Chia Seeds: Small, but Mighty
What’s not to love about chia seeds? They are unprocessed, whole grain, and chock-full of nutrients. Chia seeds are jam-packed with protein, fiber, and minerals. Before we dive into the specifics, let’s take a look at their overall nutritional content.
Healthy Weight. Chia seeds are not the magic solution for weight loss that some companies would like you to believe, but their high fiber and protein content make them a viable addition to any healthy weight loss or maintenance plan. Thanks to their high fiber content, chia seeds can absorb 10-12 times their weight. Their gel like presence in your stomach will help you feel fuller, longer and reduce the chance of over-eating. Additionally, chia seeds contain high quality protein that consists of all 9 essential amino acids (amino acids that cannot be synthesized on their own and must be obtained through food) that will keep hunger at bay and energy levels consistent.
Healthy Heart. Chia seeds are a great source of heart healthy polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). They are a particularly good source of Omega-3 fatty acids, which play an important role in sustaining health, specifically in blood clotting and inflammation. PUFAs can also help reduce bad cholesterol levels which can lower your risk of heart disease and stroke and possibly type II diabetes.
Digestion. Fiber aids in digestion and chia seeds are an excellent source of fiber. At 10 grams per ounce (about 2 tablespoons), they are 40% fiber by weight. Fiber is not fully digested by the body, so it cleans out the digestive tract as it passes through. Fiber also helps increase satiety (the feeling of being satisfied), which can aid in weight loss and healthy weight maintenance plans.
Strong bones. Chia seeds are high in many critical bone nutrients and minerals including calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium. These three minerals account for 98% of the body’s mineral content by weight. Although, deficiencies in phosphorus and magnesium are rare in the typical American diet, calcium deficiency is more common. As we age, calcium absorption and retention decreases in our bones. Including chia seeds in your diet may help offset this natural loss in calcium.
Antioxidants have been shown to help fight off everything from heart disease to cancer. Some of the most abundant antioxidants in chia seeds (quercetin, kaempferol, myricetin, chlorogenic acid, and caffeic acid) are associated with health benefits such as boosted energy, endurance, and fitness of the brain and muscles; protection against chronic disease such as lung cancer, asthma, and type II diabetes; and inflammation prevention.
Athletic performance. Folklore says that Aztecs and Mayans carb-loaded with chia seeds before an athletic event, much in the same way we do with sport drinks before a sporting event. We’re thinking they were on to something. In one study, researchers compared athletic performance of athletes who drank Gatorade to athletes who drank a mixture of half-Gatorade and half-chia seeds. The results indicated no difference in performance between the two groups, suggesting that chia seeds may serve as a possible healthy alternative to highly processed, sugar-laden sport drinks. Furthermore, the high calcium and magnesium content in chia seeds makes them a good source of electrolytes which helps prevent hydration and restore electrolyte balance lost during heavy exercise.
Diabetes. The unique combination of soluble and insoluble fiber (10 out of 12 carbohydrates are from fiber) in chia seeds causes a slow and steady rise in blood sugar which is favorable for people with diabetes. A few clinical studies have demonstrated this favorable effect. The results of one study indicated that including 37 grams (about 2.5 tablespoons) of chia seeds per day for 12 weeks reduced blood sugar levels. Hint* Substituting chia seeds for bread crumbs and other high glycemic load foods can be a helpful place to start.
Versatility. There are many ways to eat chia seeds. In addition to their long shelf life (thanks to antioxidants), chia seeds are so versatile that you can add them to almost anything. Eat them alone if you’re in a hurry or add them to water or milk to create a thick, gelatinous pudding. Other people like to add them to salads, sandwiches, and soups. Check out these other ideas if you’re curious!