Chia seeds have come a long way from their days of making cute little animal toys. Chia pets were once the coolest thing going, and few people at that time realized the numerous health benefits those little black seeds contained. Chia seeds are a flowering species that belongs to the mint family – though worry not, they have a very neutral taste!
The earliest known date in history where chia seeds were cultivated for food dates back to the 16th century in pre-columbian Mexico. During this time, the chia seed was as prized, if not more so, than corn (a highly prized food in Southern American cooking). Chia seeds were often given as a yearly tribute by pheasants to their kings, and were added to everything from drinks to numerous food dishes.
Chia seeds can help with everything from constipation and weight loss, to boosting heart and immune system health. There are numerous benefits to consuming this ancient superfood, many of which are still to be discovered.
Chia Seeds Nutrition
Low calories, high protein, low net carbs, and a healthy dose of plant based omega 3s are all good reasons to consume chia seeds. Each serving is also packed with essential minerals like calcium, magnesium, and phosphorous needed to aid in heart and nervous system function, as well as maintain bone density and health.
Each 28 gram serving of chia seeds contains:
• Calories: 137
• Protein: 4 grams.
• Fiber: 11 grams.
• Carbs: 12 grams (1 gram net).
• Fat: 9 grams (includes 5 grams of Omega-3s).
• Calcium: 18% RDA.
• Manganese: 30% RDA.
• Magnesium: 30% RDA.
• Phosphorus: 27% RDA.
• Iron: 7% RDA.
Chia seeds also offer trace amounts of Vitamins B1 and B3, potassium, and zinc.
How to Eat Chia Seeds
There’s nothing difficult or time-consuming about adding chia seeds into your diet. Due to their neutral taste, they can be added to virtually anything, including a simple glass of water, without adding additional taste. Keep in mind that they do swell up a considerable bit, so if you eat them in raw form, you’re more likely to feel somewhat bloated after eating them.
Chia seeds can be added whole or ground, to everything including your morning smoothie or cup of coffee. There are several recipes circulating out there that use chia seeds as the star ingredient:
Chia Seeds Benefits
1. High Levels of Antioxidants
Free radicals cause every cell in the body to age, and there’s no stopping this natural process altogether. Chia seeds contain several phenolic antioxidant compounds. Recent research has shown them to be in the top ten list of antioxidant foods, very close to blueberries. When consumed in high enough quantities, chia seeds can stop up to 70% of free radical activity in the body.
However, poor diet, lifestyle, and environmental factors like chemicals in the air cause this process to increase, making us age faster. Faster aging means increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and many others. Only acai, cranberries, and blueberries have a slightly higher ORAC value than chia (ORAC is the gold standard for identifying a food’s ability to rid the body of free radicals.
2. High Fiber and Low Net Carbs
It’s well known that fiber is what keeps our internal plumbing working. Few people get near the amount they need (men: 38 grams; women: 25 grams). Fiber has a number of roles in our body. Fiber helps to lower the speed that sugar from our foods is absorbed, reducing insulin spikes and blood sugar levels.
Almost all the carbohydrates in chia seeds are in the form of fiber, meaning they won’t spike blood sugar. This makes chia a perfect tasty treat for diabetics seeking a satiating meal that doesn’t taste terrible.
Chia is most high in soluble fiber, which becomes gelatinized in the gut and helps to maintain stable intestinal gut flora levels. Due to this bulking action which begins as soon as chia begins to be digested in the stomach, it also helps us to feel fuller faster, and curb hunger for hours after it’s consumed.
3. Excellent Source of Plant Proteins
Chia seeds are 14% protein by weight, making them a strong contender among vegetarian protein sources. Protein is well known for being an essential part of our diet. Containing a wide range of amino acids that are literally the “building blocks of life,” protein can also be used for energy when sugars and fats aren’t available.
Adequate protein has also been shown to curb the desire for snacks, particularly night time snacks, which can make weight loss difficult for those on a diet. It isn’t a complete protein source by any means, but when combined with other seeds, nuts, vegetables, and meats (if applicable), chia offers a wide range of amino acids like arginine and glutamic acid.
4. Chia Seeds Contain Loads of Healthy Fats
Omega 3 fatty acids are essential to our long term health and survival, and are mainly sourced by eating oily fish like salmon and sardines, and a number of crustaceans like oysters and clams. Chia seeds are loaded with 5 grams of the omega 3 fatty acids called ALA (alpha-linoleic acid. In fact, by weight, they have more “omega 3s” than salmon does.
ALAs can be converted to what are known as the active forms of omega 3: EPA and DHA. EPA and DHA are the beneficial fats that help to balance cholesterol and act as antioxidants to shuttle free radicals out of the blood. They’re also used by the brain, eyes, and for assisting in healthy immune function.
In short, chia seeds contain healthy plant fats and, depending on how good you are at converting ALAs, into active omega 3s, they might just help in prolonging your life. These and the other remaining plant fats can also be converted to energy, meaning that while you don’t get many digestable carbohydrates from chia seeds, they are in fact loaded with energy!
5. Can Reduce or Eliminate Metabolic Syndrome
Metabolic issues like diabetes and pre-diabetes are crippling our health, particularly in the modern world. Those with diabetes almost always have poorly balanced cholesterol, making heart disease at some point inevitable. Metabolic syndrome as a whole involves a huge mess of hormonal imbalances that impede our ability to make energy, fight inflammation, and stave off infection throughout the body.
The ALAs and fiber in chia seeds have proven themselves to be extremely powerful soldiers in the fight to prevent or cure this issue. Both are critical in preventing dyslipidemia (too much fat in the bloodstream) and insulin resistance (impaired ability to get glucose into the cells and out of the blood).
6. Additional Benefits of Chia Seeds:
• Chia Seeds Can Boost Bone and Dental Health: Chia seeds contain excellent doses of four extremely important bone minerals: calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, and boron.
• Energy Booster: Chia seeds provide sustained energy for up to 90 minutes of prolonged exercise, as noted in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning.
• Easily Mixes With Most Beverages and Foods: Because of their neutral taste, chia seeds can be used in almost any beverage or dish such as smoothies, baked goods, stirfrys, and more.
Chia Seeds Side Effects
The only side effect noted with chia seed consumption is gastrointestinal upset. This side effect almost always occurs when adding chia seeds into your diet for the first time, and/or when you suddenly increase the amount you eat significantly. This is because the soluble fiber in chia seeds act in the same way that most natural laxatives like Metamucil do – essentially cleaning out your digestive tract and quickly!
This is considered a good thing, but may present problems for people with digestive issues such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or in children whose digestive tract is not yet fully formed. Start off with the recommended dose for the first few days, to assess your tolerance.
4 Best Chia Seed Brands
This massive 6 pound bag of pesticide-free chia seeds from Healthworks is a really great value. You’d be hard-pressed to find a bulk food store offering such a great price, and even if you did, there’s still the issue of potential contamination from pesticides used in the growing process. This product is guaranteed gluten-free, nut-free, grain-free, and sustainably-grown in the environment nature intended. They also offer a 30-day money back guarantee if you’re not happy with the seeds, though it’s doubtful you’ll be anything but impressed!
If you were to buy two bags of Anthony’s Organic, you’d be getting 5 pounds of chia seeds for the same price you’ll pay for 6 pounds of the Healthwork’s brand. However, if you want a certified organic product, you always have to pony up and pay a little extra. Anthony’s is USDA certified organic, along with being gluten, nut, and pesticide-free.
Viva Naturals is a favorite among all the vegan and organic purists out there. It’s also one of the most trusted brands on Amazon, bar none. These chia seeds are often used as a vegan egg substitute in many dishes, and are a definite restaurant favorite. Like Anthony’s, Viva Naturals is certified 100% organic, and is gluten-free, nut-free, and contains zero pesticide content.
Nutiva is another certified USDA organic brand of chia seeds. They’re considered the #1 organic brand in the United States. Nutiva chia seeds also have a gluten-free certification, though most brands won’t have gluten in them unless processed in a facility that also handles grain products. You get exactly what you’re paying for, without any extras like hexane, pesticides, or the worry of any GMO in this product.
The real beauty of chia seeds comes in the form of nutrition density, and the fact that they have no real discernible taste to speak of. You can eat them raw or mix them in with anything you wish to get a massive dose of low-calorie fiber, beneficial fats, antioxidants, and essential minerals.
Chia seeds are among the most preferred superfoods on the market today. They’re also very inexpensive compared to many of the other trendy health foods being marketed today, and perhaps the easiest form of essential fiber available.
Are you ready to get your chia on?