Chia seeds are an ancient superfood -- they were a mainstay of Aztec and Mayan diets because of their nutritional value. The word "chia" means strength in the Mayan language, and the seeds were known as runner's fuel. This concentrated protein source is also rich in fiber, helping keep the body full and energized for hours. Chia seeds are easy to add to any diet and can be used to make puddings, added to baked goods, or sprinkled on cereal or savory dishes. When added to a liquid, chia seeds expand into a gel, which makes them a great plant-based option for thickening sauces or replacing eggs.
Chia seeds are high in fiber, which can help facilitate the absorption of water, making the stomach expand and feel fuller, quicker. Fiber also helps the digestive system run smoothly and regularly. The high-protein content in chia seeds may also help control appetite. Combined with a healthy, balanced diet and regular exercise, chia seeds could play a role in reaching a healthy weight.
Fiber stimulates digestion. Eleven out of the 12 grams of carbohydrates in chia seeds are fiber. Unlike other carbohydrates, fiber does not require as much energy because it does not raise blood sugar or require insulin. Chia seeds offer 40 percent of the daily recommended intake of fiber. Foods that are lower in fiber, or full of simple carbohydrates and sugars, move quickly through the gut, preventing valuable nutrients from being fully absorbed. A high-fiber diet can slow down digestion, leading to improved blood sugar levels.
A diet high in sugars and simple carbohydrates can cause fluctuating blood sugar levels that can lead to cravings obesity and diabetes. Chia seeds are a rich source of protein and omega-3s, the combination of which can help improve metabolic health and stabilize blood sugar levels. People with pre-diabetes, metabolic syndrome, or type 2 diabetes, must carefully control their blood sugar levels. Choosing high-fiber, high-protein foods including chia seeds can help manage digestion and avoid the spikes and crashes that poor diets and empty calories can cause.
The health benefits of chia seeds reach all the way to the heart. As a source of omega-3 fatty acids, chia seeds can help reduce inflammation and decrease the chance of developing deep vein and arterial thrombosis or arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat). Chia seeds can also help raise HDL, the healthy cholesterol, which will help reduce plaque in the arteries and improve brain and cognitive function.
The carbohydrates in chia seeds have a slow conversion time, which means they fuel the body for longer. Because they take so long to digest, they slow down digestion, which makes nutrients available for a longer period. Many endurance athletes, especially marathon runners, snack on chia seeds to improve their performance. Chia seeds are also added to energy bars and meal replacement bars for their protein content and ability to sustain energy.
It is ideal to avoid workout drinks loaded with sugar and caffeine. Not only can they make us feel edgy or jittery, but water is the most important fluid to help keep the body hydrated. Instead of processed pre-workout beverages, achieve a natural boost that will enhance both pre- and post-workout performance with chia seeds. Just a spoonful of the seeds mixed with water and a splash of lemon can help sustain hydration and energy during exertion.
A one-ounce serving of chia seeds contains approximately five grams of protein -- about ten percent of the average daily requirement of this nutrient. The seeds also contain amino acids necessary for muscle repair and growth. Chia seeds are ideal for people who choose a vegetarian or vegan diet; adding chia seeds to smoothies, soups, or salads can increase the protein intake for people who don't eat meat or dairy.
One way amino acids improve health is by promoting the production of neurotransmitters. Tryptophan, an amino acid in chia seeds, can help people feel more calm and sedated. It helps the brain increase production and reception of serotonin -- the "happy hormone" -- and regulates melatonin levels. Serotonin relieves anxiety, while melatonin improves sleep.
The body creates natural by-products known as free radicals, a consequence of cells aging and breaking down. These molecules are dangerous to overall health because they disrupt healthy cell repair and new cell generation. Unchecked, free radicals can contribute to premature aging and cancerous growths. Antioxidants prevent the reproduction of free radicals and reduce their ratio to healthy cells. Chia seeds are high in antioxidants.
Calcium is an essential ingredient for building strong bones and preventing osteoporosis -- brittle bones that break more easily. A one-ounce serving of chia seeds contains fifteen to twenty percent of the recommended daily allowance of calcium. The seeds also contain phosphorus and magnesium, both of which are necessary to build bones and make the best use of calcium.
The teeth are constructed similarly to bones. Thus, the vitamins and minerals in chia seeds help build and strengthen teeth as well as the skeletal system. Besides calcium, vitamin A and zinc are two more beneficial nutrients in these little seeds. Zinc prevents plaque buildup, which ultimately fights the onset of tartar, too. Vitamin A helps promote saliva production, which prevents the adhesion of bacteria, thus helping keep oral diseases at bay.
Chia seeds are naturally organic, non-GMO, and raw. They do not need any pesticides or artificial supplements to grow, which means they are always free of poisonous chemicals used in the cultivation of some plants. People who follow a vegan raw diet, or otherwise wish to reduce their GMO intake, can rely on chia seeds as a healthy substitute for many animal products.
This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.