If you grew up in the 80s and 90s, the word “chia” (or ch-ch-ch-Chia!) probably springs to mind images of funky terracotta planters covered with sprouting chia seeds resembling animal fur or hair. Back then, chia “pets” were a staple of mail order TV infomercials and the quintessential “secret Santa” gift. A few years later, during the early 2000s, chia seeds were rebranded as a health supplement and a nutritional powerhouse, effectively earning a spot in the superfood hall of fame alongside the likes of kale, quinoa, spirulina, maca, turmeric, and many others.
Chia seeds are tiny, measuring roughly 2 millimeters long and 1 millimeter wide, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t pack an impressive nutritional punch. Archeological evidence suggests that ancient Aztec and Mayan warriors may have used chia seeds as their sole source of food and energy during long-distance travels as early as 3,5000 B.C. In fact, in Mayan chia means “strength,” which probably has to do with the large amounts of energy that these tiny seeds are able to provide with each serving.
Aside from being incredibly nutritious, these good-for-you seeds also boast a few unique characteristics. For one, mixing chia with any liquid – juice, water, milk, etc. – causes the outside of seeds to form a gel-like coating that changes their texture from crunchy to thick gel making them the perfect ingredient for puddings and oatmeal. And they can also absorb up to 12 times their weight in liquid, which makes them excellent for keeping baked goods moist.
Health benefits of chia seeds
Chia seeds are an incredible source of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Here are a few of their most impressive health benefits.
They are loaded with nutrients and antioxidants
Everybody talks about chia seeds as a nutritional “powerhouse,” but just how nutrient-dense are they really? Let’s take a look at their nutritional profile.
One ounce of chia seeds – roughly two tablespoons contain:
- Calories: 138
- Protein: 4.7 grams
- Fat: 8.7 grams
- Carbs: 11.9 grams
- Fiber: 9.8 grams
- Calcium: 14% of the daily value (DV)
- Iron: 12% of the DV
- Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA): 5 grams
- Magnesium: 23% of the DV
- Phosphorus: 20% of the DV
- Vitamin B1 (thiamine): 15% of the DV
- Vitamin B3 (niacin): 16% of the DV
- Zinc: 12% of the DV
Additionally, chia seeds are packed with heart-healthy and anti-cancer antioxidants, including:
- Caffeic acid
- Chlorogenic acid
They might improve your cardiovascular health
Cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of preventable death worldwide, but experts agree that small lifestyle changes, like doing as little as 10 minutes of moderate physical activity every day and eating a healthier diet can go a long way in preventing heart issues and premature death. Certain foods can negatively influence your blood pressure, cholesterol, inflammation and triglycerides levels, all of which are risk factors for heart disease. Conversely, other foods can help decrease inflammation, protect your arteries, and promote proper heart functioning.
Chia seeds contain remarkably high levels of heart-healthy fatty acids, including alpha-linoleic acid or ALA, a type of omega-3 that has been shown to decrease the risk of arrhythmia, heart attack, and stroke. In fact, these wonder-seeds are one of the richest plant sources of ALA, packing more than twice the recommended amount of ALA in a single serving.
They could help you balance blood sugar levels
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that nearly 100 million US adults – roughly 1 in 3 – have prediabetes, which is defined as higher than normal blood sugar levels (i.e., a fasting blood glucose of 100–125 mg/dl) that are not yet quite high enough to warrant a type 2 diabetes diagnosis. It is also estimated that about 80% of people with prediabetes don’t know that they have it.
Research suggests that up to 70% of individuals with prediabetes will go on to develop type 2 diabetes, a condition in which the body doesn’t use or regulate glucose (sugar) properly. Type 2 diabetes is associated with a wealth of health complications, including:
- Heart disease – people with diabetes are up to five times more likely to develop heart disease or have a stroke
- Eye problems – chronically high levels of blood glucose can damage eye nerves and potentially lead to blindness
- Dementia – uncontrolled type 2 diabetes seems to increase the risk for dementia-related disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease
The good news is that prediabetes is reversible, meaning that there are things you can do to return your blood sugar levels to normal and prevent or delay your risk of developing type 2 diabetes and related health problems. One way to maintain healthy glucose levels is by adding more fiber to your diet – and chia seeds are a fantastic source. Two tablespoons of chia seeds contain about 10 grams of fiber, which is twice as much fiber as an apple (depending on your needs, that’s between 30 and 45% of the recommended daily value).
In addition to helping regulate blood sugar levels, the fiber in chia can also:
- Help regulate bowel movements
- Promote healthy weight loss and maintain a healthy weight over time
- Keep you full for longer
- Lower “bad” cholesterol levels
- They help to combat chronic inflammation
The inflammation theory of disease proposes that all diseases share an underlying root cause: chronic inflammation. Currently, this theory is just that – a theory – but mounting evidence suggests that a huge number of health conditions – heart disease, cancer, diabetes, digestive disorders, asthma, eczema, hypertension, autoimmune conditions, arthritis, and many, many more start with low-grade inflammation at the cellular level.
Aside from stress and environmental factors, diet is a major catalyst of chronic low-grade inflammation. Refined carbohydrates, red and processed meats, and trans fats are a few of the many foods that promote inflammation. Fortunately, there are also many other foods – including chia seeds – that can help fight inflammation in the body.
Chia seeds are high in a number of potent antioxidants that are known for combatting free radicals that trigger inflammation and cause cellular damage, namely caffeic acid and kaempferol. Therefore, it is possible that eating chia seeds regularly can help reduce inflammatory markers and lower your risk of certain diseases.
How to use chia seeds
Chia seeds are easy to incorporate into your diet because they are tasteless and don’t need any special prep. A favorite way to eat them is by soaking them in your beverage of choice and mixing in your favorite fruits, nuts, or seeds to make them into a delicious healthy pudding. Another popular option is incorporating them into overnight oats for a super-filling breakfast. Here is the base recipe for each, make them your own by adding your favorite mix-ins:
NOTE: For weight-loss or maintaining healthy blood sugar levels, avoid adding excess sugar to your chia seed recipes.
2 tablespoons chia seeds
½ cup plant milk or liquid of choice (almond milk, coconut milk, oat milk, water, orange juice, regular milk or yogurt)
1 teaspoon sweetener of choice (honey, agave, maple syrup, stevia or other sugar substitute)
Fruits, nuts, seeds, shredded coconut (unsweetened) or other mix-ins of choice
Optional – Protein powder
Note: This is a good opportunity to sneak extra protein into your diet by adding protein powder of your choice or even Greek yogurt which is high in protein.
Pour all ingredients into a jar and mix well. Cover the jar and let sit in the refrigerator for 2 hours or until you’re ready to eat. Enjoy!
½ cup old-fashioned rolled oats
½ cup plant milk or the milk of your choice
¼ cup vanilla yogurt (regular or Greek)
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract optional
1 tablespoon sweetener of your choice (or to taste)
1 pinch salt
Mix-ins of choice
Place all ingredients in a jar or bowl and mix well to combine. Cover and refrigerate overnight or for at least 8 hours. Add mix-ins of choice and enjoy! For delicious and eye appealing parfaits you can layer any combination of overnight oats, chia pudding, fruit, coconut flakes, nuts and garnish.
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