Dr. Vivek Baliga B. is a consultant physician and cardiologist, and director of Baliga Diagnostics in Bangalore. He is a keen advocate of patient education and loves to blog about all things health related. Learn more about him at drvivekbaliga.com.
Have you reaped any of the chia seeds benefits I am about to discuss in this article? Chia seeds are considered one of the healthiest foods on the planet, making it a ‘super food’ of sorts. Today, I shall talk about these seeds and how you should change your diet in a way to have them every day.
A brief history of chia seeds
In the world of botany, chia seeds are called ‘Salvia hispanica’. They are a member of the mint family and originate from Central and South America. The popularity of chia seeds is not something new. The word ‘chia’ means ‘strength’ in Mayan culture. Legend has it that the Aztec civilization had their warriors consume chia seeds regularly to build a stamina and endurance. Similarly, other cultures have used chia seeds to power up their runners and warriors. In some cultures, chia seeds have been used as currency as well.
But why all the fuss about chia seeds?
Well, clearly there have been some benefits that humans have obtained over the years that make it such a popular super food. What were once thought to be innocent tiny black seeds have now emerged as one of the greatest sources of nutrients and energy.
Let us look at some of these chia seeds benefits.
1. Chia seeds benefits – why it is a super food
There are several different health benefits of eating chia seeds regularly.
2. Chia seeds are rich in nutrients
Despite the tiny size, a small amount of chia seeds eaten daily can give you a nutritional hit that no other food can match. In the image below, I have shown you the benefits of chia seeds, compared gram for gram to commonly consumed nutritional food items.
As you can see, a small serving of chia seeds contains a good quantity of fiber, protein, essential fatty acids, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and even other vitamins such as vitamin B1 and B2.
Generally, the serving size that is available in most chia seed packs is around 10g, though certain serving sizes can go up to 25g (around 2 tablespoons). In addition to providing the nutrients that chia seeds contain, you may be glad to know that they are completely gluten-free. So those of you who have gluten sensitivity can still enjoy their health benefits.
3. Chia seeds contain powerful antioxidants
The process of digestion and exposure of our body to harmful environmental chemicals results in the formation of free radicals in the body. Free radicals can damage healthy tissues and are responsible for the development of conditions such as heart attacks, ageing and cancer.
To counter free radicals, it is important that we consume a diet that is packed with antioxidants. The good news is that chia seeds are completely loaded with the antioxidants. These powerful compounds can get rid of anything harmful that is in the bloodstream and keep your cells and tissues healthy.
4. Chia seeds are high in fiber
Our body requires healthy soluble fiber to be consumed regularly to keep our cholesterol levels low and blood sugar levels under check. Chia seeds are full of healthy soluble fiber. This means that if you eat chia seeds every day, you would be taking in the recommended daily requirement of fiber that can keep your heart healthy.
Another feature of chia seeds is that it can hold onto water and swell up. So, if you consume chia seeds, then they would mix with the water content in the stomach and begin to swell up in a matter of 30 minutes. This can help fill up your stomach and can keep it fuller for longer.
This would make you snack less and would prevent weight gain.
Almost the entire carbohydrate content that is present in chia seeds consists of fiber. In fact, around 40% of the weight of chia seeds is from the fiber it has. For those of you who have heart disease, high blood pressure or diabetes or for those who are looking to stay healthy, adding chia seeds to your regular diet can give you the fiber of your body requires.
This is probably one of the best chia seeds benefits there is.
5. Chia seeds contain quality protein
Vegetarian diets can be quite low in protein due to the limited choices available. If you are looking for good quality protein in your diet, make sure you begin to eat chia seeds. Chia seeds contain a perfect balance of essential amino acids which are the building blocks of protein. Protein is required to keep the muscles and tissues healthy. It also helps in the production of numerous hormones and enzymes as well.
Chia seeds are believed to contain around 14% protein by weight. In addition to fiber, the protein content that is present in chia seeds can help you avoid snacking on junk food by keeping your stomach fuller for longer.
6. Chia seeds are rich in omega-3 fats
Chia seeds contain omega-3 fatty acids. Clinical studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids can protect the heart and other vital tissues. There are a number of different types omega-3 fatty acids that are available in foods. Non-vegetarian sources primarily consist of active forms of omega-3 fatty acids i.e. EPA and DHA.
Unfortunately, Chia seeds are high in a less active form i.e. ALA or Alpha Linolenic Acid. Studies have shown that they contain around 60% by weight of ALA. It is the richest botanical source of ALA. This must be converted in the body to be active forms. Unfortunately, the human body is not as efficient when it comes to this conversion.
However, do not be disappointed with this fact. Generally, all plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids have this problem. That being said, chia seeds can be extremely beneficial if consumed during pregnancy. This is because the omega-3 fatty acids contained in it can help in the development of the baby’s brain.
Not only that, ALA in chia seeds can slow down the growth of cancer cells in breast cancer and cervical cancer. There is still a great deal of research that needs to be performed in this area.
7. Chia seeds are high in minerals
One of the primary chia seeds benefits include the presence of certain minerals such as calcium, magnesium and phosphorus. These minerals are essential to keep our bones healthy. Chia seeds contain 18% of the recommended daily requirement of calcium. A 25-gram serving has more calcium than 100 ml of milk.
In addition to this, they also contain zinc which has an antibacterial effect and helps maintain good dental health. Interestingly, chia seeds also contain boron which is an essential element for the utilization of calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and manganese in the development and growth of muscles and bones.
8. Chia seeds may help manage diabetes
While there is no conclusive evidence suggesting the benefit of chia seeds in managing blood sugar levels, it appears that the additional effects of chia seeds can provide those with diabetes some health benefits. You are welcome to have chia seeds as a part of your daily diet if you have diabetes. No harm will come to your health unless you are sensitive to the seeds (very rare problem).
How much chia seeds to take daily?
The recommended daily dose of chia seeds is around 25g. However, talk to your doctor regarding whether this is a suitable dosage for you or whether it needs to be reduced.
Are there any side effects of chia seeds?
Generally, chia seeds are well tolerated by each and every individual. A small number of patients have reported constipation by consuming too many chia seeds. It is therefore important that you drink good amount of water when you consume them.
How should chia seeds be consumed?
The most popular way of consuming chia seeds is to soak them in water or milk for two hours or more until they plump up. This can then be added to your favourite beverage or the chia seeds can be eaten as a porridge.
As chia seeds lack a pungent odour or flavour, they can be sprinkled as-is on your favourite cereal. You may want to toast them and cool them down for using them this way. This would make them crunchy! Ground chia seeds can be used as a substitute for eggs in baking.
Chia seeds are nature’s super foods. They are packed with nutrients that will keep you healthy and fighting fit.
This article originally appeared in the TeacherTribe Magazine November 2020 edition.