6 health benefits of chia seeds

Chia seeds are tiny, oval-shaped seeds that appear black and white. These are the seeds of a plant native to Mexico and were a staple food in ancient civilizations. “Chia seeds were originally grown as a staple food in Mesoamerican cultures, in the Mexican region among the Aztecs and Mayans, thousands of years ago,” says dietitian nutritionist Jenna Volpe, RDN. “This may explain why ‘chia’ is derived from the Spanish word ‘chian,’ which comes from the Aztec Nahuatl language and translates to “oily”.

People have used chia seeds for thousands of years and they are still widely eaten today. Chia seeds have a very mild flavor, so they don’t add much depth to meals (which is why you can just drink them in your water), but what they lack in taste or size, they compensate for it in nutrition.

These small-but-mighty seeds are loved by dietitians, and it’s easy to see why: they’re one of the healthiest seeds you can eat, and they’re absolutely considered a premium superfood.

The main health benefits of chia seeds

“Chia seeds are a wonderful plant-based food for people to increase their intake of omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and more,” Volpe says. “From supporting heart health and blood sugar balance to aiding digestion and regularity, chia seeds are a (smart) herbal ally for most people to have on hand.”

Here’s the full breakdown of why you should add chia seeds to your weekly menu.

Chia seeds are rich in gut-healthy fiber.

Fiber is crucial for gut and overall health, but too many people don’t get enough of it. It’s estimated that 5% of Americans have adequate fiber intake, leaving the vast majority – around 95% – of the population falling below the recommended daily allowance. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends at least 25 grams of fiber per day for women and 38 grams for men. A way to achieve these goals? Add a spoonful of chia seeds here and there.

“Chia seeds are a fantastic source of fiber,” says registered dietitian Kristi Ruth, RD, LDN. “Because fiber has been strongly linked to improving everything from cholesterol levels to bowel regularity, it’s critical that we find simple and practical ways to increase our daily fiber intake.”

One ounce of chia seeds contains nearly 10 grams of dietary fiber, according to USDA data, so what could be simpler than that? A typical serving of chia seeds is two tablespoons, which contain an impressive 8 grams of fiber.

Specifically, the type of fiber found in chia seeds is particularly beneficial. “Chia seeds contain a significant amount of insoluble fiber (making up 85-93% of the total fiber in chia seeds), which is important for supporting healthy digestion and regularity by increasing stool bulk and reducing the time of transit.

Chia seeds are a complete protein.

Vegetarians and vegans, this one is especially for you. All animal products are complete protein sources, meaning they contain all nine essential amino acids, but not all plant protein sources are complete proteins. Most seeds don’t contain all of the essential amino acids, making them incomplete proteins (that doesn’t make them unhealthy, not at all, it’s just a way of categorizing which foods provide which amino acids).

However, chia seeds are an exception. “They’re a complete protein because they contain all the essential amino acids,” says registered dietitian Lexi Moriarty, RD, CSSD, adding that it helps give you sustained energy levels throughout the day.

For meat and plant eaters, chia seeds are a good source of protein, providing nearly 5 grams per ounce.

Chia seeds are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids.

Nuts and seeds are well known as good sources of healthy fats, and chia seeds definitely fall into that category. “Chia seeds are 20-34% fat, with most of it coming from plant-based, heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, including linolenic acid (ALA),” says Volpe, citing a 2019 review. Additionally, a recent meta-analysis from 2022 concluded that increasing dietary ALA may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by 10% and the risk of fatal coronary heart disease by up to 20%. %.

While other nuts and seeds, especially walnuts and flaxseeds, are also high in omega-3 fatty acids, chia seeds may have the upper hand. When you eat lots of high-fat foods, it’s easy to get a lot more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3s. While they’re both good for you, getting significantly more omega-6 fatty acids can cause inflammation in the body, according to a 2021 review. So it’s important to consider this ratio . Chia seeds have been shown to have an advantageous ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 compared to other sources of healthy fats.

Chia seeds support a heart-healthy lifestyle.

Many of the nutrients in chia seeds, including the fats mentioned above, lend themselves to their heart-healthy benefits. Heart disease remains the number one cause of death in the United States, so prioritizing heart health is critical, and we can all do that by adopting a heart-healthy diet and lifestyle.

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, eating chia seeds may help improve markers of heart health, such as cholesterol, blood pressure, and more.

“Chia seeds can help rid the body of cholesterol,” says Moriarty. “A recent study confirmed that chia seeds are helpful in reducing blood pressure, blood clot risk, cholesterol and minimizing cell damage.” The impressive array of fiber, antioxidants, and omega-3s like ALA also contribute to the potential heart health benefits.

Chia seeds are very rich in antioxidants.

You can associate antioxidants with fruits and vegetables, but you can add chia seeds to the list of antioxidant-rich foods. “Chia seeds are an excellent source of antioxidants, which can help the body prevent disease and improve longevity,” says Moriarty.

They have been shown to possess potent antioxidant activity, delivering antioxidants like chlorogenic acid, caffeic acid, myricetin, quercetin, and kaempferol. Volpe highlights the importance of quercetin in chia seeds: “Chia seeds are a naturally abundant source of this type of antioxidant, which is anti-inflammatory, antiviral and may even help the body build resilience against certain kinds of cancer.” According to a 2022 review, quercetin can cross the blood-brain barrier, so it may even protect against neurodegenerative diseases.

In addition, antioxidants neutralize free radicals. When left unchecked, these unstable molecules can cause all sorts of damage that can lead to disease, but antioxidants can protect against free radical damage.

Chia seeds can help reduce inflammation.

Inflammation isn’t always a bad thing, it’s part of the body’s natural defenses against harmful stimuli, from injuries to colds. But chronic inflammation can get you in trouble. Chronic low-grade inflammation is often described as a “silent killer” because it’s associated with chronic diseases like diabetes, cancer, autoimmune diseases, and more, according to Harvard Medical School. Certain foods (like chia seeds!) can help reduce and manage inflammation in the body.

“Chia seeds are an excellent plant-based source of ALA omega-3 fatty acids, which are well known to have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body,” says Ruth. “This anti-inflammatory effect may help reduce your risk of developing various chronic diseases.” The anti-inflammatory properties of chia seeds have been documented and shown to reduce chronic inflammation.

How to add chia seeds to your diet

Getting more chia seeds into your system is easy. According to Ruth, chia seeds have a long shelf life. Although they are best consumed within a year, they can last for years in your pantry!

“Some of my favorite ways to enjoy chia seeds are adding a tablespoon or two to smoothies, overnight oats, chia pudding, and homemade strawberry chia jam. or raspberry,” says Volpe.

“Chia seeds are great because they’re so easy to sprinkle on cereal, toast, or oatmeal,” Moriarty says. If you want to get really creative in the kitchen, you can add chia seeds to baked goods, pancakes, waffles, popsicles and more.

Some people even add chia seeds directly to plain water to combine their micronutrients with hydration.

Besides adding chia seeds to classics like smoothies, oatmeal, pudding and jam, Ruth suggests incorporating them into energy bites or using them as a plant-based egg replacement in some baking recipes. However you eat them, your body will thank you.

5 easy chia seed recipes

Raspberry Chia Jam

Heather Meldrom

Strawberry and chia seed breakfast pudding

Greg Du Pree

No-Bake Lemon Chia Bars

Pesto Chia Pilaf

Alison Miksch

PB&J Overnight Oatmeal

Antonis Achilleos

Leave a Comment