Chia seeds impart many health benefits, which include skin care, weight loss, lowering cholesterol levels, protecting the heart health, controlling diabetes, and improving the digestive system. Also, they help in controlling hypertension, preventing osteoporosis and arthritis, treating cancer, and aiding in pregnancy. Chia seeds give a great energy boost to athletes around the world.
What are Chia Seeds?
Chia seeds come from the flowering plant of chia, which is native to Mexico and Guatemala. The scientific names of the plant are Salvia hispanica and Salvia columbariae, which is also called ‘golden chia’. Both of these belong to the mint family (Lamiaceae). Chia seeds look similar to sesame seeds.
The chia plant had been cultivated by the Aztecs, Mayans, Incans, and other tribes for a very long time. Originally ‘chia’ meant ‘strength’ in the Mayan language. It was, therefore, a staple food for them and historians considered it an important plant and food source for Native Americans. With the fall of the Aztecs and the general decline of the native population in the North American region, the use of chia seeds also declined.
By the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, wheat and corn had replaced chia seeds as the crop of choice. This change in the staple food can be attributed to the travelers from Europe colonizing the New World and bringing forth their food grains like wheat, rice, corn, potatoes, and sweet potatoes.
The general preference of food changed over the years. Chia seeds had been forgotten for a long time until recently. The beginning of the 20th century saw a revival of chia seeds as more and more people started knowing about their benefits.
Chia Seeds Nutrition Facts
According to USDA, 100 grams of chia seeds contain no cholesterol, 486 kcal of energy, 16 grams of protein, 30 grams of fat, 43 grams of carbohydrates, and 37 grams of dietary fiber. They also have 630 mg of calcium, 948 mg of phosphorus, 160 mg of potassium, 19 mg of sodium, and 3.5 mg of zinc. Chia seeds are also rich in vitamins such as vitamin C, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and vitamin E.
Chia seeds are a good source of antioxidants as well. The antioxidants present in chia seeds include flavonol glycosides, chlorogenic acid, caffeic acid, kaempferol, quercetin, myricetin, and linolenic acid. These antioxidants help in curbing the levels of free radicals in the body. They reportedly also contain very high concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids that have many benefits.
Health Benefits of Chia Seeds
Chia seeds with so many nutrients help in treating many conditions, some of which are mentioned below.
Prevent Heart Diseases
Studies show that consumption of chia seeds increased HDL or good cholesterol levels but decreased the total cholesterol levels simultaneously. Chia seeds are considered as a heart-friendly food. The reason is that they are the richest source of omega-3 fatty acids and alpha-linolenic acid in the vegetarian world. Omega-3 fatty acids are the good fats (HDL cholesterol) that protect the heart and prevent the onset of heart diseases by reducing the levels of omega-6 fatty acids (LDL cholesterol) and maintaining a stress-free cardiovascular system.
With a high antioxidant capacity, chia seeds can repair skin cells and prevent further damage. The omega 3 fatty acids help in maintaining moisture levels in the skin, prevent dryness, delay aging and the appearance of wrinkles. Chia seeds, because of their inflammatory properties, are also used to treat acne.
Boost Digestive Health
The high dietary fiber content in chia seeds is good for regulating bowel movements and it also helps to keep up your overall gastrointestinal health. Also after consumption, these seeds create a gel-like substance in the stomach which acts as a prebiotic and supports the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut. Chia seeds make you feel full for longer, thereby reducing your urge to overeat.
The starches and carbohydrates present in chia seeds are released slowly in comparison to conventional foods and are, therefore, ideal for type 2 diabetics as blood sugar level would not surge soon after having meals. A slower release of sugars into the bloodstream can aid in the optimum absorption of these sugars by each of the cells in the body. Hence, it is believed that the need for insulin diminishes with chia seeds.
The amount of calcium found in chia seeds is considered to be higher than what is found in skimmed milk. These seeds also contain boron. It helps to metabolize calcium, which is needed for improved bodily functions and for bone health, helping to prevent osteoporosis, joint weakness, and general body flexibility.
Having a handful of chia seeds daily is recommended to eliminate dental issues. Chia seeds, being rich in calcium, phosphorus, and zinc, are amazing for the teeth. They keep the teeth healthy, eliminate bad breath, and help in overall oral care.
Improve Athletes Performance
Chia seeds drink can prove to be a great energy drink that boosts energy without contributing to any unhealthy sugar levels. Athletes around the world agree with these claims as they use chia seeds to get a quick health boost to their energy levels. Apparently, you can also see a boost in your metabolism by consuming these ‘superfoods’ or more appropriately ‘superseeds’.
The nutrients in chia seeds can play a significant role in keeping a person’s weight under control in the long run. Also, the fact that these seeds control the appetite, makes it easier for overweight people to stick to their goals and the lean ones to maintain their shape.
Chia seeds are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, apart from certain types of fish. They help in controlling age-related dementia, and fatigue, among other conditions.
The regular consumption of chia seeds is found to have a similar impact as regular medications for high blood pressure. Studies showed that chia seeds controlled systolic blood pressure by 6 ± 4 points. It also attenuates emerging and major cardiovascular risk factors in people with controlled type 2 diabetes.
Chia seeds have high levels of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which can be easily converted into omega-3 fatty acids to act as an ideal inflammation controller. These fatty acids control inflammation in the joints and arteries. It is estimated that a daily intake of about 4 grams of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is enough to prevent arthritis.
Chia seeds are long known for their anti-cancer benefits. The omega 3 acids in chia seeds have shown a great potential in inhibiting the cancer cell growth in cervical and breast cancers.
Aid in Pregnancy
Considered an ideal food for pregnant women, chia seeds can aid in the baby’s brain development, replenish all the lost nutrients, and increase the energy levels. Fish being a great source of omega 3, sometimes can threaten the unborn baby’s health with high mercury levels. So chia seeds are a safe option for all the mothers-to-be! Also, these seeds keep the blood sugar levels under control and help prevent conditions like high birth weight in the baby, C-section delivery, and preeclampsia.
How to eat Chia Seeds?
- Chia seeds can be soaked in a glass of water and consumed the next morning with breakfast.
- Water-soaked chia seeds can be added to cakes or cookies to eliminate the use of butter. Eating sprouted chia seeds can also be very beneficial.
- They can be added to various drinks, juices, protein shakes, and milkshakes as a healthy component.
- Chia seeds can also be sprinkled on various foods in your breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
- They can be added to eggs to make a healthy omelet or to salads as a dressing.
- Add a handful of chia seeds to milk and boil the mixture for some time to have a healthy porridge.
- Chia seeds can be ground up and the powder can be added to flour, milk, and yogurts.
- Chia seeds can be added to stews as a thickening agent.
Side Effects of Chia Seeds
- Allergies: Chia seeds may cause rashes, hives, vomiting, and diarrhea. Also, cross-reactions exist between chia and closely related foods like oregano, sesame, and mustard.
- Digestive Issues: If eaten in excess, chia seeds cause stomach issues in some people. This effect is because of the high fiber content in the seeds.
- Cancer: There are controversial studies regarding chia seeds’ effect on cancer, which say that the seeds increase the risk of prostate cancer. Consult your doctor before consuming the seeds.
- Blood Pressure: Chia seeds are known to treat hypertension as they act as blood thinners. So people taking medications for high blood pressure should avoid the intake of these seeds as there is a risk of hypotension.
Chia Seeds as Poultry Fodder
Recently, a study conducted by Ayerza et al. on poultry suggested that feeding animals with chia seeds as fodder would be better. An increased intake of omega-3 fatty acids in animals would also benefit the people who would eventually consume the meat of such animals.