports Healthy Skin & Prevent Premature Aging
- 1.3 Improves Digestive Health
- 1.4 Supports Heart Health
- 1.5 Can Help To Treat Diabetes
- 1.6 Boosts Energy
- 1.7 Supports Stronger Bones
- 1.8 Helps Weight Loss
- 1.9 Helps To Prevent Cancer
- 1.10 Dental Health
- 1.11 Egg Substitute For Vegans
- 1.12 Side Effects Of Chia Seeds
- 1.13 Can Cause Stomach Discomfort
- 1.14 May Cause Constipation (in some people)
- 1.15 Chia Seeds Thin The Blood
- 1.16 Lowers Blood Pressure
- 1.17 Could Cause Esophageal Obstruction
- 1.18 How To Prepare Chia Seeds
- 1.19 Soaking Instructions
- 1.20 How To Grind Chia Seeds
- 1.21 Sprouted Chia Seeds
What Are Chia Seeds?
Chia seeds are harvested from the Salvia hispanica plant which is a type of sage that is part of the mint family.
Historically chia seeds were an important staple of the Aztec diet, where they were highly valued for their nutritional and medicinal properties. Economic historians have suggested chia seeds were as important as maize as a food crop!
In the Mayan language Chia means ‘strength’ and chia seeds were commonly known as ‘runners food’ because the seeds provided an excellent source of energy able to sustain runners over long distances. They were also a vital source of food for warriors during battle, and it’s said that a single spoonful of chia seeds could sustain a warrior for 24 hours.
Chia Seed Nutrition Profile
A one ounce (28 g) serving of chia seeds provides 137 calories and 12.3 g of carbohydrate along with
- Dietary fiber (11g – 42% RDV)
- Protein (4.4g – 9% RDV)
- Omega-3 fatty acids (4915 mg)
- Omega-6 fatty acids (1620 mg)
- Calcium (77 mg – 18% RDV)
- Copper (0.1 mg – 3% RDV)
- Phosphorus (265 mg- 27% RDV)
- Potassium (44.8 mg – 1% RDV)
- Zinc (1.0 mg – 7% RDV)
Chia seeds also contains essential fatty acids – alpha-linolenic and linoleic acid, mucin and strontium. Vitamins A, B, E, and D, and minerals including, magnesium, manganese, sulfur, niacin, iron, iodine and thiamine.
Mature chia seeds come in two colors, black and white. While both colors contain similar amounts of nutrients, the darker chia seeds contain more antioxidants. Avoiding red seeds which are immature, or black seeds that are smaller than regular chia seeds which are considered ‘weed seeds’.
The highest grade chia seeds are called Mila.
Let’s have a more detailed look at the amazing health benefits of chia seeds.
Supports Healthy Skin & Prevent Premature Aging
The activity of the natural phenolic acids (antioxidants) in chia seeds have been shown to stop up to 70% of free radical activity. These free radical blocking antioxidants along with the vitamins and minerals in chia seeds speed up your skin’s repair and regeneration processes and decrease inflammation, giving you smooth, firm skin unspoiled by the fine lines and dullness characterized by premature aging.
Improves Digestive Health
Chia seeds contain roughly 11 grams of fiber in a one ounce serving which is almost half of the recommended daily value, making chia seeds an extremely convenient and nutritious way to meet your daily needs. They’re also rich in anti-inflammatory phytochemicals that soothe gastrointestinal distress.
When consumed, the soluble fiber in chia seeds creates a gelatin-like substance in the stomach which better supports the growth of beneficial probiotics in the gut.
Eating water-soaked chia seeds will speed up a sluggish digestive system by providing bulk and by maintaining water balance. Since the presence of too little water is a major cause of digestive troubles and constipation, chia seeds can help to maintain a regular and trouble free bowel movement.
Chia seeds omega-3 fatty acids allow for better absorption of fat soluble vitamins, like vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, and vitamin K.
Supports Heart Health
The essential fatty acids in chia seeds can lower high blood pressure, regulate cholesterol and together with the powerful antioxidants present in chia can reverse inflammation and promote cardiovascular and heart health.
Among people with type 2 diabetes, a study found that supplementing with chia seeds for 12 weeks resulted in lower systolic blood pressure and significant decreases in average levels of blood glucose. Consumption of chia seeds also resulted in a reduction of Fibrinogen which is a natural clotting agent. Lower levels of Fibrinogen improve blood flow. Levels of an inflammatory marker – hs-CRP – also decreased, with a reduction of 40% recorded.
Regular consumption of chia seeds is known to reverse the damaging effects of oxidative stress, and reduce the likelihood of developing atherosclerosis.
A review article published in the journal Reviews on Recent Clinical Trials summed up the benefits of chia seeds for cardiovascular health
“The available human and non-human studies show possible effectiveness for allergies, angina, athletic performance enhancement, cancer, coronary heart disease (CHD), heart attack, hormonal/endocrine disorders, hyperlipidemia, hypertension, stroke, and vasodilatation. Some evidence also suggests possible anticoagulant, antioxidant, and antiviral effects of Salvia hispanica.”
Can Help To Treat Diabetes
Fiber is essential for maintaining healthy insulin levels. According to the National Institutes of Health, chia can assist in stabilizing blood sugar levels due to its high fiber content and amounts of healthy fats.
The results of an animal study published in Published in the British Journal of Nutrition make for an interesting read.
Researchers fed a group of rats a sucrose-rich diet for 3 weeks, in which chia seeds were the main source of dietary fat. The results of this study found that consuming chia seeds had completely prevented the onset of dyslipidemia (excessive fat in the blood) and insulin resistance. There was also no change in the blood sugar levels in these rats despite their diet comprising 65% sugar for 3 weeks.
A second group of rats was fed a sucrose-rich diet for 3 months which caused the rats to develop dyslipidemia and insulin resistance. These insulin resistant rats were then fed a sucrose-rich diet containing chia seeds for a further 2 months, which resulted in a complete reversal of their condition.
This study also discovered that adding chia seeds to the diet also reduced visceral fat which is a very dangerous type of fat that affects the metabolism.
As we know from the ancient Mayans warriors, chia seeds are an impressive source of energy. The sustained energy they provide will allow you to go through your day without experiencing a mid afternoon energy slump (which often leads you straight into the arms of a quick-fix high-sugar snack). This potent energy source also makes chia seeds perfect for anyone with a very active lifestyle, providing athletes and fitness enthusiasts with stamina and endurance.
A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning found that consumption of chia seeds boosted the exercise performance of athletes.
In the study, half of the athletes were given only Gatorade to drink, while the other half were given a drink consisting of half Gatorade and half chia seeds.
Their performance over a 90 minute period was measured and the results showed that the performance of the two groups was equal, however the chia seed group had achieved this without consuming as much damaging sugar.
Supports Stronger Bones
The protein and calcium content in chia seeds helps to maintain bone strength and mass can protect against osteoporosis, with one ounce of chia seeds providing 18% of the recommended daily amount of calcium. Chia seeds also contain boron which is another essential nutrient for bone health, helping to metabolize calcium, magnesium, manganese, and phosphorus.
Helps Weight Loss
Chia seeds are low in calories and rich in fiber which makes them a perfect fat busting food.
In a study of 67 patients with metabolic syndrome patients, those who drank a chia seeds beverage for two months experienced weight loss and a reduction in triglycerides and blood glucose levels.
The fiber in chia seeds expands when it absorbs water which contributes to feelings of fullness and satiety, meaning people who consume chia seeds will be less hungry overall. Clinical studies have proven that eating chia seeds curbs hunger and suppresses appetite, which leads to weight loss.
Helps To Prevent Cancer
Chia seeds contain phytochemicals – including myricetin, quercetin, and kaempferol – which are known for their antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anticancer properties. Additionally chia seeds are rich in alpha linoleic acid (or ALA).
ALA is considered an essential fatty acid because your body can’t make it, so you need to obtain it from your diet. In 2013, the Journal of Molecular Biochemistry reported that ALA limited the growth of cancer cells in both breast and cervical cancers, without causing damage to healthy cells.
Chia seeds are rich in calcium, phosphorus, Vitamin A and zinc.
Calcium, vitamin A and phosphorous are crucial components for growing and maintaining strong and healthy teeth, while zinc prevents tartar build up by stopping plaque mineralizing on the surface of teeth.
Zinc also has an antibacterial effect which helps to maintain a healthy level of beneficial bacteria in the mouth while limiting the growth of tooth decay and bad breath causing microbes.
Egg Substitute For Vegans
Chia seeds can be used in recipes that call for eggs, which is great for vegans or those allergic to eggs.
To prepare chia seeds as an egg substitute, take 1 tablespoon of chia seeds and 3 tablespoons of water for each egg needed, and then
- Grind the chia seeds into a meal in a coffee grinder
- Mix the water and ground chia seed meal in a small bowl, leave it to sit for 5 minutes or so, until it takes on a texture similar to raw egg yolk.
- Add to baked goods or other egg recipes.
Side Effects Of Chia Seeds
There aren’t too many side effects associated with chia seeds but there are some things that you should take note of.
Can Cause Stomach Discomfort
Some people have experienced stomach discomfort and bloating when consuming chia seeds in large amounts. As with any food, eat in moderation and if you experience problems, reduce or stop eating chia seeds.
May Cause Constipation (in some people)
While some people have reported suffering from constipation after adding chia seeds to their diet, others have reported just the opposite, that chia seeds helped them to achieve a regular and smooth bowel movement.
The problem seems to be caused by drinking too little water. Unsoaked chia seeds will take up a lot of moisture from the digestive tract, leaving less available to soften stools.
The remedy to this problem is obvious, soak the chia seeds prior to consumption or increase your intake of water.
Chia Seeds Thin The Blood
While this is a beneficial aspect of consuming chia seeds for most people, anyone that is already taking blood thinning medications, or planning to undergo surgery must seek their doctor’s advice before adding chia seeds to their diet.
Lowers Blood Pressure
This is another generally beneficial effect obtained from chia seeds, but for anyone who already has low blood pressure or takes blood pressure controlling drugs, chia seeds could cause blood pressure to drop too low. Again consult your physician before adding chia seeds to your diet.
Could Cause Esophageal Obstruction
One reported case concerned a man who had swallowed a tablespoon of dry chia seeds and tried to wash them down with a glass of water.
The seeds formed a thick gel in his esophagus and he required medical treatment to remove the blockage. Although this case was rare, it demonstrates the importance of preparing chia seeds properly and incorporating them into another food or liquid before consuming. And to be safe, avoid giving chia seeds to very small children.
For the vast majority of people chia seeds will be a nutritious and healing addition to their daily diet and current guidelines suggest the following intake levels are unlikely to cause any problems.
- Adults – 2 tablespoons of chia seeds daily.
- For cardiovascular protection 4 tablespoons of blended chia seeds can be taken for 3 months.
- Children 5 to 15 years – 1 teaspoon rising to 1 dessert spoon for older children of chia seeds daily.
How To Prepare Chia Seeds
Chia seeds can be ground to make pinole, a seed meal that can be used to make a porridge or used as an ingredient in baked goods.
In Mexico a popular dish is Chia Fresca, where the seed are soaked in fruit juice or water.
Chia seeds have a mild flavor with a very slight nutty taste and can easily be used as a garnish on many dishes. However the nutrients in whole chia seeds aren’t as bioavailable as those in ground or soaked seeds.
To soak chia seeds, mix them in a 1:10 ratio of chia to water, which is about one and a half tablespoons of chia seeds mixed with one cup of water. Whisk as you add the seeds to the water to prevent clumping. Wait for a few minutes then whisk once more before covering the container. Let them sit for at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours before use. You can store a batch of chia gel in the fridge where it will keep for up to 2 weeks.
How To Grind Chia Seeds
Chia seeds can quickly and easily be ground in coffee grinder. Use the ground seeds in pancakes, muffins, breads and pastas. Make sure that you store your ground seeds in a sealed container in the refrigerator to protect the omega-3 content.
Sprouted Chia Seeds
If you remember ‘Chia Pets’ you’ll already have seen chia sprouts, as they made up the green ‘fur’ on the clay pets as they grew. Sprouted chia seeds are perfect to add to salads and sandwiches.
Sprouting seeds is a great way to unlock the nutrition in seeds and disable the enzyme inhibitors that they all contain, but as chia seeds are mucilaginous seeds (they form a gel when they absorb water) you can’t sprout them in the normal way.
- Sprinkle a thin layer of chia seeds on the bottom of an unglazed terracotta dish – the dish has to be porous for this to work properly.
- Place the terracotta dish on a larger plate of water and cover with another plate.
- As the terracotta dish soaks up water from the plate below, it will provide exactly the right amount of water to sprout the chia seeds.
- On days two and three, lightly mist the seeds with fresh, clean water.
- Chia sprouts are ready to harvest in 2-3 days.