Updated: Nov 14, 2019
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard about chia seeds and maybe even some of their health benefits. Chia seeds come from a plant in the mint family, native to Central America. They are small in diameter (about 1 mm) but can absorb up to 12 times their weight when soaked in liquid, giving the seeds a distinctive gel-like texture.
The demand for chia seeds have increased over the years as more and more people have discovered their health benefits. Those who are vegans and gluten-free have especially taken an interest because of their high protein content and easy usage in gluten free breads and snacks. Here are some of the top health benefits of chia seeds and ideas for incorporating this superfood into your daily life.
Chia seeds have a ton of antioxidants which fight free radical damage, helping to repair skin damage and fight premature aging and wrinkles. Antioxidants keep the body’s immune system strong and provide protection against eye problems, heart disease, cognitive deterioration, and mood disorders. They even have the potential to reverse memory loss and improve other Alzheimer’s symptoms.
High fiber foods are known to improve digestive health and just one ounce of chia has around 11 grams of fiber, about 44% of the recommended daily fiber intake. Fiber promotes regularity, by relieving constipation. Because chia seeds are so absorbent, they can help during flare-ups of diverticulitis by absorbing water in the colon to allow bowels to pass more easily. Though the cause of diverticular disease is not known, it has been associated with a low fiber diet. The fiber in chia seeds also acts as a prebiotic by feeding healthy gut bacteria which plays a crucial role in disease prevention.
Chia seeds can help promote weight loss for several reasons. First of all, they absorb a lot of water and expand in the stomach, making you feel fuller, longer. Studies show that chia seeds help suppress appetite and curb hunger. They are one of the top vegan protein options and protein is critical for both building muscle and weight management. A high-protein diet can give more energy for workouts and decrease hunger by lowering levels of ghrelin, the main hunger stimulating hormone.
Antioxidants and fiber play a role when it comes to cardiovascular health, but that’s not the only reason this seed is known to decrease the risk of heart disease. Chia seeds are loaded with important omega-3 fatty acids that help lower blood pressure, cholesterol and inflammation. Inflammation plays a role in several diseases and puts strain on blood vessels which can increase the risk of heart disease.
Though chia seeds actually contain more omega-3s per ounce than salmon, it is important to note that it comes in a form that is more difficult for our bodies to use. The Omega-3s in chia seeds are mostly alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) which needs to be converted to its active form of EPA and DHA before the body can use it. Some studies have shown that humans are not always efficient at converting ALA to the active forms and unfortunately, this is typically how omega-3s appear when in plant form (1). However, contradictory studies have shown that vegans have almost just as much DHA and EPA as fish-eaters. So it's safe to say that omega-3s in any form are good for you!
The fiber and alpha-linolenic acid in chia can help balance blood sugar levels. Studies have shown that by adding chia seeds to white bread, the body’s glycemic response is reduced which prevents spikes and crashes in blood sugar levels (2). Several studies have been done on the effects of chia on blood glucose levels to find out it’s benefits to those with diabetes and insulin resistance. Researchers believe chia seeds may have the ability to convert glucose into a slow-release carbohydrate. High fiber diets have also been associated with lower risk of diabetes and stable blood sugar.
Chia seeds have several vitamins and minerals, but their high amounts of calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and manganese make them especially helpful for keeping bones strong and healthy. By strengthening bone density and health, you can lower the risk of osteoporosis and other serious conditions. One ounce of chia seeds contain 18% of the daily recommended intake of calcium and 30% manganese. Manganese plays a role in bone metabolism while calcium keeps bones strong.
Adding Chia Seeds Into Your Diet
It is extremely easy to incorporate chia seeds into your diet because they can be added to almost anything. You can add them to juice, kombucha, smoothies, cereal, homemade granola, rice, and baked goods. Several kombucha brands sell bottled kombucha with added chia seeds for a jelly-like consistency. Because of their absorbency, you can mix chia seeds and water to get a vegan egg substitute in breads, cookies, and more. You can also make chia or chia oat pudding for a quick snack or breakfast.
Adding chia seeds to recipes greatly increases the food’s nutritional value by adding important nutrients that the body uses to fight disease and stay strong. However, it is important to remember that if your body is not used to high amounts of fiber, you should start small and gradually increase your fiber intake to prevent digestive issues. If you can work up to 2 or 3 tablespoons a day, then you will get enough to reap the several health benefits of this amazing seed.