Chia seeds are a nutrient-dense superfood
‘Chia’ means strength in the Mayan language, and in Mexico – where they originally come from – they were once even used as currency. They are the dried seeds of the Salvia hispanica plant.
Chia seeds are high in fibre, very ‘nutrient dense’ and can give you a low-calorie energy boost. In fact, Aztec soldiers used to eat chia seeds for endurance on a long march – so the seeds were known as ‘runners’ food’.
Since they are so rich in nutrients (see below), chia seeds have many proven benefits:
When eaten with a liquid – for example, sprinkled over your breakfast cereal – the fibre in chia seeds forms a gel that has been shown to lower cholesterol.
Chia seeds also contain nutrients that have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Since internal inflammation in body tissues is a key driver of heart disease and stroke (and some cancers), a diet that’s high in anti-inflammatory nurients is important for your health. (See the free e-booklet “Inflamm-ageing” here).
The heart-healthy benefit of chia seeds is further boosted by the fact that they are a very good vegetarian source of Omega 3. Their high content of Alpha Linolenic Acid (ALA) is converted into Omega 3 – although not as powerfully as in fish oil.
Linolenic acid helps with the absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin A, E, D and K. Studies have shown that chia seeds can also help prevent damaging high triglyceride levels in the bloodstream.
Medical News Today recommends chia seeds as “an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, rich in antioxidants, providing fibre, iron, and calcium.”
Filling, low calorie and very low carb
The fibre/gel effect we noted means that a meal that includes chia seeds will make you feel fuller longer, which should help in weight maintenance.
The fibre/gel formed when chia seeds absorb water can also act as a prebiotic which in turn acts as food for healthy probiotics – the beneficial ‘friendly bacteria’ that have other benefits including improved immune function.
Good for digestion
Because of their very high fibre content (35%) – chia seeds are good for digestion. Indeed just 75g (3 ounces) provides 30g of fibre – the recommended daily level that most modern diets fail to reach. The high fibre content also means that chia seeds contribute to healthy regular bowel movements.
Stabilises blood sugar – essential to help prevent and reverse diabetes
This high fibre content means that the seeds – like flax seeds – help keep blood sugar levels steady and balance insulin levels. So diabetics should definitely include them regularly in their diet.
An animal study reported in the British Journal of Nutrition 2009 showed that rats on an incredibly high sugar diet – 62.5% sugar – when also fed chia seeds, did not develop insulin resistance as would certainly be expected.
Insulin resistance is, of course, the pre-cursor of diabetes. In a second part of this same study, rats who already had diabetes began to recover. Of special importance was the fact that their belly fat was reduced. It is this ‘belly fat’ or technically ‘visceral adipose tissue’ that releases damaging toxic and inflammatory compounds into the bloodstream.
A review by the National Institute of Medicine found that diets with 30 grams of fibre for every 2,000 calories were associated with significant reductions in the risk of both coronary heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Part of ‘anti-ageing’ diet
Chia seeds are high in anti-oxidants which means they help fight excess free radicals that are strongly linked to premature ageing and damage to DNA. That also makes them good for healthy skin appearance.
Chia seeds contain both calcium and boron – important elements for sturdier healthier bones.
Ideal for work-outs
Chia seeds absorb up to 10 times their own weight of water. This means they can keep you hydrated longer and improve the absorption of electrolytes. Plus they are a good source of minerals you need to replace like zinc, magnesium, copper and niacin (B3).
The capacity of chia seeds to absorb water, however, means that people who have difficulty swallowing should take care – and very small children should avoid chia seeds for the same reason.
Omega 3 is an important nutrient for a growing baby’s brain. Chia seeds are one of the best sources of vegetarian derived Omega 3.
How to include chia seeds in your diet
Unlike flax seeds, you do not need to grind up chia seeds to obtain their full nutritional benefits. You can, however, soak them in water for about 30 minutes before use if you want them in gel form – at about a 1 to 6 ratio of chia seeds to water.
If you grind them, however, store in a glass container in a fridge. Being high in polyunsaturated fatty acids, they can otherwise oxidise.
Because they are slightly nutty and mild in flavour, there are many easy ways to chia-enrich your diet:
- Add chia seeds to home-made smoothies*
- Add chia to cereals
- Add chia to stir fries
- Add chia to rice dishes
- Add chia to baked recipes
- Eat chia seeds raw – but chew thoroughly
- You can even replace eggs with chia in some dishes. Grind and add water. Check out recipes.
*For a nutrient-dense smoothie, blend 2 tablespooons of chia seeds with 2 cups of spinach, a cup of strawberries and one of blueberries. It’s an anti-oxidant fest!
Nutritional content of chia seeds
Chia seeds are very low in sodium and contain no allergens or gluten. The nutritional values are:-
|per 25g (2 tbsp) serving)||per 100g|
|of which Omega 3 fats as Alpha Linolenic Acid||4.4g (57%)||17.6g|
PLUS (per serving)
Calcium: 18% of the RDA.
Manganese: 30% of the RDA.
Magnesium: 30% of the RDA.
Phosphorus: 27% of the RDA.
They also contain significant amounts of Zinc, Vitamin B3 (Niacin), Potassium, Vitamin B1 (Thiamine) and Vitamin B2.
One of the key benefits of chia seeds that health researchers have noted is that they are ‘nutrient dense’. We developed the NutriShield nutritional supplement to be the most nutritionally dense supplement available. You can see it here.
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Chicco AG, D’Alessandro ME, Hein GJ, Oliva ME, Lombardo YB (2009) Dietary chia seed (Salvia hispanica L.) rich in alpha-linolenic acid improves adiposity and normalises hypertriacylglycerolaemia and insulin resistance in dyslipaemic rats. Br J Nutr 101:41–50
Vuksan V, Whitham D, Sievenpiper JL, Jenkins AL, Rogovik AL, Bazinet RP, Vidgen E, Hanna A (2007) Supplementation of conventional therapy with the novel grain Salba (Salvia hispanica L.) improves major and emerging cardiovascular risk factors in type 2 diabetes: results of a randomized controlled trial. Diabetes Care 30:2804–2810
Burdge GC, Wootton SA (2003) Conversion of alpha-linolenic acid to eicosapentaenoic, docosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acids in young women. Br J Nutr 88:411–420 June 2012, Volume 67, Issue 2, pp 105–110