Health Benefits of Chia Seeds

Chia seeds first appeared in the late 70’s and 80’s as the famous chia pet but have finally been rediscovered as an ancient powerful super-food for the 21st century.

Chia seeds (Salvia hispanica) are native to central and southern Mexico and other areas of Latin America. They are cultivated commercially in countries such as Bolivia, Perú, Guatemala and Nicaragua. Interestingly enough according to Wikipedia, in 2008 Australia was the largest producer of chia. Originally the seeds are thought to have been cultivated by the Aztecs and Mayan peoples prior to the discovery of America. It is said the ‘chia’ is the ancient Mayan word meaning ‘strength’.

Today chia seeds are becoming increasingly popular because of their tremendous health benefits. And why not? These seemingly small seeds pack a powerful punch of both fiber and nutritional value.

Nutritional breakdown of Chia seeds:

  • calcium: 18% of the RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance)
  • manganese: 30% of the RDA
  • magnesium: 30% of the RDA
  • phosphorous: 27% of the RDA
  • small amounts of zinc, B1 (Thiamine), B2, and B3 (niacin) and potassium

All this in just 1 ounce (28 grams) of seeds! That’s amazing. Especially when that 1 ounce serving contains less than 150 calories. And just so you know, 1 ounce is about 2 tablespoons

The seeds contain a large amount of essential fatty acids, particularly Omega-3 and Omega-6’s. Omega-3 fatty acids have been recognized in helping to reduce inflammation and in assisting the body in fighting factors that speed up aging. Approximately 4 tablespoons of the seeds contain the same omega 3’s as a 30 ounce portion of salmon. This is great news, especially for people who don’t consume a lot of fish or dislike taking fish oils. It has been shown that Omega-3 acids, the same as those found in chia seeds, can increase brain function and decrease depression. Some research has found that the omega-3’s in the seeds can help people suffering from certain mood disorders, such as melancholia and possibly bi-polar disorder.

But that’s not all, omega-3’s can also help decrease the risk of thrombosis and arrhythmias, things which can sometimes lead to strokes or heart attacks.

Similarly, these same Omega-3’s found in the chia seeds lower LDL, total cholesterol and triglyceride levels and albeit slightly, lower blood pressure.

Another healthy benefit of the seeds is their high protein count and low carbohydrates. In a serving size of 30 grams there is absolutely NO cholesterol, while at the same time it contains 9 grams of fat and 5 grams of protein.

And what about fiber for those who might be wondering? This is another area where the seeds excel. It is well known that proper fiber can help to ward off colon problems and possibly even cancer, chia seeds contain a huge amount of fiber, 11 grams of it, per 30 grams serving. That is 45% of the daily recommended value, in one small serving.

Since the seeds are able to absorb large amounts of water very quickly, up to 10 times their weight, they are able to hydrate the body, something very important for athletes and anyone who wants to enhance their daily endurance. One other benefit of this ultra-hydration caused by the soluble fiber in chia seeds, is its ability to assist the body in eliminating accumulated waste material whilst helping to normalize regular bowel movements.

Effects on Diabetes

Since ingesting the seeds helps to lower glucose levels one would think that the seeds would be helpful with diabetes. Very true! As mentioned previously the seeds carry 10 times their weight in water, so after they have either soaked in water or liquid or in the digestive system for half an hour, the seeds form a thick viscous gel which coat the lining of the digestive system, but also, more importantly do the following:

  1. Prolong the release of carbohydrates.
  2. Slows down the conversion of carbohydrates into sugar.
  3. Stabilize blood sugar levels.

Effects on Weight loss

Although this author personally thinks that the claims for weight loss are a bit exaggerated, and not enough research has been done to support its benefits for weight loss, it is important to consider that the seeds can have some impact, however limited, in weight loss.

Due to the high absorbability of the seeds they expand in the stomach which causes a feeling of ‘fullness’ and helps to slow the absorption of food. By this method it is possible that by reducing appetite and dietary intake the seeds can help to increase weight loss.

With all dietary supplements it is important to use them, that is to say, to include them in one’s daily dietary regimen. Since they are seeds they do have a wide variety of uses from simple ones such as putting a few spoons of seeds in water and drinking, to make a full blown meal including breads and entrees from chia flour to making a chia seed cake.

How to use chia seeds:

  • Add to baked goods
  • Eat them raw
  • Bake chia seed breads
  • Use in garnish for salads
  • Mix with juice or water or other liquids
  • Add to smoothies, cereals, or yogurt
  • Toast it and eat in plain or with natural seasonings
  • Grind it and add it to oatmeal or other cooked cereals

and many other ways – just use your imagination.

As the popularity of chia seeds continues to increase, more products consisting of the seeds will begin to become visible. Food items such as energy bars, breakfast bars and cereals, and chia based drinks are already available in many mainstream markets and convenience stores.

Any Dangers?

Fortunately there seems to be no known dangers of over consumption of chia noted in any research or published literature. That’s great news for chia lovers!

So if you don’t already have to chia seeds go out and get yourself some. You owe it to your body!