Health Benefits of Chia Seeds
Chia seeds might not be new to the health food scene, but they haven’t worn out their welcome. Chia seeds are still going strong and continue popping up in a variety of food products ranging from granola to peanut butter. What makes these tiny seeds so powerful? If you’re eating them, it’s helpful to know what nutrients you’re getting!
Before digging into the benefits of chia seeds, let’s find out more about their history. Chia seeds, whose botanical name is Salvia hispanica L., come from the same family as mint and are native to the Aztecs in pre-Columbian South and Central America. Chia was originally used as a food source as well as for its medicinal benefits. Today’s Dietitian reports that, as a food source, Chia was ground into flour (chianpinolli) and incorporated into tortillas and tamales. Both the ground form and the whole seeds were used in beverages. The beverages made with chia transformed from chianatoles ,which were made from ground chia and used in ceremonial events, to “chia fresca” which consists of whole chia seeds, water, lemon and sugar and is still consumed today.
As a medical food, chia was used in conjunction with other remedies to treat a variety of illnesses including gastrointestinal issues, infections, and respiratory problems. Even the root was cultivated for the treatment of respiratory infections.
Even the oil of the seed has been used for ages both in art as the base of paints and lacquers and also as a skin-protectant, used on the legs and feet of fisherman.
With all of these uses, its no wonder that chia has survived post-colonization and doesn’t appear to be making and exit anytime soon. With time, the health benefits of chia have become better understood.
Now, we’ll explore the nutrient benefits of chia seeds as well as specific health conditions that reap benefits from that nutrient.
Benefits of Chia Seeds:
- Two tablespoons (1-ounce) of chia provides 5g of protein. Chia seeds also contain all nine essential amino acids. Essential amino acids are ones that the body is not able to synthesize on its own and therefore, must be obtained through food. These essential amino acids, along with nine other non-essential amino acids found in chia seeds make it the perfect addition to a yogurt or beverage for post-workout recovery.
- Though tiny, chia seeds are an excellent source of alpha linolenic acid (ALA), a type of Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid (PUFA) which is the precursor to EPA and DHA, the types of omega-3s found in fish. A 1-ounce serving provides 4,500 mg. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Emerging research suggests that including chia seeds as part of a healthy diet may help improve cardiovascular risk factors such as lowering cholesterol, triglycerides and blood pressure. Additionally, the Journal of Molecular Biochemistry reported that ALA reduced growth of breast and cervical cancer cells.
- We could all use a little more fiber in our diets to meet the recommended 38g per day for men and 25g per day for women under 50. Two tablespoons provides approx. 11g of fiber, which is more than you’ll get from a ½ cup serving of pinto beans (approx. 7.5g). Fiber helps keep you fuller longer and for that reason has been linked to weight loss, as it prevents snacking. Consider adding it to your morning oatmeal for a double dose of fiber.
- As I mentioned in my post about non-dairy milk alternatives, dairy allergies/intolerance are quite common today. It can be difficult to find non-dairy food sources of calcium. Have some chia pudding made with 2-ounces (1/4 cup) chia seeds and you’re at 36% of the RDA for calcium. Compare that to the 29% found in an 8-ounce glass of 2% milk. Not bad at all.
- Magnesium is an essential player in over 300 enzymatic reactions in the body including protein synthesis, muscle and nerve function, blood glucose control, and blood pressure regulation. A 1-ounce serving of chia seeds (2 tablespoons) provides 95mg, which is roughly 23% of the RDA. The magnesium found in chia seeds could be part of the reason that the Cleveland Clinic reported that chia seeds have been shown to decrease blood pressure and c-reactive protein (a sign of inflammation) in type 2 diabetics. Magnesium also is used in many supplements to promote relaxation and sleep, so have some chia fresca (sans the sugar) as a healthy nightcap.
- Move over blueberries; chia seeds have antioxidant power to rival any berry. The powerful antioxidants found in chia seeds are one of the many benefits of chia seeds. First of all, they help preserve their own healthy fats by preventing them from going rancid. This means that you still reap the anti-inflammatory benefits. Secondly, antioxidants provide protective effects against free radicals. According to the International Journal of Biomedical Science, free radicals can accumulate and lead to oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is linked to the development of chronic and degenerative illness such as cancer, autoimmune disorders, aging, cataract, rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases. Antioxidants, like those found in chia seeds, help prevent against oxidative stress.
Other minerals in the benefits of chia seeds
In addition to all the nutrients above, the benefits of chia seeds are also phosphorous, manganese, copper, zinc, iron and niacin.
How to consume them:
Chia seeds, unlike flaxseeds, which should only be consumed ground, are safe both in whole seed or ground form. When added to water, they absorb 10 times their weight and form a gel-like substance. This makes them great as an egg-replacer in recipes and also works in water as a great way to stay hydrated during a workout.
This ability to gelatinize in the stomach slows the rate of carbohydrate absorption, and promotes more stable blood sugar levels, making it a great addition to meals for diabetics.
I hope that your eyes have been opened to the vast array of health benefits of chia seeds. The next time you consume them, you’ll know that you’re contributing to your overall health.