With people becoming more and more conscious of what they’re putting in their bodies as well as health blogs increasing in popularity, among the foods we see popping up everywhere is these small, black seeds that don’t really seem like much: chia seeds.
However, chia seeds have always been the superfood we know it to be today, despite only rising in popularity among health enthusiasts in recent years. But just what are they and what are the chia seeds’ health benefits and nutritional values we should know? Here’s a comprehensive guide:
What are chia seeds?
Chia seeds are the edible seeds of the Salvia hispanica plant, a flowering plant in the mint family native to central and southern Mexico and Guatemala. They used to be cultivated by the Aztecs and Mayans back in pre-Columbian times and were an essential food source. They are flat, and ovular with a shiny and flat texture and, on average, grow to 2mm in length. They can absorb up to 12 times their weight in water, however, and when they do, they take on a gel form which is useful in cooking to thicken sauces or give them a gel-like texture.
However, despite their small and inconsequential-seeming size and appearance, they pack a very high nutritional punch. As a matter of fact, it used to be the third-most important crop in the Aztec culture, following immediately after corn and beans, and the Aztecs made their offerings to the priesthood in chia seeds. Also, the word “chia” is the early word for “strength” in Mayan, which should serve as an indicator of its ability to provide energy and nutrition.
They are very versatile when it comes to how they can be eaten. Seeing as they have a pretty bland taste, you can add them into most foods, like your porridge, pudding, yogurt, smoothies, sauces, bread, and other baked goods, and they will noticeably increase their nutritional value.
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Chia seeds nutritional values
Chia seeds may be tiny, but they are huge in nutritional values.
One ounce (28 grams or two tablespoons) of chia seeds contains only around 137 calories, and the amount may be even lower if you do not count the fiber present in the seeds, which our body doesn’t fully absorb as calories. In that case, there are only about 101 calories in one ounce of chia seeds.
Chia seeds are rich in fiber (a one-ounce serving contains 11 grams of fiber), protein (4 grams), omega-3 fatty acids (5 grams), manganese, magnesium, B vitamins, potassium, and phosphorus.
They are also whole-grain and gluten-free.
Chia seeds health benefits
Seeing as they are so rich in nutritional values, it goes without saying that chia seeds come with a host of health benefits. Here are some of them:
Control blood sugar levels
Chia seeds could potentially benefit people with type 2 diabetes due to their ability to lower blood sugar levels after eating a carb-rich food. A number of studies [see here and here] done on animals have shown that chia seeds could stabilize blood sugar levels after a meal and improve insulin sensitivity.
A human study also found that bread made with chia seeds lowered the post-meal blood sugar spikes more than bread without the chia seeds.
Lowers blood pressure and risk of heart disease
High blood pressure is a significant cause of heart disease, and both chia seeds and chia flour have been linked in studies (see here and here) with reducing blood pressure in people with hypertension.
This suggests that chia seeds can have some impact on heart health, but only as a supplementary addition to an already healthy lifestyle.
Reduce chronic inflammation
Inflammation can be both positive and negative since it can help protect you from an injury by activating your immune system, but if it persists and turns into chronic inflammation, it can lead to a host of health problems. To tackle chronic inflammation, you should start by adding anti-inflammatory foods to your diet, such as chia seeds.
A study proved that if consumed regularly, chia seeds could reduce inflammatory markers by 40%.
Improve bone health
Chia seeds are pretty high on calcium, which means they are very beneficial when it comes to our bones. Only one ounce of the seeds contains 18% of our recommended daily intake of calcium, which is higher than dairy products. So, if someone is lactose intolerant, chia seeds are a great way of getting calcium into their system.
Boost weight loss
Chia seeds’ high fiber and protein content could potentially make it a great option for people trying to lose weight. Protein and fiber increase satiety and help you feel fuller faster and for longer. In fact, a study found that people who ate chia seeds as a mid-morning snack felt fuller and ate less in the short term.
What could also prove beneficial in weight loss is the seeds’ water-absorbing and expanding quality which also helps in feelings of fullness and satiety.
For more about how useful chia seeds are for weight loss, see here.
Risks and side effects
Even though chia seeds are safe for most people, they may in rare cases be associated with some risks.
Chia allergy is pretty rare, but not unheard of. Individuals who are allergic to chia seeds may experience usual food allergy symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, and itching in the lips or tongue, or even more severe ones like breathing difficulties and tightness in the chest and throat.
Also, seeing as chia seeds can absorb so much water, they could potentially be a choking hazard, especially in people who have difficulty swallowing.
Furthermore, their high fiber content may potentially cause digestive issues as excessive fiber intake has been linked to problems such as abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea, bloating, and gas. But to prevent abdominal issues, you should drink water in addition to your fiber intake.
And finally, the Omega-3 in the seeds can have a blood-thinning effect. So, if you are already on blood-thinning medication, consult with your doctor before consuming chia seeds since it could interfere with the medicine’s effect.
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