Chia seeds are native to South America, and legend has it that the people of the Mayan and Aztec cultures used this seed as an energy booster, particularly on journeys. Due to their high concentration of nutrients, protein and fatty acids, this makes perfect sense. They absorb water to swell to many times their original size, and because of this water absorption, they are very easy for the body to digest and make full use of. As an added benefit, they are considered whole-grain and are naturally gluten-free.
1. Chia Seeds are Chock Full of Nutrients:
In one ounce of chia seeds, or about two tablespoons which can be sprinkled over pretty much any food as a nutrient booster, you will find fiber, protein, healthy fat, calcium, manganese, phosphorous, zinc and potassium.
- Protein: 4.4 grams
- Fiber: 10.6 grams
- Fat: 8.6 grams (about 5 of which are from Omega-3 fatty acids)
- Manganese: 30% RDA
- Phosphorous: 27% RDA
- Calcium: 18% RDA
- Zinc: 7% RDA
- Potassium: 1% RDA
2. Contain High Levels of Antioxidants:
The high levels of antioxidants in chia seeds serve to protect the delicate fats in the seeds from going bad with age. When applied to people, antioxidants help the body fight free radicals in cells. Free radicals are known to lead to the effects of aging and too many free radicals can result in cancer. (http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/53/1/373S.short)
3. Although High in Carbohydrates, Most of it is Fiber:
While many people on health kicks try to avoid carbohydrates in all forms due to their tendency to cause fat in the body, the carbs in chia seeds are mostly due to fiber. Fiber isn’t processed by the body and can’t be stored as fat, and has a number of health benefits of its own, including making you feel more full with less food and keeping the good bacteria in your stomach happy, leading to increased health for you. (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0023643808001345)
4. They are 14% Protein
This is really high for plants. Coupled with the healthy amino acids within chia seeds, the protein should be absorbed fairly easily by the body, making it an effective way to provide your meal with an extra nutritional boost.
5. High in Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Gram for gram, chia seeds have more Omega-3s than salmon. Unfortunately there is an addendum: although they have a greater concentration of Omega-3s, the version found in chia seeds are ALA fatty acids, which humans aren’t very efficient at using. ALA fatty acids are the ones found in plants, whereas DHA fatty acids are found in animals. DHA is the kind most beneficial to humans, and is an essential nutrient. So if you’re a vegan or vegetarian and are relying on chia seeds for your Omega-3s, you should be taking a DHA supplement also or you may as well not even bother.
6. More Calcium than Dairy
Not all dairy, but a lot of it. In fact, many of the nutrients found in chia seeds are essential for healthy bones (protein, calcium, and phosphorous), making them a great resource for those who don’t eat dairy.
7. Chia Seeds Can Help Prevent Diabetes
Due to the high fiber, chia seeds could prevent a spike in blood sugar after meals. Over time, this may help to prevent diabetes in the future for those who are at risk. While it is not yet known whether they actively lower blood sugar, many medical professionals believe that applying chia seeds or some other form of fiber with every meal will reduce the chances of dangerous blood spikes and insulin for those who are at risk.
8. Can Prevent Heart Disease
Maintaining a steady intake of chia seeds, about an ounce a day, has been shown to reduce blood pressure and lower hs-CRP (an inflammatory marker) by 40%. They have also been shown to lower triglycerides, raise LDL (the good kind of cholesterol), and reduce insulin resistance. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17356263)
9. Can Help You Lose Weight
When combined with a healthy diet, chia seeds are an essential addition to weight loss that could speed your results. Their high protein and fiber content means that you will feel full more quickly and for a longer period, allowing you to fight cravings. Their effect on reducing blood sugar spikes also shows favorably on their ability to help people lose weight because when the body experiences a blood sugar spike and then crash, it seeks to bring back the spike, resulting in unhealthy cravings. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18492301)
While a lot of testing still needs to be done to account for all of the benefits chia seed supporters claim they have, it is already reasonably clear they are a great addition to a healthy diet. Given their size they are remarkably nutrient-rich and despite the fact they are filled with carbohydrates, most of it is fiber, which is something most of us desperately need more of in our diets. Just a sprinkle a day will keep you healthy, so why not add it to your grocery list?