Ch-Ch-Ch-Chia! Did you just sing along as you read the words to the classic advertising jingle? You’ve probably heard of chia pets, but did you know that the chia seeds in those infamous pets are edible? That’s right, the seeds used to grow “wool” on a clay sheep are the same amazing superfood people are talking so much about these days.
One of the biggest struggles women come to see me about is the inability to lose stubborn fat – especially around their middle. That’s why it’s so exciting that something as simple as adding chia seeds to your daily diet can help! But that’s not all chia can do for your health.
The benefits of eating chia seeds are so all encompassing that I believe everyone should know how easy it is to support your health with this superfood. Chia seeds have been shown to impact strong bones and muscle, reduce the signs of aging, support both the cardiovascular and digestive systems, keep your skin glowing and healthy, and so much more. There’s even a link between chia seeds and controlling diabetes. Wouldn’t you agree that if you can get all these positive results, it’s worth adding a teaspoon or two of chia to your food every day? Let’s take a closer look at this amazing superfood, and how it can boost your health.
A Brief History of Chia Seeds
These little powerhouse seeds come from the salvia hispanica plant, part of the mint family. Chia seeds were a staple of the Aztec diet, as well as being used medicinally, pressed for oil, and used in religious ceremonies. Ancient civilizations believed that the chia seed promoted supernatural powers — probably due to the boost of energy these seeds provided.
Warriors gave chia seeds the credit for their stamina – as do some tribes, like the Mexican Tarahumara tribe, today. Runners from this tribe drink a special mixture of lemon, water and chia seeds, called Iskiate, which is said to give them the potential to run hundreds of miles.
Chia, like other ancient grains, faded for a time – perhaps due in part from being banned by conquering Spanish due to its religious ties. Lucky for us, it’s back in full force! The nutritional value of chia seeds is once again being celebrated and people everywhere are talking about the power of chia (and not just as a novelty gift item). It’s really no wonder — these just might be one of the most nutritious foods out there.
Nutritional Benefits of Chia Seeds
Chia seeds are a treasure trove of vitamins, minerals, fiber, omega-3 fats, and protein. That’s a lot of great things to get from one little seed. In fact, there’s so much good stuff in chia seeds, they capture the very essence of the phrase “nutritionally wealthy.”
Isn’t that a great phrase? Wealth, to most of us, means you have everything you need. That’s why I talk about with patients when I discuss creating meal plans that are “nutritionally wealthy.” The goal is to have each and every meal or snack contain as much nutritional value as possible.
Just one ounce (2 tablespoons) of chia seeds contains approximately 9 grams of healthy fat, 5 grams of protein, 10 grams of fiber, and almost 20% daily value of calcium. There’s also significant amounts of manganese, phosphorus, along with some zinc, potassium, and copper. Not only that, but you’ll get 4,500 milligrams of alpha-linolenic acid omega-3 fatty acids. Chia seeds are a great source of antioxidants too.
That’s a lot of power for a little seed. And another great thing about chia seeds is that you can add a little more oomph to the foods you are already eating without significantly altering taste. In fact, flavor-wise, you’ll hardly notice the seeds are there.
You might notice differences in texture, due to the gelatinous qualities these seeds have when hydrated. Though it might take a bit getting used to, that texture is useful — the gel-like properties of chia seeds make you feel full longer, helping control appetite – and consequently, your weight. Let’s look at how chia seeds help you slim down in a little more depth.
How Can Chia Help Me Trim My Waistline?
So many women cut things out of their diet when trying to lose weight. Wouldn’t it be nice to add something in for a change? With all the great nutrients chia seeds have to offer, you can do just that! Adding some chia seeds to your daily meal plans might actually help you shrink your waistline and shed a few pounds. Curious about how? Let’s take a quick look.
Chia seeds, when mixed with liquid, form a gel. The size and weight of the seeds increase, helping keep you full much longer.
Chia seeds are one of nature’s highest plant based sources of complex protein. And protein helps build muscle, as well as reducing cravings and appetite. When you feel satisfied, you can avoid the incessant snacking this is the downfall of many dieters.
And then there’s the fiber content in chia seeds. Chia seeds contain both soluble and insoluble fiber, a combination that reduces how quickly your body converts starch to sugars and stabilizes blood sugar. Dietary fiber also reduces bloating, boosts metabolism, and keeps your bowels regular, resulting in a flatter stomach and lighter feeling in your abdomen.
Finally, let’s look at the healthy fat chia seeds contains. By now I hope you know that it’s a myth that fats make you heavier. The truth is, healthy fats like those found in chia seeds are essential to maintaining a healthy weight. These good fats keep you feeling full, and assist in regulating blood sugar levels.
Additional Benefits of Chia Seeds
As I said earlier, potential weight loss support is only one of the ways chia seeds can positively influence your health. Because chia seeds are naturally gluten free, high in protein and fiber, and increasingly recognized as powerful antioxidants, the ways in which chia seeds boost good health are wide ranging.
Clinical trials specifically looking at the benefits of chia seeds are limited, but three of the four to date have shown a connection to consumption of chia seeds and improved health. While more research is certainly needed, these results are promising enough to warrant a mention.
Chia seeds are a great source of calcium, which has been repeatedly demonstrated to support strong bones, teeth, and metabolic functioning. Chia seeds also contain other minerals important to bone health, such as magnesium and phosphorus.
Antioxidants, found in high doses in chia seeds, help prevent free radical damage such as inflammation, memory changes, and premature aging of skin.
Omega 3 fatty acids are also found in abundance in chia seeds. Omega 3s are well known for supporting heart health along with healthy cholesterol levels.
But that’s not all. Chia seeds may also lower risk of diabetes – and even help in its treatment. A recent study of 20 patients with type-2 diabetes who used 37 grams of chia seeds for 12 weeks showed lower blood pressure, and a higher than 40% reduction of the inflammatory marker hs-CRP. Those are amazing results! As I’ve often said, inflammation is behind so many common symptoms of poor health and disease.
High Fiber Content Boosts Health Benefits of Chia Seeds
I talked about how fiber helps with controlling weight, but that’s not the only perk of this high fiber food. One serving of chia can provide the daily recommended amount of fiber, so if you’re adding it regularly to your diet, you’ll be giving your body just what it needs.
Fiber is important to the regulation of insulin levels, as well in properly metabolizing other hormones. Eating foods rich in fiber is one of the first recommendations I make to patients struggling to keep their hormones in balance.
High fiber intake also keeps your stool healthy and your bowels regular, helping to prevent uncomfortable issues like constipation, diarrhea, and irritable bowel syndrome. Appropriate fiber intake promotes good gut health, supporting the growth of prebiotics to keep your gut flora balanced.
And the benefits of getting enough fiber don’t end there. Research has shown that regular consumption of fiber has a positive impact on LDL cholesterol, and can be a protective measure against heart disease. High fiber intake has also been shown to reduce the risk of colon cancer.
What’s the Best Way to Add Chia Seeds to My Diet?
There’s nothing better than finding a superfood that can so easily be added to what you already eat. Chia seeds are one such superfood! Because they don’t have any flavor on their own, you can add them to almost anything; when hydrated, these seeds enhance the original flavor of the food. So get creative — make a sweet treat, like the pudding below, or add chia seeds to water, tea or your favorite beverage. Sprinkle the seeds – or even the sprouts – on salads or in soup. Toss a handful of seeds into a smoothie or a stir-fry.
Chia seeds can be soaked prior to adding them to food, or tossed in dry. But be careful about eating them on their own, directly from a spoon. Eating them dry could pose a risk of choking, particularly for those who have difficulty swallowing already. That’s because they absorb so much water, and if they expand in your esophagus, a blockage could result. Still, eating whole or ground, with sweet or savory flavors, chia seeds are an extremely versatile add-on.
You can even use chia seed gel as a substitute in baked goods. One tablespoon of chia seeds mixed with 3 tablespoons of water is the equivalent of one egg. And you can half the amount of butter or oil and use the same amount of chia seed gel instead.
You don’t have to worry about chia seeds going bad in your panty either — at room temperature, they’ll stay fresh for at least two years!
If you need recipe ideas, a quick internet search will turn up plenty of ideas. Try these great ideas from Dr. Axe, or start with one of my favorites, the recipe for chocolate chia pudding below.
Chocolate Chia Pudding
- 1 1/2 cups unsweetened almond milk
- 3-6 drops of liquid Stevia or to taste
- 2 T cacao powder
- 1 T gluten free vanilla extract
- 1/3 cup chia seeds
- 2 T blueberries or strawberries
- Garnish with almonds if desired.
- Whisk or blend first four ingredients until smooth.
- Gently stir in chia seeds.
- Chill or let sit at room temperature for 2 hours.
Eat within 24 hours.
The Gift of Great Nutrition
Perhaps you’ve purchased a chia pet as a gag gift; they’re a staple at office Yankee swaps. But the joke could be on you if you’ve simply been giving that amazing superfood away. Maybe it’s time to buy one for yourself – or simply stock up on a big bag of chia seeds at the supermarket. One things is clear — the benefits of eating, not just growing, these seeds are plentiful. Give yourself the gift of amazing health by adding chia to your diet every day!