The health benefits of chia seeds
The ancient Aztecs and Mayans prized chia seeds for their medicinal properties. And after flying under the radar for a few centuries, they’ve become one of the most popular health trends in recent years and are adored by models, Hollywood elite and top chefs alike.
But are they worthy of their superfood status?
Chia seeds: the health benefits
- Nutritional lowdown:
They may not be much to look at, but chia seeds pack a nutritional punch.
One tablespoon of chia seeds contains around 65 calories, 5.5 grams of fiber, 2 grams of protein, 88 milligrams of calcium, 2.5 grams of omega-3 fatty acids and just 0.5 grams of saturated fat.
- Omega-3 fatty acids
There’s evidence to suggest that omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation in the body, and they may help reduce the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.
Because your body can’t produce these fatty acids on its own, you have to get them entirely from your diet.
But chia seeds contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) rather than DHA and EPA, which have the most scientific backing for being beneficial to arthritis sufferers. Humans only partially convert ALA to DHA and EPA.
The conclusion? Oily fish is still a better source of omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA, but chia seeds could be a good substitute for vegetarians.
- A source of fiber
Fiber can help you feel fuller for longer, keep you regular and may even prevent bowel cancer in the long term. You should be aiming to get at least 18 grams of fiber every day, and including chia seeds in your diet could help you reach that target.
Like wholegrains, chia seeds are particularly rich in insoluble fiber – just the kind you want if you’re constipated or suffering from constipation-induced hemorrhoids.
Insoluble fiber helps keep our digestive system healthy and our bowel movements regular by adding bulk.
Chia seeds are about 14% protein by weight (very high compared with most plants) – which is great if you don’t eat meat and struggle to include enough protein in your diet.
You should be aiming to eat about 8 grams of protein every day for every 20 pounds you weigh.
How to eat more chia seeds (safely)
Soak before you eat
Chia seeds are like sponges: they can absorb up to 27 times their dry weight in water. When they absorb a liquid, they swell up and become gel-like in texture.
So if you eat them dry, they could possibly dehydrate you. If you can, soak your chia seeds in liquid before eating them.
Introducing more fiber
You should always up your fiber intake slowly to give your digestive system time to adjust. Too much fiber too soon can result in symptoms like cramps, bloating, diarrhea or constipation.10 Also make sure you’re drinking enough water to accommodate all that extra fiber.
And if you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), be cautious about how much fiber you’re adding to your diet.
If you’re new to chia seeds, start small – just a teaspoon at first – and monitor how your body handles it.
Ways to enjoy chia seeds:
• Blitz them in a smoothie containing your favorite ingredients
• Replace risotto rice with chia seeds in a mushroom risotto
• Soak them overnight in coconut milk or yogurt for breakfast the next day
• Make a chia pudding for a treat
• Soak them in water to create a gel, then add the chia gel to a soup
• When soaked in liquid, they can be used as an egg substitute in things like veggie burgers or chia meatballs