Chia seeds have become quite popular as a “superfood” in recent years due to the health benefits they can offer. These seeds might be tiny, but they pack in a sizable amount of nutritional value. Although there’s been recent buzz brewing about chia, the whole-grain is actually an ancient source of sustenance that may help multiple systems in the body function better.
Chia seeds are very small, dark oval seeds that can look a bit like ground pepper. They originate from the Salvia hispanica plant, which is native to areas of Central America. The seeds have been a food staple in the region for centuries, dating back to the Ancient Aztecs, who prized them as an energy booster. Today, the plant, which is a member of the mint family, is widely grown in gardens throughout North America. As a result, chia seeds are widely available at most grocery stores.
Chia seeds can provide essential nutrients, many of which support cardiovascular health. For instance, chia seeds happen to be a good source of quercetin, an antioxidant which may offer heart health protections. They also provide an abundant amount of omega-3 fatty acid, which is often recommended as part of a heart-healthy diet. Finally, chia seeds are a good source of both soluble and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber may help to support cholesterol levels already within normal range and support cardiovascular health.
The fiber in chia seeds can help the digestive system maintain healthy blood sugar levels. That’s because, unlike with carbs, the fiber in chia seeds doesn’t get digested; this helps in regulating your blood sugar. In addition, the fiber in chia seeds can aid in slowing down digestion, helping to curb blood sugar spikes that can occur after eating a meal.
Since chia seeds contain both soluble and insoluble fiber, they provide a double shot of benefits to the digestive system. Soluble fiber is a prebiotic, which means it supports the gut flora, giving good gut bacteria in the intestines nourishment. It can also help block fats and cholesterol from being digested.
While no one single food is responsible for weight loss, a balanced diet coupled with exercise can help manage weight. Chia seeds can be a highly valuable part of any balanced diet. Not only does the fiber in chia seeds support a healthy gut and digestion, but it can also assist with weight loss. Because the fiber slows down digestion and expands by absorbing water, it can create the feeling of fullness. This feeling can last longer than the fleeting feeling of satiety experienced when eating sugary or processed foods.
One study found that when healthy participants added chia seeds to a mid-morning yogurt snack, they felt fuller for longer. This can help curb mid-afternoon cravings and excess consumption of empty calorie foods, helping to prevent additional weight gain.
Another study compared the benefits of flaxseed to chia seed and attributed chia seed’s higher fiber viscosity (the gel it forms with liquids) with greater benefits to extending the feeling of fullness in participants.
Bones require minerals to remain healthy. Chia seeds provide many such minerals. Magnesium and phosphorus are two essential minerals found in high concentrations in chia seeds. Calcium is especially important for bone health, giving bones their strength. One serving (two tablespoons) of chia seeds also provides 18% of the recommended daily intake of calcium. This is a good plant-based source of calcium. Indeed, one serving will actually provide more than many forms of dairy.
Eating chia seeds can be a bit challenging at first glance. They aren’t like sunflower or pumpkin seeds that you can just snack on by popping a handful in your mouth. But chia seeds are actually quite versatile and easy to use as an addition to other foods. One popular thing to do is to soak chia seeds to create a gel-like substance, which can be drunk with water, or mixed with juice or smoothie ingredients. By soaking more seeds, you can create a thicker consistency and whip up a quick and easy chia pudding. This can then be mixed with milk, yogurt, or juice to create a healthy breakfast or dessert option. Dry chia seeds can also be ground, which can make it easier for the body to absorb their nutrients. Ground chia seeds can be added as a flour and be added to baked goods such as muffins, granola bars, and bread.
Most people do not notice any side effects from adding chia seeds to their diets. Because the seeds do have a high fiber content, they may result in bloating, particularly if you are just introducing your body to chia seeds. You can help prevent this side effect by starting off slowly, allowing your body to get used to this “superfood.” You can also soak your chia seeds prior to eating, so that they absorb water before they enter the stomach. Also, it’s important to drink plenty of water when eating chia seeds. This can allow you to enjoy all of the benefits of the seeds without encountering possible side effects, such as constipation, which occurs when you eat too much insoluble fiber without drinking enough water.
Because chia seeds contain a healthy serving of omega-3 fatty acid, they can deliver antioxidants to the body, which can help maintain optimal hormones, healthy skin, and heart health.
Did you know that only 10 percent of women and 3 percent of men in the U.S. eat the recommended amount of fiber on a daily basis? That means that for most of us, we should eat more foods that are good sources of fiber. The USDA recommended daily intake for fiber is between 22 and 28 grams for women and 28-31 grams for men, based on age. A one-ounce serving (which is around two tablespoons of chia seeds) has about 10 grams of fiber. Start off with one serving of chia seeds and you can progress to two servings, which can fulfill the recommended fiber intake for a day.
Chia seeds are loaded with insoluble fiber, a type of fiber that doesn’t get digested by the body and isn’t dissolved by water. Instead, it draws water in and creates a bulkier stool. (Reminder: It’s always important to drink plenty of water!) This helps keep things moving in the intestines and can assist in preventing occasional constipation. Foods like chia seeds that are high in fiber support healthy bowel movements by keeping stools soft and absorbing the body’s waste efficiently.