Chia seeds became popular in the 1970’s in the United States when used in the novelty item, Chia Pets. We all remember the chia pet commercials.
Chia pets were clay figures used like a flower pot to grow chia seeds into a plant. The plant resembled hair or fur. Fast forward to 2018. Today, hia seeds are considered “superfoods” and known for their health benefits.
What are the health benefits of chia seeds?
Before we discuss that we must first learn about what they are and the history behind this amazing food.
Chia is a seed from the salvia hispanica plant which is native to Central America. We also get chia seeds from the plant salvia columariae of the Southwest United States and Mexico. The seeds are hydrophilic, which means they absorb water when soaked and they develop a mucilaginous coating. This gives anything made with chia seeds a gel texture.
History of Chia Seeds
People have been cultivating chia seeds for centuries. The Aztec used chia seeds not only for food but it was also given as an annual tribute by the people to the rulers in 21 of the 38 Aztec provincial states. Historians believe that chia was as important as maize. The Aztecs relied on the consumption of chia seeds to keep their people healthy.
What are the health benefits of chia seeds?
Chia seeds are high in protein. The protein content in chia seeds vary depending on the habitats and climate in which the seed is grown. Chia seeds still have a greater amount of protein than any other grain. Chia is also gluten-free which benefits individuals with celiac disease and gluten intolerance.
Studies have proven that consuming foods rich in protein can help with weight loss. A study conducted by researchers in Denmark revealed that intake of protein equaling 25 percent of the total energy can lead to significant weight loss (randomized trial on protein vs carbohydrate in ad libitum fat reduced diet for the treatment of obesity, Skov et. all). High protein diets can also help maintain a healthy body weight.
Another study conducted in the Netherlands (additional protein intake limits weight regain after weight loss in humans, Lejeune, et. all), looked at the effect of a high protein diet versus a low protein diet on 113 overweight men and women who were trying to lose weight. The study was conducted over the course of 4 weeks. One group was given a diet containing 18 percent protein and the other group was given a diet with only 5 percent protein. The group on the high protein diet lost more weight.
According to Wayne Coates, PHD, the author of Chia: The Complete Guide to the Ultimate Superfood, a half a cup of chia seeds can contain up to 24 grams of protein. Chia also contains strontium, which helps our bodies assimilate protein and produce energy.
Not only is chia high in protein it also contains a complete protein. Chia seeds provide all eight essential amino acids your body needs to make use of the protein. These amino acids are phenylalanine, valine, threonine, tryptophan, methionine, leucine, isoleucine and lysine.
Chia seeds contain high amounts of micronutrients.
Micronutrients or vitamins and minerals, keep your body well-nourished and energetic.
Eating foods with high levels of vitamins and minerals will also help prevent cravings and overeating.
Calcium helps build strong bones and teeth and aids in the cellular process.
Iron helps carry oxygen from the lungs to the body’s tissues. If you have iron deficiency you will feel tired, may have pale skin, shortness of breath, headaches and dizziness, and heart palpitations.
The body relies heavily on potassium in order to function properly. This mineral helps lower blood pressure, by balancing out the negative effects of salt. Potassium helps the kidneys control the amount of fluid stored in your body. The more fluid, the higher your blood pressure.
Thiamin, or Vitamin B1, plays a critical role in energy metabolism and in the growth, development, and function of cells.
Also known as Vitamin B2, is an essential component of two major coenzymes, flavin mononucleotide (FMN; also known as riboflavin-5′-phosphate) and flavin adenine dinucleotide (FAD). These coenzymes play major roles in energy production; cellular function, growth, and development; and metabolism of fats, drugs, and steroids.
Niacin, also known as vitamin B3, is a precursor of the coenzymes nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD) and NAD phosphate (NADP), which are involved in many biological redox reactions. This vitamin helps lower the body’s cholesterol levels, stabilizes blood sugar, helps the body process fats, and is thought to help protect the brain against age-related cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease. Niacin also has antioxidant properties and prevents oxidative stress.
Folate, also known as folic acid or Vitamin B9, supports red blood cell production, helps cell production, supports brain health and allows your nerves to function properly.
Phosphorus is a mineral that works with the B vitamins to help with the formation of bones and teeth. It also plays an important role in how the body uses carbohydrates and fats. Your body needs phosphorus to make protein for the growth, maintenance, and repair of cells and tissues. This mineral can also help with kidney function, muscle contractions, heart health, and nerve signaling.
This mineral is essential to all living cells. Over 300 enzymes require the presence of magnesium in order to function. Magnesium is required for energy production, oxidative phosphorylation, and glycolysis. It contributes to the structural development of bone and is required for the synthesis of DNA, RNA, and the antioxidant glutathione. Magnesium also plays a role in the active transport of calcium and potassium ions across cell membranes, a process that is important to nerve impulse conduction, muscle contraction, and normal heart rhythm.
Zinc helps your body in many different ways. It supports blood sugar balance, metabolic rate, aids in wound healing, and helps the immune system and nervous system function properly. Zinc also supports normal growth and development during pregnancy, childhood, and adolescence. Zinc is also required for proper sense of taste and smell.
Selenium helps boost your immune system and prevents oxidative stress and inflammation. This trace element also plays a critical role in reproduction, thyroid hormone metabolism, DNA synthesis, and preventing infections.
Copper is a mineral that helps maintain the health of bones, connective tissues, skin and the thyroid gland. It also helps your body utilize iron properly.
Mangenese is a mineral that helps your body maintain normal blood sugar levels, protects your cells from free radical damage, and supports bone health. It also assists your body to utilize many key nutrients including, thiamin, biotin and Vitamin C.
Chia Seeds Contain Phytonutrients
What are phytonutrients?
Wayne Coats explains it best. “Chia is famous for its phytonutrients, plant chemicals that contain protective, disease-preventing compounds. The phytonutrients found in chia include quercetin, kaempferol, myricetin, chlorogenic acid, and caffeic acid. Their role is to protect the plant from disease, injuries, insects, drought, excessive heat, ultraviolet rays, and poisons or pollutants in the air or soil. In other words, they form part of the plant’s immune system. And what they do for plants they can do for us.
Although phytochemicals are not yet classified as nutrients, researchers have identified these plant chemicals as important guardians of good health. They help prevent disease and have been shown to ward off at least four of the leading causes of modern death in Western countries: cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and hypertension,” Wayne Coats, PHD.
Chia Seeds are High in Fiber
Eating foods rich in fiber can help you feel fuller so you eat less and help you have regular bowel movements. There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Both are important for a healthy diet. oluble fiber acts like a sponge. It absorbs water in the intestines and forms a gluey gel that picks up cholesterol and carries it out of the body. Insoluble fiber acts like a broom because it doesn’t dissolve in water. It adds bulk and softness to the stools and keeps them moving along comfortably preventing constipation. It is recommended to consume about 25-35 grams of fiber per day.
Chia Seeds are High in Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are very important in preventing and managing heart disease. According to research, a diet rich on omega-3 fatty acids can help to lower blood pressure, reduce trigycerides, slow the development of plaque in the arteries, reduce the chance of abnormal heart rhythm and reduce the likelihood of a heart attack or stroke.
Chia Seeds Can Help You Lose Weight
Chia seeds encourage you to eat less. These miracle seeds fill you up, literally. Chia swells up in your stomach up to 12 times its original mass, which makes you feel full. It also lowers blood sugar levels, which can reduce or even eliminate cravings for unhealthy foods.
A 6-month study concluded that people that consumed chia regularly had lost more weight than those on a control diet. They also lost more belly fat than those that did not eat chia seeds. The results of the study supported the idea that chia seeds can help promote weight loss and improvement of obesity related risk factors.
Chia Seeds are Gluten-Free
Chia contains no gluten which is great for people with celiac disease or gluten intolerance. When chia is milled the “flour” can be used in gluten-free baking.
Chia Seeds Help Fight Cancer
Chia has high levels of antioxidants which can help supercharge and protect cells from DNA damage. One or two spoonfuls of chia seeds per day can help a cancer patient prevent further cell mutations, as well as slow already-mutating cells, aiding more conventional cancer treatments.
The omega-3 fatty acids found in chia seeds also help fight and prevent cancer. Wayne Coats states that, “In 2007, researchers at the Universidad Nacional de Cordoba, in Cordoba, Argentina, studied the effect of this fatty acid on breast cancer tumors. The findings, which were published in the July 2007 issue of Journal of Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids, showed that the omega-3 fatty acid in chia helped shrink existing tumors and prevent metastasizing.
Chia Seeds can Help Lower Blood Pressure
In 2007, researchers from the University of Toronto looked at chia’s benefits to heart health. They fed 21 diabetics a supplement made from chia or grains with similar fiber content. After three months the blood pressure in the patients taking the chia supplement dropped an average of 5-10 points. The group that took the other supplement did not see changes in their blood pressure.
Chia Seeds can Lower Cholesterol
There hasn’t been any formal studies on the effects of chia seeds on human cholesterol, however, studies in rats have shown that chia reduces blood fat and increases good cholesterol levels.
Chia Seeds Help Maintain Healthy Blood Sugar Levels
The gel made from chia seeds surrounds carbohydrates during digestion. This slows the release of those carbohydrates into the blood stream which helps moderate blood sugar levels. A study conducted in 2007 was reported in Diabetes Care Magazine that looked at 20 people with Type 2 diabetes. They were given 37 grams of chia seed a day (3 tablespoons) for 12 weeks. The study concluded that chia seeds helped control their blood sugar and improved their cardiovascular health.
Chia Seeds Can Help Fight Fatigue and Give You Energy
Because chia seeds are high in important nutrients they help you sustain energy. Long distance runners take chia seeds as a supplement to help give them the energy they need to run efficiently at peak performance.
Chia Seeds can Combat Inflammatory Conditions
The antioxidants found in chia seeds strengthen your immune system and prevent your cells from over-reacting. Omega-3’s in chia seeds help decrease inflammation which normalizes the area.
Chia Seeds Help with Brain, Nervous System and Mood Disorders
Research has proven that omega-3 fatty acids found in chia seeds help nourish the brain and create a sense of calm and focus. B-Vitamins found in chia seeds also aid in creating a sense of calm and focus and they help the nervous system to work more efficiently. The amino acid Tryptophan is also found in chia seeds. Tryptophan is known to help the brain create serotonin and melatonin, two feel-good neurotransmitters.
Including chia seeds in your diet can help you maintain optimal health. They are full of vitamins and minerals, protein, antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids and fiber. Chia seeds have been cultivated for centuries and were an important staple in the Aztec culture. This superfood can be added as a topping for yogurt, smoothies and desserts, milled for a gluten-free flour, made into a gel to add to other recipes, or just eaten raw as an energy booster. Chia seeds are easy to incorporate into any diet.