Are chia seeds worth the hype?
Chia seeds have become increasingly popular in recent years, and for good reason! This superfood actually has a long history: ancient tribes in Mexico and Guatemala, like the Mayans and Inca, ate chia as a dietary staple. In fact, the word “chia” means “strength” in the Mayan language because of the long-lasting energy the seeds provide. However, when these ancient civilizations were conquered by European colonialism, the use of chia seeds declined. Only recently have chia seeds come back into popularity, and people everywhere have rediscovered the health benefits of eating this superfood. Read on to learn why and how you should add chia seeds into your diet!
The nutrient profile of chia seeds is incredibly impressive. Each one-ounce serving (about 2 tsbp) has 12 grams of carbohydrates, 4 grams of protein, and 9 grams of fat. 11 of those 12 grams of carbohydrate are actually fiber, which isn’t digested by the body and has many beneficial effects: increased satiation, controlled appetite and blood sugar, better gut health, improved regularity, and more. Also, 5 of the 9 grams of fat are healthy omega-3s, and only 1 gram is saturated fat. 4 grams of protein makes chia a good source of plant-based protein, ideal for vegans/vegetarians or anyone looking to cut down on animal products.
Chia seeds are also great sources of micronutrients: one serving contains 18% of your daily calcium, 30% of the RDI for manganese and magnesium, and 27% of the phosphorus you need each day. They’ve also got plenty of potassium, niacin, thiamine, Vitamin E and A, iron, and zinc. They contain antioxidants too, which can reduce free radicals in the body that contribute to aging and cancer. To summarize, chia seeds are a great source of healthy fats, fiber, and plant-based protein, as well as antioxidants, calcium and other important micronutrients.
So how do all of these nutrients impact the body and your overall health? Chia seeds contain nutrients that are linked to improving chronic health conditions like:
- Heart Disease. Chia seeds contain plenty of the omega-3 fatty acid ALA, which contributes to HDL, or “good” cholesterol, in the cardiovascular system. The seeds can also reduce blood pressure, triglycerides, and insulin resistance.
- Diabetes. Fiber controls blood sugar since it isn’t absorbed into the bloodstream like other carbohydrates, and chia seeds are rich in soluble fiber. This can help diabetics stabilize blood sugar after meals and improve insulin sensitivity.
- Osteoporosis. Chia seeds are a great source of several bone-building micronutrients, like phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, and of course, calcium (in fact, the seeds contain more calcium than most dairy products). These minerals also keep your teeth healthy.
- Obesity. The fiber in chia seeds slows the absorption of food which helps keep you fuller longer, thereby decreasing the number of calories you consume. Protein, an important weight-loss nutrient, is also abundant in chia seeds. Add chia seeds into your existing weight-loss strategy for best results.
- Skin ailments. Antioxidants have been shown to help with skin wrinkles, omega-3s keep skin hydrated, and the anti-inflammatory properties of chia could help treat acne.
- Cancer. The antioxidants in chia seeds help stabilize free radicals, which damage cells in the body and could potentially lead to cancerous growth. Additionally, the omega-3s have been potentially linked to limiting cell growth in breast and cervical cancers.
- Chronic Inflammation. In a study of 20 diabetics, eating chia seeds every day reduced the inflammation marker hs-CRP. Chronic inflammation contributes to a host of other diseases and doesn’t typically have strong symptoms. For more information, refer to our previous blog post about the dangers of chronic inflammation.
Obviously, it’s a worthwhile endeavor to add chia seeds into your diet, and luckily, there are many simple ways to consume them! The seeds have a bland flavor, so you can add them to virtually any dish. Here are some ideas for incorporating chia seeds into your diet:
- Chia seed pudding. Just mix ½ cup of your favorite milk with 2 tbsp of chia seeds and refrigerate at least 3 hours, or until the liquid has thickened into a pudding texture.
- Oatmeal and cereal. Make overnight oatmeal with oats, milk and/or yogurt, and chia seeds. Or try sprinkling the seeds over a bowl of fresh oatmeal or cold cereal.
- Smoothies and shakes. Blend chia seeds (about 1 tbsp) into your next smoothie or protein shake for an added energy boost.
- Water, juice, or tea. Chia seeds can be mixed into beverages for an interesting texture. Combine 1 tbsp per 16 oz of liquid and enjoy.
- Homemade fruit jam. For a no-sugar-added version of fruit jam, mash 1 cup of your favorite juicy fruit and add 1 tbsp of chia seeds. The seeds will thicken the jam naturally, so you don’t even need to add pectin or sweetener!
- Stews, sauces, and dressings. Given their neutral flavor, chia seeds can be used to thicken a variety of stews, sauces, dips, or salad dressings.
- Rice. Sprinkle chia seeds into your rice dishes for a barely-noticeable crunch.
- Cooked vegetables. Next time you saute a pan of veggies, try chia seeds as a garnish.
- Baked goods. You can add chia seeds to almost any baked good, from muffins to bread to cake. They shouldn’t affect the recipe if you add 1-2 tbsp to the batter.
- Pancakes. Simply mix 1 tbsp of seeds into the pancake batter for a healthier version of this morning treat.
- As an egg substitute. Soak 1 tbsp of chia seeds in 3 tbsp of water and add to recipes in place of an egg.
This is not an exhaustive list; there are surely more ways to add chia into your diet. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, or snack, there are plenty of options. So don’t wait–buy a package of chia seeds on your next grocery run, and start experimenting with this tiny superfood!
Ask your Registered Dietitian about other ways to introduce chia seeds and other “super” foods into your diet. Remember, visits with a Registered Dietitian are covered by most insurance carriers. Ask us a question or request an appointment to learn more!