Chia seeds may be one of the most unknown seeds although it has been among us for thousands of years.
However, in recent times we have seen how it has become fashionable and is increasingly present in numerous dishes and recipes, especially those sweeter, among those who follow a healthy diet.
These tiny seeds have achieved superfood status, as they have a great nutritional impact and numerous health benefits.
And, no, it’s not overrated.
But what is its origin, and how is it more appropriate to consume chia seeds?
Here we tell you everything you need to know and the 5 most important benefits of this food.
What is the origin of chia seeds?
Chia is a small seed of brown color, subtle flavor, tiny size, and oval shape that comes from an annual herbaceous plant, which is called Salvia hispanica L. and is a member of the mint family, native to Mexico and Central America.
Chia, which was very present in the diet of the ancient Aztec armies, was cultivated by Mesopotamian cultures, but then disappeared essentially for centuries until the mid-twentieth century when it was “rediscovered”.
Nutritional properties and benefits of chia seeds
Don’t let their diminutive size fool you: Chia seeds have great nutritional properties.
In fact, a 28-gram serving (about 2 <>/<> tablespoons) of chia seeds contains:
- 138 calories
- 5 g protein
- 9 g fat
- 1 g saturated fat
- 5 g omega-3 fat
- 12 g carbohydrates
- 10 g fiber
“Chia seeds are a convenient, nutrient-rich food that can help runners meet their nutritional needs,” says Dana Norris, dietitian at Eleat Sports Nutrition.
“This is because they provide protein, omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, and many other nutrients such as magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, and potassium.”
Hence, it is considered a superfood that can not be missing in your pantry.
Here are the great benefits you’ll get from eating chia seeds:
1. Healthy fats
Some people still consider high-fat foods like chia to be the enemy, but they are our allies in health when they have the right types of fat.
Only 11% of the fat present in chia seed is saturated, with the rest being monounsaturated and polyunsaturated, which are beneficial to health.
In the case of chia, the most prominent polyunsaturated fat is alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a type of omega-3 fatty acid that is considered essential and, therefore, must be obtained from the diet.
An analysis of data from 41 studies published in the journal BMJ linked high alpha-linolenic acid intake to a lower 10% risk of all-cause mortality, an 8% lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease, and an 11% lower risk of death from coronary heart disease, compared to lower consumption levels.
Other research has also suggested that this plant-based omega-3 fat may be protective against the development of heart disease.
The mechanisms are not yet fully understood, but it could be that this fat helps reduce inflammation in the body.
Chia seeds are also beneficial because they provide a 3 to 1 ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids.
“So eating these seeds is a great way to consume more omega-3s and help improve this proportion of dietary fats.”
Chia’s omega-3 content could also be one reason why some research suggests that its daily consumption could help lower blood pressure figures.
But this benefit has only been shown in people suffering from hypertension and may not occur in healthy runners who do not have worrisome blood pressure levels.
2. Fiber filling
A simple tablespoon of chia seeds provides about 4 grams of fiber.
This is significant when you consider that many people struggle to reach their daily quota: men typically need about 38 grams of fiber, while women should aim for 25 grams.
“So a daily serving or two of chia can make it easier for runners to get enough fiber to improve their health,” Norris says.
The findings of a study published in The Lancet suggest that high-fiber consumers (those who consume at least 25 grams a day) have a 15% to 30% lower risk of heart attack, stroke, type 2 diabetes, colorectal cancer, and cardiovascular-related death.
Compared to people who consume much less fiber.
“Dietary fiber helps regulate the digestive system, feeds the good bacteria in the gut, promotes satiety (the feeling of fullness), positively influences cholesterol levels, and helps manage energy levels throughout the day,” Norris tells Runners World.
Hence, it is one of the laxative foods with a lot of fiber to avoid constipation.
A good part of the chia fiber comes from the soluble form of this carbohydrate.
When exposed to fluids in the digestive tract, this soluble fiber forms a gelatinous layer that can slow down the digestion of meals and snacks.
And this has some benefits: for starters, it helps thicken the stool and prevent constipation and diarrhea.
You can also better control your blood sugar levels, which can make your energy more stable and reduce your risk of certain metabolic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes.
Slower digestion can also improve satiety to help regulate overall calorie intake.
In the bestselling book Born to Run, author Christopher McDougall reported that Mexico’s Tarahumara indigenous group, known for their endurance in world-class races, often consumes a chia drink earlier to help quench hunger.
Just keep in mind that it’s probably not a good idea not to take chia before an important race in case this fiber causes you gastrointestinal problems.
3. Micronutrients that strengthen bones
With about 15% of daily calcium needed in a 2-tablespoon serving, chia seeds are a viable source of non-dairy calcium.
“Chia seeds can be a useful way for athletes to increase their calcium intake, especially if they don’t consume dairy,” Norris says.
He adds that magnesium and phosphorus are two other micronutrients that chia has and that also contribute to improving bone health.
In addition, chia seeds contain iron, a mineral necessary to help transport oxygen to working muscles and, in turn, something vital to maintain peak performance and avoiding runner’s anemia.
Although the form of iron in chia and other plant-based foods is not absorbed as well as that in meats, it can be partially remedied by consuming the seeds with a source of vitamin C, such as berries, which improves absorption rates.
Chia also contains a healthy amount of manganese, which, according to the National Institutes of Health, is involved in protein and carbohydrate metabolism and the proper functioning of the immune system.
4. Disease-fighting antioxidants
Nutritional analyses have revealed that chia seeds provide a number of antioxidant nutrients, such as caffeic acid, rosmarinic acid, myricetin, and quercetin.
Antioxidants are compounds that scour the body for cell-damaging free radicals to eliminate them.
And in doing so, they are thought to help reduce the risk of several chronic diseases, including cancer.
But we don’t yet have data linking the specific antioxidants in chia seeds to disease prevention.
But these chia compounds still have an important benefit.
“The antioxidants in chia seeds benefit muscle recovery because they help reduce inflammation in the body, which can be caused by strenuous exercise,” Norris adds.
5. A surprising amount of protein
As more people gravitate toward plant-based proteins, it’s helpful to know that chia seeds are a pretty good source.
Each tablespoon contains between 2 and 3 grams.
That makes them more protein-dense than most nuts, including almonds.
In fact, a study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry determined that chia seeds provide a healthy balance of essential amino acids, making them useful for athletes’ recovery and muscle development.
Just know that other plant foods such as tofu, beans, and tempeh make it easier to meet your overall protein needs if you follow a meat- and dairy-free diet, as they contain a higher total amount of macronutrients.
How to Eat More Chia Seeds
Chia seeds come in both black and white, but there is little difference in taste and there have been no major nutritional advantages to choosing one over the other.
Unlike flaxseeds, chia does not need to be ground for its nutrients to be properly absorbed by the body.
Eating more chia can be as simple as sprinkling it over oatmeal, yogurt, cottage cheese, steamed or roasted vegetables, and fruit salads.
Norris points out that you can also mix it into your homemade protein shakes for a nutritional boost or incorporate it into homemade energy bars and balls.
Chia’s large amount of soluble fiber forms a gel when mixed with water, a quirk you can take advantage of to make healthier puddings and jams.
For example, for a nutritious chocolate pudding, mix 1/2 cup of milk, 1/2 cup of plain yogurt, 1 tablespoon of cocoa powder, 1 teaspoon of honey, 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract, and 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon.
Pour into a jar and add 3 tablespoons of chia seeds.
Close and cook until thickened, at least about 2 hours. You can also prepare fresh chia to quench thirst, by mixing 1 cup of water, 2 teaspoons of chia seeds, the juice of 1/2 lemon or lime, and 2 teaspoons of honey or agave syrup.
And let it rest for a few moments so that it thickens slightly.
The same gelling quality allows creating of a substitute for baking eggs.
For each egg that is ordered in a recipe, mix 1 tablespoon of chia seeds with 3 tablespoons of water and let it sit for about 10 minutes, or until a sticky texture forms.
In this way, it can be used to create a binding effect in a recipe, as an egg would.
Made by finely grinding whole chia seeds, you can also add chia powder to baked goods like muffins and cookies, as well as to the dough of Sunday pancakes.
You can use it to make empanadas instead of breadcrumbs in recipes like meatloaf or mix it in a pot of simmering oatmeal.
Thanks for Reading.