Chia seeds have become increasingly popular in recent years, with devotees adding them to smoothies, salads, and even loaves of bread and cookies. The name ‘chia’ comes from the ancient Mayan language and means strength. This meaning gives us a little insight into how prized chia must have been for ancient people, and it’s hardly surprising. Chia seeds are incredibly nutritionally dense, meaning that they contain a lot of nutrition per ounce when compared to other foodstuffs. It helps that they are also relatively low in calories and are naturally gluten-free, making them a good grain choice for those who want to avoid gluten. Let’s take a closer look at the health benefits of these seeds.
Health Benefits of Chia Seeds
1. Chia Seeds are packed with Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids can reduce inflammation and have a protective effect on the brain and heart, reducing the risks of stroke and heart attack. Plant sources of Omega-3 fatty acids (alpha-linolenic acid or ALA) are less beneficial than those that come from oily fish because the body does not readily convert ALA into the more useful forms of fatty acid known as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosatetraenoic acid (EPA). Chia seeds contain the plant form ALA, but they are particularly rich in this, making them a superior plant source for ALA. For vegans and vegetarians, it can be more difficult to include enough of these fatty acids in the diet, so the Omega-3 fatty acids found in them are particularly valuable to these groups.
2. The Antioxidant Effect
Antioxidants help defend the body against the damage to cells caused by free radicals within the body; this becomes more important as we age. Chia seeds contain important phytochemicals that act as antioxidants. One study into the health benefits of the seeds states, “Chia seed is a potential source of antioxidants with the presence of chlorogenic acid, caffeic acid, myricetin, quercetin, and kaempferol. All of which are believed to have cardiac, hepatic protective effects, anti-aging, and anti-carcinogenic characteristics.”
The best known of all the health benefits of chia seeds is the high fibre content. Many people add them to their regular everyday diet for precisely this reason. An ounce of seeds provides around 10 grams of fibre! The soluble fibre in the seeds is useful for promoting good bacterial flora in the gut and for adding bulk to stools. Few of us consume enough fibre, and chia seeds are an extremely beneficial way of increasing the amount of fibre in our daily diets. As an added bonus, their fibre content helps to make us feel fuller for longer. This is known as satiety, and it can really help with weight loss when combined with a healthy balanced diet.
4. Bone Health
There is more calcium in 35g of chia seeds than there is in a 100ml glass of milk! Calcium is so vital for the bones, but did you know it is also essential for the nervous system? Without adequate calcium, the chemical messengers that send messages from the brain to the body cannot function properly. The body’s response to this is to take calcium from where it is stored in the bones. This can lead to weakened bones, lower bone density, and osteoporosis. This is supported by the fact that they also contain manganese and phosphorus, which are also essential for bone health. One of the significant benefits of eating chia seeds is that they help add some of these essential bone protecting minerals to the diet, which is excellent for those who struggle with calcium levels or are avoiding dairy products.
5. Boost Iron Intake
When your body is deficient in iron, you can become anaemic and suffer from a wide range of problems as a result. Maintaining iron levels is very important, and restoring iron stores when they are depleted can be difficult. Chia seeds are a fantastic plant source of iron, containing over 2mg of iron in every ounce. While this isn’t enough to meet your daily requirement of iron, it can be a very simple way to help boost your iron intake. In fact, Women’s Health magazine includes chia seeds on their list of iron-rich foods to include in a healthy diet.
6. Nutritionally Dense
Chia seeds might be very small, but they are surprisingly dense in nutrition. Not only are they a good source of plant-based protein, but they are also packed with valuable vitamins and minerals. An ounce of chia could provide up to a third of the daily required amount of manganese, magnesium, and phosphorus. They also contain a number of B vitamins (notably B2, thiamine, and niacin) and zinc and potassium. One of the health benefits of chia seeds is that they can be added to foods to increase the nutritional profile of a meal without adding excessive calories.
Add some Chia to your Life!
It is refreshingly easy to add chia seeds to the everyday diet and begin to experience the benefits. They can be added to baked produce, soups, and smoothies. If you add some water to the chia seeds, you will find that they turn into a gel-like substance, giving you visual proof of the soluble fibre they are so rich in. This is also why they are thought to contribute to the feeling of fullness you get when you consume chia seeds. Care should be taken when using chia seeds as they expand rapidly in water. It may be best to add water to them before using or put them in foods rather than eating them dry, to reduce any risk of choking. What perhaps is the most impressive about chia seeds is that they can also be used to replace eggs in many recipes. Once you have added water to them, they form a texture similar to egg whites and have a binding effect on other ingredients, making them a great alternative to eggs; fantastic for converting recipes to meet the requirements of vegans or those with egg allergies.
The health benefits of chia seeds are evident; these tiny seeds are deceptively powerful. Experts are increasingly interested in studying the potential health benefits of chia seeds, and it seems that the science is revealing many unexpected advantages, with one study stating:
“Therapeutic effects of chia in the control of diabetes, dyslipidemia, hypertension, as anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-blood clotting, laxative, antidepressant, antianxiety, analgesic, vision, and immune improver is scientifically established.”