Chia seeds have been around for thousands of years. But they are gaining popularity in today’s food and nutrition scene. Why? Maybe they got a new agent or PR person. (Just kidding.) The truth is they have been an undervalued food for far too long. These little seeds pack a big nutritional punch. And in the right setting (such as the popular pudding recipes you find online, can be tasty as well.) But chia seeds benefits go far beyond that. No longer limited to just specialty stores, chia seeds are available in most groceries in whole or ground form. And they are sometimes blended with other seeds like flax.
Our bodies absorb the nutrients more efficiently from ground chia, however pre-ground seeds tend to spoil quicker and can lose their nutritional benefits over time. It is best to purchase whole chias and grind them yourself. Or you can soak whole chia seeds in water to form a gel to increase the availability of its nutrients for our bodies to absorb, also known as bioavailability. Chia oil is available, though expensive, and should be used in dressings or to finish off dishes after cooking. You used them after the cooking process because the heat can break down the omega-3 fatty acids. Let’s dive into why chia is so popular.
Let’s break down a list of the benefits of chia seeds
Chia seeds contain an arsenal of essential nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, protein, calcium and phosphorus. They add texture to baked goods, serve as an egg-substitute and are an easy way to increase fiber in our diets.
A 1 ounce portion of chia seeds, or about 2 tbsp, fuels our body with about 140 calories, 4g of complete protein (good news for vegetarians and vegans), and 10 grams of fiber. Chia provides about 13% of our Daily Value for calcium and is an excellent source of naturally-occurring phosphorus for bone health.
And yes, these are the same seeds used in the famous Chia Pet commercial from a long, long time ago (remember “Ch-ch-ch-chia!) No one knew at the time how beneficial these little seeds really were, it seems. Food has come a long way since we were using one of our healthiest seeds to grow funny “hair” on clay pottery.
They are Protein Power Blocks
Chia seeds contain all 9 essential amino acids, the building blocks of protein for our bodies. Our bodies cannot produce essential amino acids, so we need to consume them through diet. Chia is one of the few plant-based complete protein food sources. This is one of the biggest chia seeds benefits for plant-based diet followers to ensure they aren’t missing out on their amino acid needs.
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Chia seeds are cardiac health defensemen. Their heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, specifically their ALA (alpha-linolenic) fatty acids, help reduce heart disease by improving healthy (good) HDL cholesterol, while lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol. Omega-3 fatty acids reduce the risk of blood clots which can help prevent heart attacks and strokes. They also help keep the heart beating at a normal rhythm and can help lower blood pressure too.
Antioxidants are Another Big Chia Seed Health Benefit
Chia seeds are high in antioxidants, specifically, polyphenols. Antioxidants are naturally occurring substances mainly found in fruits and vegetables. They can help prevent damage at the cellular level, which happens when we are exposed to air pollution, smoking, and radiation. Limiting cellular damage can reduce inflammation to help prevent diseases such as cardiovascular disease, Alzheimers, and diabetes.
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It Promotes Regularity
Chia contains mostly insoluble fiber, which helps promote bowel regularity. The soluble fiber that is also found in chia helps stabilize blood sugars levels by slowing down carbohydrate digestion and absorption. Soluble fiber can help lower cholesterol too. Women should aim for 25 g total fiber daily and men should aim for about 38 g daily. To prevent wreaking havoc on your GI system, remember to gradually increase fiber intake, and ensure you drink enough fluids too. Too much fiber at once can cause unpleasant GI side effects such as bloating, gas, diarrhea and constipation.
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Chia Strengthens Bones
A serving of chia is a good source of calcium and an excellent source of phosphorus. These minerals are the primary components of our bones. Bone health is sometimes overlooked, but it is nonetheless still important to our overall health. Vegans can benefit from this non-dairy source for calcium.
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Applications for your chia seeds and their benefits
Whole chia adds texture to breads, biscuits, tortilla chips, crackers, and other baked goods. You can add chia to your recipes as long as there is fluid for them to soak in. You can mix them with water to make pudding, jam, or egg substitute for baking. There are many recipes out there to utilize these seeds, so choose ones that are most appealing to you!
A Word of Warning
Please note that if you have swallowing difficulties chia seeds can pose a choking hazard. Ensure they are well ground and/or soaked fully in water (or your smoothie, oatmeal, yogurt, etc) before consumption. Do not eat chia seeds whole/ground by themselves.
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Chia Seeds Benefits – In Conclusion
Of course one food can’t provide us with all the nutrients our body needs. However chia seeds make a wonderful addition to our diets. They nourish us with protein, fiber, heart healthy omega-3s and antioxidant-rich polyphenols, offer cardiovascular protection and help keep our bowels regular. What’s not to love?With different applications, chia seeds are a simple way to help improve our diet, and help ensure we are meeting those nutrients are usual diet sometimes lacks in.
Christine Morgan is a Registered and Licensed Dietitian who currently practices in dialysis. Her experience includes renal nutrition, food service, and geriatrics. Her education includes a Bachelor of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics from West Chester University of Pennsylvania, and she completed her Dietetic Internship with the University of Delaware. She is also a member of the Tri-State Renal Dietitians Association.