By-Meena Ganagani,Practicing Clinical Nutritionist,Mumbai.
Chia seeds are a tiny super food loaded with big health benefits. They are the richest plant-based source of omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce inflammation and lower the risk for heart disease. Chia seeds are also extremely rich in fiber, protein, calcium and antioxidants. (1)
Chia is used orally for exercise performance, hypertension, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, pruritus, reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, and weight loss. The color of Chia seed varies from black, grey and black spotted to white, and the shape is oval, with a size range of 1 to 2mm.(2)
Chia (Salvia hispanica L.) belongs to the family Labiatae, originated from Mexico and northern and Gualtemala. The seeds have been the part of human nutrition since 1500 BC (Cahill 2003; Ayerza and Coates 2005). Traditionally seeds have been used as a food, in a wide range of folk medicines, primary cosmetics and a part of religious rituals in pre-Columbian societies (Craig 2004). The diets in pre-Columbian regimes were as nutritious as today (Hentry et al. 1990). The chia seed is widely used in many countries since thousands of years due to its massive nutritional and therapeutic potential (Fernandez et al. 2006a). (3)
Chia seeds and Health
Chia seeds contain several components that, when eaten as part of a balanced plant-rich diet, may prevent the development of various chronic diseases. Of particular interest by researchers is chia seeds’ high content of linoleic and alpha-linolenic (ALA) fatty acids. (4)
Chia seeds are definitely packed with nutrients, and are listed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s My Plate guidelines as a great source of protein. A review in the Journal of Food Science and Technology notes that chia seeds are a fantastic source of omega-3 fatty acids, as well as a source of a number of different antioxidants, such as chlorogenic acid, caffeic acid, myricetin, quercetin, and kaempferol, which may have heart-healthy, antiaging, and anticarcinogenic benefits. (5)
The consumption of chia has been increasing over the years, given its health benefits related to chronic diseases such as obesity, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and cancer (Ixtaina, Nolasco, & Tom, 2008; Poudyal, Panchal, Ward, & Brown, 2013; Vázquez‐Ovando, Rosado‐Rubio, Chel‐Guerrero, & Betancur‐Ancona, 2010). These benefits result mainly from the high concentrations in chia seeds of essential fatty acids, dietary fibers, proteins, antioxidants, vitamins, carotenoids, and minerals (Ayerza & Coates, 2011; Reyes‐Caudillo, Tecante, & Valdivia‐López, 2008). Today, the chia seed is consumed whole or in the form of flour, alone (in natura ), added to other foods, such as yogurts, salads, and fruits (Cahill, 2004; Vuksan et al., 2007), in preparations such as breads, cakes, granola bars, beverages, and others.(6)
Chia and the power of fiber
The USDA for 2015 to 2020 suggest that men under the age of 50 years should consume 30.8 grams (g) of fiber per day and women under the age of 50 years should consume 25.2 g per day.
For adults over 50 years of age, the recommendation for men is 28 g per day, and for women, it is 22.4 g per day. Most people consume less than half of that recommendation.
The easiest way to increase fiber intake is to eat more plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and unprocessed grains. Just one ounce of chia seeds provides 10 grams of fiber, almost half the daily recommendation for a woman over 50 years. (7)
- Chia is an excellent source of calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, boron, niacin.
- Contains all essential amino acids
- Vitamins B, D & E.
- 20% protein by weight
- More digestible protein than beans, soy or peas.
- 8.7 times the omega-3 in wild atlantic salmon.
- 5.4 times the calcium in 2% milk.
- 2.7 times more iron than raw spinach.
- More antioxidants than blueberries.
- Mucin -reduces inflammation in digestive tract.(8)
Reasons To Start Eating Chia Seeds
- Help weight loss. Chia seeds are popular for weight loss. They reduce food cravings by preventing some of the food that you eat from getting absorbed into your system. This blockage of calorie absorption makes them a great diet helper.
- Feel fuller faster: They can also help your diet by making you feel full. This is because they absorb 10 times their weight in water, forming a bulky gel.
- Hydration for athletes: They are also great for athletes because the “chia gel” can hydrate the body.
- Reduce your blood pressure: There’s evidence to suggest they can reduce blood pressure.
- Omega-3: They are the richest plant source of Omega-3 (the vital fats that protect against inflammation—such as arthritis—and heart disease). In fact, they contain more Omega-3 than salmon!
- Benefits for diabetes: Because chia seeds slow down how fast our bodies convert carbohydrates into simple sugars, studies indicate they can control blood sugar. This leads scientists to believe chia seeds may have great benefits for diabetics.
- They are easier to digest than flax seeds, and don’t need to be ground up.(9)
How to Eat Chia Seeds
Chia seeds can be eaten raw or prepared in a number of dishes. Sprinkle ground or whole chia seeds on cereal, rice, yogurt or vegetables. In Mexico, a dish called chia fresco is made by soaking chia seeds in fruit juice or water. Chia seeds are very absorbent and develop a gelatinous texture when soaked in water making it easy to mix them into cooked cereal or other dishes.
The seeds are not the only important part of the chia plant; the sprouts also are edible. Try adding them to salads, sandwiches and other dishes. (10)