The Benefits of Chia Seeds
Chia seeds are small but mighty seeds that have seen a massive surge in popularity over recent years. Touted as a superfood, chia seeds are a frequent feature in healthy diets. They are unique from a nutritional and functional standpoint, providing nutrients and other compounds not as available in other plant foods.
Besides that, chia seeds are a versatile ingredient. They have an unusual ability to form a thick gel when mixed with liquids, making them a great egg and gelatine replacement. Sprinkled over salads and smoothies, they can also add crunch where it is needed.
Adding chia seeds can help you meet your daily needs for specific nutrients and get added health benefits along the way. Here’s more on what chia seeds are and what benefits you would get if you add them to your meals.
What Are Chia Seeds?
Chia seeds are tiny seeds from the Salvia hispanica plant, a member of the mint family native to Central America. Chia seeds are small, measuring less than 0.08 inches, and have a mottled appearance. One of their most interesting features is the ability to absorb up to 12 times their weight in water and develop a gel-like texture when soaked.
The taste of these small but mighty seeds is mild and fairly neutral, and they’re appreciated more so for their texture than flavor. Their neutral taste means they can be mixed in many different recipes, both sweet and savory. Texture-wise, they’re crunchy when dry and jelly-like when soaked. Mixed in baked goods, they provide both subtle crunch and moisture.
Their name comes from the Mayan word chiháan meaning "strong, strengthening." Chia seeds are believed to have been cultivated for medicinal and nutritional purposes since at least 3500 years B.C. And while they’ve been initially known thanks to the popularity of Chia Pets, chia seeds have seen a huge boom as a health food in the past decade.
Chia Seeds Nutrition Facts
Like most seeds, chia seeds are very nutritious. They have a great balance of macronutrients, with their dry weight being 41% carbohydrates, 30% fats, and 23% proteins. Most of their carbohydrates are in the form of dietary fiber, however, which is responsible for their gel-forming properties.
A 1-oz serving of chia seeds provides just under 140 calories. These calories mainly come from fat and protein, since most of their carbs are indigestible dietary fiber. A unique property of chia is that about 68% of their fat is omega-3 fatty acids. They provide more omega-3 fats than flax seeds, making them one of the most valuable plant sources of this essential nutrient.
6 Big Benefits of Chia Seeds
Adding chia to your diet comes with a host of benefits, most of which come from chia’s unique nutritional profile as well as its many health-boosting phytochemicals. Below are some of these health benefits explained.
1. An omega-3 boost
Researchers believe our modern-day diets have too much pro-inflammatory omega-6 fats and too little anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats. While both are essential, an imbalance intake of the two may lead to sub-clinical inflammation and chronic disease. Increasing your intake of omega-3 fats can help offset these negative effects and reduce your risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and more. Two tablespoons of chia seeds provide about 5g of beneficial omega-3 fats, which is more than enough to meet your daily requirements.
2. Cardiovascular health
The omega-3s in chia seeds are known to protect cardiovascular health by reducing blood lipid levels and inflammation. But a study on adults with type 2 diabetes found that regularly eating these seeds leads to improved blood pressure. Foods containing dietary fiber, long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, and high-quality protein — which chia seeds do — are known to have a positive impact on blood pressure and other parameters of good cardiovascular health.
3. Weight loss
Chia seeds are rich in soluble fiber, which is known to help with weight loss. Dietary fiber increases feelings of fullness following a meal by slowing down digestion and by balancing blood glucose levels. Although chia alone won’t make you lose weight, they can make weight loss attempts easier by increasing satiety. Studies have found they’re more effective in this than flax seeds — another popular source of dietary fiber.
4. Metabolic health
The balanced nutritional profile of chia seeds also makes them fantastic for metabolic health. Adding them to your daily diet can help you boost your intake of fiber, anti-inflammatory fats, and functional proteins. All three are strongly linked to better metabolic health because they help keep blood glucose levels in check. Chia is notable for its bioactive peptides, which are compounds derived from protein and that were found to reduce a person’s risk of diabetes by inhibiting enzymes involved in this common health problem.
5. Immune system boost
The fiber in chia seeds is of the soluble kind, which beneficial bacteria in your large intestine can use to protect your immunity. When bacteria ferment dietary fiber, they produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFA). SCFAs play a role in the immune system by recruiting and migrating certain immune cells as well as regulating the production of cells involved in immunity.
6. Better gut health
The soluble fiber in chia can also protect your digestive tract. Not only does fiber help with regular bowel movements, but it also “feeds” good gut bacteria. A healthier microflora reduces your risk of ulcerative colitis, colorectal cancer, and other serious problems of the digestive tract. Animal studies have also found that the chia’s soluble fiber protects the intestinal barrier and improves its functioning.
Chia seeds also contain numerous antioxidants, notably chlorogenic acid, quercetin, and kaempferol, among many others. These also add up to the health benefits of these tiny seeds. Researchers believe these may protect the heart and liver as well as confer anti-aging and anti-cancer benefits, among many others.
Chia seeds are tiny but mighty seeds that you need to consider adding to your diet. Not only are these unusual seeds nutritious, but they were also found to provide health benefits like no other. One of the best sources of plant omega-3 fatty acids, chia can help you meet your daily requirements for this essential nutrient.
These seeds are also a great source of gut-benefiting fiber as well as proteins that protect health in unique ways. Adding a teaspoon or two should be enough to make a difference, and you can add them to almost any meal you can imagine: salads, dressings, smoothies, cookies, and even bread.
Ready to add more chia to your life? Try our new cocoa chia cookie!
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