10 Health Benefits of Chia Seeds (+ The Nutritional Breakdown)
Chia seeds are tiny, dark-colored seeds, each about the size of a pinhead. They can grow to 10 times their size when mixed with liquid. Chia seeds have concentrated omega 3 fatty acids, protein, calcium, fiber, carbohydrates and vitamins and minerals. Chia seeds are found in the seed pods of the Salvia Hispanica plant, which is closely related to mint and grows native to South America. The seeds are edible and are believed to give strength and energy.
The earliest documented use of chia seeds in dietary practices was as early as 3500 BC among the Aztecs and Mayan civilizations. Chia seeds were held in high regard due to their medicinal attributes and nutritional value.
The word ‘chia’ comes from the Mayan language and its direct translation means “strength”. While chia seeds were considered a “superfood” by early civilizations for centuries, it was only in the last decade or so that their nutritional value in the West was recognized.
The Mayans and Aztecs believed that consuming chia seeds gave them elevated levels of strength and endurance. It is no wonder that they relied on them as a key component of their diet.
In modern times, chia seeds have evolved into many uses and benefits. Rich in antioxidants and dietary fiber, they make for a fantastic addition to salads, smoothies, yogurts, and baked confectionaries. Chia seeds are absorbent and can be used in a wide variety of sauces, soups, and gravies. When mixed with water, the seeds turn into a gel-like consistency.
10 Health Benefits of Chia Seeds
1. Chia Seeds Contain Dietary Fiber
Chia seeds have next to no carbohydrate content. The carbs that are found in the seeds are fiber- based, meaning that they are not absorbed in the gastro-intestinal (GI) tract. Instead, they sweep the gastro-intestinal tract clean, reducing any inflammation that may exist in the stomach, intestines, and colon.
Inflammation is responsible for a slew of negative health disorders and diseases. When you eat foods that are high in refined carbohydrates and saturated fats, the gut biomes that live in your GI tract are unable to efficiently absorb your food. This inflammation spreads throughout your body and reduces your sense of well-being while exposing you to serious negative health conditions.
Increased levels of inflammation disrupt metabolic processes and open the door for health disorders and disease. Reducing the impact of inflammation caused by poor dietary choices will improve your general health. By eating a diet that is high in fiber, you eliminate any excess waste from your gastro-intestinal tract that may be negatively impacting on your health and levels of energy. (3)
2. Chia Seeds Have An Antioxidant Effect
The antioxidants found in chia seeds are used by the plant to protect the fats from turning rancid due to environmental exposure. When chia seeds are eaten, these same antioxidants get to work in your body by fighting off free radicals in your system.
Free radicals are a natural by-product of metabolism in your body. However, if production is excessively high and antioxidants are in lesser supply, they begin to harm your body rather than heal it. Excessive levels of free radical levels in your system can lead to oxidative cell damage which raises your risk level for health conditions. As metabolic function declines, you will become more susceptible to infection and disease.
Studies show that chia seeds have a definitive antioxidant effect and recommend that they be included in the diet to realize health benefits. (4)
3. Chia Seeds are Low in Calories and Rich in Nutrients
Chia seeds have next to no caloric value, but are a nutritious source of vital minerals and nutrients that enhance your biological function and improve levels of health and well-being. One ounce of chia seeds is equivalent to 139 calories. Other nutrients present in chia seeds are the following: (5)
- 4 grams of bioavailable protein
- 11 grams of dietary fiber
- 9 grams of fat
- 30% of the RDA for manganese
- 30% of the RDA for Magnesium
- 18% of the RDA for calcium
- 27% of the RDA for phosphorus
- Trace amounts of other minerals such as Vitamin B3, B1, B2, and zinc
The calorie content of chia seeds may seem high; however, if you discount the fiber content, which is not absorbed by your system, then the calorie count drops to 101 calories per ounce. An ounce of chia seeds works out to two heaped tablespoons of the seeds.
Of the nine grams of fat found in a one-ounce serving of chia seeds, six grams are omega-3 fatty acids. EFAs (essential fatty acids) are powerful super nutrients that have anti-inflammatory properties. Omega-3 fatty acids have been proven to assist in the mobilization of fat stores in the body to be used as fuel for metabolic processes. EFAs enhance cognitive processes and optimize cell communication. (6)
4. Chia Seeds Have A High Protein Content
Chia seeds are 14% protein by weight, an unusually high percentage of plant-based protein sources. The proteins found in chia seeds contain amino acids that enhance exercise recovery and assist in efficient cell communication.
The absence of protein in the diet can be problematic and result in a large drop in body weight. It can also lead to a reduction in muscle mass which relies on protein to maintain size and strength.
Chia seeds are an alternative source of animal protein and a good source of your daily recommended protein intake. Chia seeds offer a source of plant protein that is suitable for a meat-free lifestyle. (7)
Protein also boosts the metabolism because of its thermic effect of food (TEF). Out of the three macronutrients, protein has the highest TEF and results in the highest number of calories burned through simply consuming it.
5. Chia Seeds Can Accelerate Metabolism
Chia seeds have displayed very little direct influence on fat burning; however, they have specific properties that can elevate metabolic function and accelerate results. The Omega-3 fatty acids found in chia seeds can free up fat stores to be used as energy, helping you to reach your fat loss goals faster. (8)
The fiber found in chia seeds is also very absorbent. The seeds swell with water and slow down digestion, keeping you feeling full and staving off feelings of hunger.
6. Chia Seeds Contain Essential Fatty Acids
Chia seeds are very high in ALA (alpha linolenic acid). ALA is converted to the bioavailable variants DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA. While chia seeds may not contain high levels of DHA, they do have plenty of EPA and ALA which have been shown to increase immune system function, elevate metabolic function and improve mood.
Chia seeds may not be as effective as fish oil in delivering a full spectrum of EFAs; however, they do contain enough omega-3 acids to merit their inclusion in your diet. (9)
7. Chia Seeds Lower your Risk of Heart Disease and Improve your Lipid Levels
Studies in animals have shown that chia seeds improve HDL (good cholesterol) production while simultaneously lowering LDL (bad cholesterol). Regular use of chia seeds in your diet can lower total triglyceride levels and improve heart health.
With lower total triglycerides and an improved lipid (cholesterol) profile, you can expect to experience better levels of vitality from improved circulation and cardiac function. (10)
Chia seeds have also shown promise in reducing blood pressure. Studies have shown that eating chia seeds with a meal can reduce blood pressure levels by as much as 3-6 mm/Hg. Regular use of chia seeds in your diet can reduce the effects of hypertension and anxiety.
8. Chia Seeds Can Provide Calcium for Stronger Bones and Teeth
As we age, our bodies deplete themselves of calcium and magnesium, which are vital minerals responsible for the health of your skeletal system. Chia seeds are packed full of calcium, phosphorous and magnesium, three minerals that are essential for healthy bones and teeth.
For those people that cannot eat dairy or do not take supplements, chia seeds could be the solution to provide the nutrient gaps in the diet. Adding chia seeds to your diet can help you achieve your recommended daily allowance for these crucial minerals. (11)
9. Chia Seeds Can Help with Diabetes Management
The most positive health benefit connected to chia seeds is its impact on fasted blood glucose levels. The fiber and antioxidants found in chia seeds assist your body in metabolizing carbohydrates and preventing a spike in insulin levels.
This effect improves your insulin resistance and lowers your fasted blood glucose readings while lowering inflammatory markers. Chia seeds cannot replace diabetes medication but they can be beneficial when incorporated into a diabetes management program. (12)
10. Chia Seeds Boost Athletic Performance
Do you enjoy a good workout at the local gym? Chia seeds could help you take your performance to the next level. In a study, athletes were split into two groups to test the efficiency of chia seeds as a performance enhancer during strenuous exercise.
The first group was handed a sports energy drink, while the second group received a mix of half energy drink, half chia seeds. The two groups were then asked to complete a ten kilometer run on a treadmill. At the end of the exercise period, it was noted that there was no difference in performance levels between the two groups. Performance did not lag in the group that had half their energy drink substituted with chia seeds. (13)
This experiment has shown that there may be a considerable benefit and truth to the belief that chia seeds are an energy booster.
Adding Chia Seeds to your Diet Plan
Chia seeds have next to no taste, which makes it ideal as an addition to almost any food or recipe to give you a nutritional boost. Since it is an edible seed, you do not have to grind it into a powder like other seeds such as flax seeds.
Chia seeds can also be eaten raw, cooked, or soaked in a liquid. Simply sprinkle a tablespoon or two on cereals and salads, or add them to your favorite health drinks, cereals, meat dishes, chicken or fish dishes. When soaked, they turn into a pudding that can be eaten alone or as a base for other flavors to make a healthy dessert.
You can find chia seeds on the shelf of your local health food store. They come packaged, ready to be added to any dish or health drink to enhance its nutritional value. Look for chia seeds that are black or white in color as these signify that the seeds are of high-quality. A brownish color may mean that the seeds were not yet mature enough when harvested, and may thus have a bitter taste. Try to check the packaging if they are organic and non-GMO.
Chia seeds are truly worth incorporating in our diet. Chia seeds are versatile and nutritious, so you may reap the benefits of this superfood in your meals and feel their effect on your energy levels and overall health.
Chia seeds are versatile and nutritious, so feel free to incorporate them into your diet as a plant-based protein, dietary fiber source, or fatty acid aid. Just one or two tablespoons of chia seeds daily can provide many health benefits such as a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, protection from free radical damage, enhanced athletic performance, among others.