In recent years, there has been a steady growth in the emphasis for healthy and naturally-occurring foods as the answer to all our bad eating habits and equally questionable lifestyle choices. If you’ve spent some time on the internet reading about healthy food options, you’ve probably come across the usual heralded saviors towards a healthier diet: cherries, blueberries, quinoa, spirulina, wheatgrass, among a long list of many others that are commonly classified as superfoods because of their immense health-giving benefits.
Chia seeds – Undervalued superfood
The “silent star” of the show is chia seeds, aptly considered as such because there doesn’t seem to be plenty of interest in this food type despite its equally formidable resumé of laudable health benefits. It certainly doesn’t help that most other “superfoods” can be quickly marketed as classy products – Organic Quinoa or Super Spirulina quickly comes to mind – while chia seeds have not had a substantial marketing foothold. And lastly, would you really want to be caught eating seeds? Where’s the fun in that?
That line of thinking is exactly the reason why chia seeds have remained largely unknown for so long despite all that it can offer from a nutritional standpoint. It stands to reason that chia seeds must rely on properly educating health-conscious individuals as to why it’s comparable, if not better, than many other superfood options on the market.
Are chia seeds good for you?
This article is specifically written for that purpose. If you want to know more about chia seeds, and more particularly about its nutritional benefits, this is the article to read.
But first, a little insight into the history of chia seeds to help set the stage for its status as an important dietary component in many cultures around the world…
The Chia Story
Chia seeds come from the plant chia, salvia hispanica, which is native to Southern and Central Mexico and Guatemala. Chia seeds were a staple component in the diets of many Latin civilizations including the Aztecs. In fact, historians have argued that chia seeds were likely to be as important food sources as maize given its ubiquity and suitability to the climate of the Central Americas.
In cultures where there is emphasis on a pseudo-vegetarian diet like the Tarahumara Indians in Northwestern Mexico, chia seeds hold tremendous importance as a vital source of energy and other health benefits. The Tarahumaras have a legendary reputation as a culture of “fast running people” traversing the Mexican jungles as easily as if they were running on paved roads. They were featured in a popular running book by Christopher McDougall entitled “Born to Run” where their penchant for 200-mile runs have become the stuff of legends.
The same staple diet of the Tarahumaras have since spiraled back into the ultramarathon community in the United States and many other countries around the world, and this is where chia seeds have made their re-entry into mainstream consciousness. As the thinking goes, if the Tarahumara Indians can live off of chia seeds and quinoa and still run their 200-mile excursions, what can the same diet do to ultramarathon runners and other endurance athletes? Thus, the relationship between veganism and running was born and along with it the role of chia seeds as a vital source of nutrition, energy, recovery and many other health benefits. Not surprisingly, the name chia actually means “strength” in the local language where the chia plant originally grew.
So what are these nutritional facts and health benefits that chia seeds offer? Here are the most important ones that you should know.
Chia seeds nutritional value
Analysis has shown that chia seeds are rich in a variety of important substances. An ounce of seeds which can fit into two tablespoons have been analyzed to contain 139 low GI calories, 4 grams of protein, 12 grams of carbohydrates, 11 grams of fiber, 9 grams of fat, and 4 grams of protein. Along with this, chia seeds also contain a substantial amount of minerals including 180 milligrams of calcium, 26 milligrams of phosphorus, 45 milligrams of potassium, 5 milligrams of sodium and trace amounts of zinc, copper, and manganese.
Another important class of healthy substances present in chia seeds are fatty acids. The same 1-ounce serving of chia seeds are rich in two important fatty acids namely Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. There are about 5,000 milligrams of Omega-3 FA and another 1,620 milligrams of Omega-6 FA in chia seeds. Both are widely considered to be essential to a healthy circulatory and cardiovascular system, which is not surprising considering how endurance athletes seem to credit chia seeds for their ability to run long distances on a daily basis.
So what do these nutritional facts translate into from the perspective of tangible health benefits? Allow us to count the ways.
The Health Benefits of Chia Seeds
Chia seeds for weight loss
One of the most important health benefits of chia seeds is in weight loss, as supported by multiple studies. Pound-for-pound, chia seeds contain substantial fiber enough to rival some of the most well-known dietary fiber sources available on supermarket shelves. Fiber in the digestive tract performs two essential functions that can help promote weight loss.
The first function is all about giving your “full and satisfied” feeling that helps you control your appetite. Instead of continuing to eat because you feel that you need to have more, the fiber in chia seeds actually helps you realize that you don’t need to eat as much.
The second purpose of fiber is counterintuitive but it is well validated in many medical circles. Fiber is known to sweep your digestive tract clean of toxins and other harmful by-products of a less-than-ideal diet. A cleaner digestive tract facilitates better absorption of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients from your diet. Studies have found that better nourished individuals – those who eat the right kinds of food – are less likely to crave for more food than those who are eating empty calories. In essence, that “sweeping action” by the dietary fiber allows your stomach and intestines to function more effectively so you don’t have to eat as much to get the same nutritional value from food. That is why dietary fiber – including the ones found in chia seeds – can help promote a leaner, thinner body.
Chia seeds Omega-3 for heart health
Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids are essential to heart health because they act as anti-inflammatory substances that help lower the risk for chronic inflammatory diseases including common heart ailments. Sadly, Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids cannot be synthesized in the human body so a diet with plenty of these substances is essential for promoting a healthy heart.
Now, many think that the only way to eat Omega-3 and Omega-6 rich foods is when you load your diet with fish like tuna and salmon. Well now you can have chia seeds too! Chia seeds can help supplement your need for Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids when you aren’t able to eat a lot of fish. This is exactly what vegans and vegetarians do to get their essential fatty acid dietary requirement without having to “cheat” and eat meat; instead, they just eat chia!
Chia seeds minerals for full-body health
The plethora of minerals in chia seeds also leads to an impressive list of health benefits. The calcium in chia helps promote bone health helping to prevent bone injuries from common household accidents or from athletic competition. Potassium is vital for a healthy heart; banana is another food source rich in potassium and it’s not surprising to see athletes much on a banana during a tennis match or while running a marathon. Copper helps promote healthy production of red blood cells which are critical for carrying oxygen to every cell in the body; zinc helps beef up the immune system so you are less like to catch a cold or a bacterial infection. The nutrients in chia touches your body in a lot of ways, all helping in making it stronger and more able to resist breaking down or catching an infection.
How much chia seeds per day?
To fully take advantage of these chia nutritional benefits, it is recommended to eat about 1 to 2 tablespoons worth of chia seeds a day. That helps cover a substantial portion of one’s daily dietary requirement which are then filled out by the rest of your healthy and balanced diet.
How to Enjoy Your Fix of Chia Seeds
The easy answer, of course, is to learn how to love seeds as a snack but judging from the popularity of chia seeds – or lack thereof – seeds and snacks aren’t the words you’d expect to go together in one sentence.
Here are some other “more palatable” alternatives:
Chia seed drink
If you are fond of fruit smoothies, juices, or green drinks, chia seeds work as the perfect complement. In fact, you can even make a juice out of just chia seeds. Simply add water to two tablespoons of chia seeds, wait for 5 minutes to allow the water to soak in, and then enjoy your lumpy chia beverage.
Chia seed gel
Are you fond of preparing your own desserts? Chia gel can be some sort of “jelly alternative” that you can stuff inside a pastry. Mix 9 parts water to 1 part chia seeds, allow to stand for about 30 minutes with occasional stirring to break out the clumps. As the seeds break down, they obtain a thicker consistency which can then be placed in the refrigerator to become gel-like. Aside from being used as a filling in pastries, you can also use the gel as a binder for vegan patties or a thickener in soups.
Chia seeds as a sesame-seeds substitute
You know sesame seeds; they work great on anything that you can sprinkle them into. Well, chia seeds work just as well if not better!
“Chia” Your Way to Health
The chia seeds is a great addition to any healthy diet. Whether you want a fresh ingredient or you haven’t heard of chia yet and you want to try it out, you can never go wrong with a dose of chia seeds, or two, on a daily basis.
So now that you know about these chia nutrition facts, what are you going to do about this information? Are you ready to give it a shot?