Chia seeds

Chia or salvia hispanica is a flowering plant from the mint family. The plant was known to be in existence only about four hundred years ago. It is of Mexican origin and chia seeds were initially used in Mexico. In the recent past, it is used in many parts of The United States and other countries also. Chia is an annual crop which grows up to six feet and produces clusters of purple or white flowers.

It is cultivated for its oily seeds. It grows in sandy or clay soils which are fairly fertile and well drained. About four decades ago The United States procured chia pets made of the sprout bunches for novelty based decorations. Chia seeds are considered as novel food in Europe.

Nutrition facts

100gms of seed provides 436 calories of energy, 7.74 gm carbohydrates, 34.4gm dietary fiber, 30.74gm fat (omega 3 and omega 6 alone at 23.665gm) and 16.54gm protein.

It also contains Niacin (B3) 8.83mg (59% Recommended Daily Amount), Thiamine (B1) 0.62mg (54% RDA), Riboflavin 0.17mg (14% RDA) and small quantities of vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin E.

Chia seeds contains plenty of minerals. They are Manganese 2.723mg (130%RDA), Phosphorous 860 mg (123%), Magnesium 335mg (94%), Calcium 631mg (63%), Iron 7.72mg (59%), Zinc 4.58mg (48%), Potassium 407mg (9%) and Sodium 16mg (1%).

Chia seeds are one of the richest sources of omega 3 fatty acids from plant origin, others being flax seed, hemp seed, and walnuts.

Health benefits of Chia seeds

From the above nutrients table, it can be seen that it is a high-calorie substitute food with exceptionally high levels of minerals and a good amount of vitamins. Accordingly, it is not only a food substitute but also a seed that provides a number of health benefits.

Improves bowel movements

High quantity of dietary fiber present in it enhances the performance of the digestive system in the body. It enhances the bowel movement and ensures regular excretion of waste/feces.

Helps weight management

In addition to cleaning the digestive tract, it improves satiety due to which lesser consumption or optimum consumption of food is possible which is essential to maintain a balanced weight of the body. Obesity is prevented by using chia seeds as a regular food. Higher satiety is achieved by its high fiber and protein content. The formation of a gel-like substance in the stomach when chia seeds are consumed gives the fuller feeling of the stomach reducing further food intake. In fact, when chia seed is soaked in water it bulges and becomes a soft substance like a gel.

Boosts metabolism

Significant amounts of the minerals magnesium, manganese and phosphorous in chia seed enhances the metabolism and helps DNA synthesis in addition to preventing hypertension.

Gluten free

Glycemic index of chia seeds is very low and people who are on a gluten-free diet can switch over to the seeds as their regular food.

Pre-biotic booster

Soluble fiber in the seeds produces a gel-like substance in the stomach which is pre-biotic. The function of pre-biotic is to act as a fertilizer for the growth of good bacteria in the gut. The specialty of pre-biotic fiber is that it passes through the small intestine undigested and gets fermented after reaching the large colon. This fermentation process is responsible for the growth of good bacteria in the gut or digestive system.

Rich source of Anti-oxidants

Anti-oxidants present in the seeds eliminates the harmful free radicals produced in the body and prevents the formation of any type of cancer. Free radicals which are harmful are mainly responsible for causing many disorders in the body. By eliminating such free radicals, antioxidants prevent many health disorders. It needs to be understood here that free radicals are required by the body and only when they are harmful they have to be eliminated. Antioxidants are exactly helpful in removing such harmful radicals. (It is very important to note that the antioxidants in chia seeds remain intact in the seeds right through their long shelf life of two years)

Prevents dyslipidemia

Chia seeds prevent the occurrence of diabetic and cure it too. It prevents the formation of dyslipidemia, a metabolic disorder wherein excessive fat accumulate in the blood and insulin resistance is developed. These twin abnormalities are the prime reason for diabetes. The fiber together with the alpha-linolenic acid present has the potential to stop and cure diabetes. In addition to this by releasing carbohydrates slowly, it reduces the craving for sugar which is very beneficial to any diabetic person.

Boosts metabolism

Chia seeds boost metabolism and help to burn belly fat. It reduces the adipose tissue which is responsible for the development of obese conditions. Accumulation of abnormally high fat in the belly is the first enemy of good health. The seeds, by reducing the belly fat ensures the overall health of the body.

Improves bone strength

Boron present in chia helps in strengthening the bones and density of the bones. Boron is an important chemical which facilitates the metabolism of calcium, magnesium, manganese and phosphorous in the body to make the bones and muscles stronger. Plant origin of boron is a rare availability and chia is one such plant origin which provides the exceptionally good nutrient to the body. Click here to read more about boron.

Contains plant protein

It is a very good source of plant protein. So it is beneficial for persons who want to build up lean and strong muscle. Antioxidants in the seed could replace the nutrients lost due to exercising to achieve weight loss. Hence it is a super-food to achieve weight loss not only due to the dietary fiber present but also with the antioxidants present.

Endurance food

The seeds have the potential to keep the body hydrated for a longer duration which facilitates absorption of electrolytes. This particular property helps to reduce craving for junk food. For this reason, it is called an endurance food and recommended to be consumed by athletes. The high amount of zinc in it increases leptin level. Leptin is a hormone which regulates the appetite and the energy levels in the body.

Rich source of Omega-3 fatty acids

High omega 3 acid content in the seeds has the potential to lower the blood pressure and as a consequence prevent heart diseases. It reverses the oxidative stress and prevents atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is a disorder where the arteries wall becomes thick due to the accumulation of fat. This disorder is prevented by regular consumption of chia seeds as a normal/regular diet. Moreover, linolenic acid (fatty acid) present in it helps in absorbing vitamins A, C, D and K. Omega 3 fatty acid also helps in lowering harmful LDL cholesterol and reduces inflammation. Eventually, it protects the heart.

“In a study relating to chia seeds published in British Journal of Nutrition, it is mentioned that chia seeds lower the triglycerides level and cholesterol and at the same time increase the HDL or good cholesterol “

Contains Amino acids

About two third of the lipid profile of chia seeds comprises of omega 3 fatty acids. It makes it one of the richest sources of plant sources of amino acids. Alpha-linolenic acid in the seeds reduces inflammation and bad cholesterol. It is also helpful in enhancing the cognitive functions and provide relief from neurological disorders.

Prevents cancer

Alpha-lipoic acid is an omega 3 fatty acid in the seeds destroys the cancer cells and protect healthy cells. It prevents breast and cervical cancers. There are conflicting studies on the effect of the seeds on prostate cancer. Hence people who are suspected to have the disorder need to consult a doctor before consuming the seeds.

Other important health benefits are

  • The outer shell of the seeds when drenched in water and allowed to remain wet for about fifteen minutes changes into a gel which is used as an egg replacement to enhance the nutrient value of baked foods.
  • Chia seeds provide adequate nutrients to keep the skin, nail, and hair healthy. The antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties of the seeds nourish the skin and the hair.
  • Food based on chia seeds are highly beneficial to a pregnant woman. Depletion of energy levels and nutrients level during pregnancy can be corrected by consuming the seeds. It is a healthy food not only for the mother but also to the fetus. Omega 3 fatty acid in it helps the development of the brain of the baby. Presence of good amount of nutrients and minerals in the seeds help in replenishing the nutrients lost on account of pregnancy. The requirement of calcium during the first three months of pregnancy is sufficiently provided by chia.
  • Iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous and zinc present in significantly high quantities, boost the overall health of pregnant women along with that of the baby. Hence chia is a must to be included super food for pregnant ladies.

How to consume

  • The seeds can be cooked and consumed in their whole form and there is no need to grind it like flax seed or other grains.
  • Keeping the seeds soaked in water overnight doubles the antioxidant contents.
  • Chia seeds can be consumed by preparing various dishes. It has no flavor of its own and hence adding spices, nuts, fruits, and toppings as one may like and mixing with salads make it convenient for consumption.

 As a word of caution, Chia seeds can absorb water twelve times its quantity. Hence it must be soaked in sufficient quantity of water before cooking. When it is consumed without sufficient quantity of water it could absorb the liquid from the body. Similarly eating too much of dry chia seeds are also detrimental. In order to ensure sufficient water needed by chia seeds, it is better to drink plenty of water to avoid a stomach ache. Barring the discomfort due to an inadequate addition of water there is no side effect for consuming the seeds.

Kripa Sivasubramanian, MBA, earned her Master’s degree in Business. After a long stint in the Technology sector, she took up courses in natural medicine and yoga. Ms. Kripa is certified in Ayurvedic yoga for Dosha. She is also certified by Stanford University School of Medicine in Introduction to Food and Health.