Guide To Chia Seeds: Benefits, Nutrition & Weight Loss
You have probably heard the word chia. It reminds most of us of some kind of furry clay figurine. But chia pets aside, chia seeds are actually are also a healthy dietary addition.
Chia seeds are seeds that come from the desert plant Salvia hispanica. This plant is a member of the mint family and is sold under the common name "chia."
The origins of chia are believed to be somewhere in Central America, dating back to the time of the Aztecs. During this time the seeds were an important part of their diet and were used primarily by Native Americans in the southwestern United States.
However, chia seeds gained massive attention in the 21st century. They became known as an excellent natural supplement and a great source of omega-3 fatty acids. In numbers, about two tablespoons of chia contain about 10 grams of fiber, proteins, and minerals including iron, calcium, magnesium, and zinc.
From these benefits, many people have started their chia seeds nutrition missions. It was realized that these seeds can actually help prevent a lot of health risks and improve cardiovascular functions in general. On top of that, the benefits of chia seeds are endless - from lowering cholesterol and blood pressure to stabilizing the triglycerides.
Below, we are going in more detail regarding the history of chia seeds, followed by the chia seeds benefits, nutrition, and side effects.
Chia Seed History: Getting to Know the Origins
As we established, chia seeds were discovered in ancient times. They can be either black or white (brown indicates that they are unripe).
Some of the first evidence of chia seeds use appears with the Aztecs in as early as 3500 B.C. Chia seeds were used in their natural state. In 1500 B.C. chia seeds were grown in Mexico by the Teotihuacan and Toltec people, which found some surprising uses for this food product.
During this time chia seeds were used for many things - from medicine to drinks, and even mixed into flour and pressed for oil. It was believed that chia seeds could be stored for long periods of time. This made them perfect for traveling.
Chia seeds soon became used as a sacrifice in religious ceremonies. They were seen as sacred and were protected by these early civilizations.
The Mayans were actually the first to believe that the chia seed has some supernatural powers. In fact, they named them chia seeds after "chia" which means "strength" in Mayan. This probably had a lot to do with the large amounts of energy that chia seeds are providing - something that was later confirmed with a lot of studies and research.
Chia seeds nearly disappeared from history for a while during the Spanish inquisition. They were mainly banned because of religious uses. However, modern times brought the chia seeds back to the people.
Today, chia is grown in several Latin American countries. However, Australia is one of the largest producers of chia seeds and is slowly becoming the main producer of chia.
12 Chia Seeds Benefits - From the Body to the Brain
According to many experts, chia seeds are among the healthiest foods of the planet. There is soundproof to back this opinion; the nutrients in chia seeds have generally been shown to provide important benefits for the body, brain, and for overall physiological functioning.
So, in what ways can we expect chia seeds to improve our bodies, brain, and overall health?
1. Micronutrient-dense food with few calories
The first benefit of chia seeds is linked to the fact that they are packed with tons of nutrients - and yet very few calories. As such, chia seeds nutrition has been vital ever since the time of the Mayans and the Aztecs.
Over the past decade, chia seeds have exploded in popularity. They are now a common choice for the health-conscious because of their benefits. Basically, one ounce of chia (28 grams) contains 11 grams of fiber, 4 grams of protein, 9 grams of fat (with 5g being omega-3s), as well as significant amounts of calcium, manganese, magnesium, and phosphorus.
The list of nutrients doesn't end here. Chia seeds also contain decent amounts of potassium, vitamin B1 and B2, zinc, as well as niacin (vitamin B3). Regarding calories, chia seeds only contain 101 calories per ounce which makes them the world's best source of several important nutrients compared to the calorie intake.
2. Chia seeds are high in protein
There are a lot of foods that are high in protein - and chia seeds are one of them.
The numbers can confirm this as well. With about 14% protein, chia seeds can compete with most of the plants and natural protein sources. However, what makes them even more powerful is the balance of essential amino acids which actually stabilizes the protein levels in the body.
As you may know, protein is important in every diet. As such, the chia seeds weight loss benefits are endless and go as far as one of the most weight loss-friendly nutrient in the world. While the protein found in them can reduce your appetite, it will also give your body a great nutritional value (with fewer calories consumed).
3. Most of the carbs found in chia seeds are fiber
When you see the nutritional value of chia seeds, you will notice that one ounce has 12 grams of carbs. As frightening as this seems when it comes to weight loss, with chia seeds you should know that 11 of those (12) grams are fiber which is not actually digested by your body.
Instead, fiber can be beneficial to your boy as it doesn't raise blood sugar or require insulin to be disposed of - which means that it doesn't make you fatter. This fact actually makes chia seeds low-carb friendly food and gives them the ability to absorb up to 10-12 times of their weight in water because of the fiber.
If you have read about foods rich in fiber before, you probably know that they are able to kill all the bacteria in the intestine and become gel-like while expanding in your stomach. As such, they can actually kill your food cravings and give your body great nutritional value.
4. Antioxidant-rich and are (naturally) gluten-free
Chia seeds are gluten-free. Since they are a "whole grain" food, they are usually grown organically which means that they are non-GMO and as such are naturally free of gluten.
Aside from gluten, chia seeds are also loaded with antioxidants which makes them protect the sensitive fats in the seeds. And even though you may see them as ineffective just because they are rich in antioxidants, the truth is that chia seeds are packed with antioxidants naturally which means that they can have positive effects on your health.
Just in case you don't know anything about antioxidants - they fight the production of free radicals which can wreck the molecules in your cells and contribute to aging or serious diseases.
5. High protein and fiber makes chia seeds great for weight loss
A lot of health experts and nutritionists recommend chia seeds for weight loss. This is mainly because of their high protein and fiber value which works great in combination. Wondering how?
Well... While the fiber absorbs large amounts of water and expands in your stomach, the protein will actually be absorbed by your body and give you energy while reducing your appetite and food intake. If you are on a weight loss diet, chia seeds can help you maintain your body weight levels and help you eat clean.
Even though there are no actual results that confirm amazing results in terms of body weight loss with chia seeds, a lot of experts agree that they are a useful addition that helps in numerous ways.
6. Chia seeds are packed with omega-3 fatty acids
Chia seeds are high in omega-3 fatty acids. Their value even goes beyond the omega-3s found in salmon. However, the omega-3s found in chia seeds are mostly ALA (Alpha Linolenic Acid) which means that they need to be converted into the active forms (EPA and DHA) before they can be used by the body.
Still, the omega fatty acids are great if you are supplementing with fish oil or taking a DHA supplement if you are vegan or vegetarian. They can help your brain and body and stabilize your blood levels.
7. Improve metabolic health and lower risk of many heart and blood-related diseases
The high fiber and protein levels in chia seeds make them able to improve your metabolic health - but also stabilize your blood on many levels and help you fight off many serious diseases in the long run.
In a nutshell, supplementing with chia seeds has shown to be a method with great results. In two studies, regular chia seeds nutrition has been linked to low levels of cholesterol and triglycerides and higher levels of HDL cholesterol (the good one) while reducing inflammation.
As you probably know, all of these blood levels are crucial when preventing the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. In many rat studies, chia seeds were found to confirm these results and reduce inflammation, insulin resistance, and belly fat.
8. Chia seeds are rich in bone-bolstering nutrients
From calcium to phosphorus, magnesium, and protein - chia seeds are high in nutrients that are important for bone health.
The calcium content is the one stealing the show here, with around 18% of the RDA in chia seeds per a single ounce. Gram for gram, this is a lot higher than most of the dairy products, and chia seeds are considered as an excellent source of calcium for people who don't eat dairy.
Aside from calcium, chia seeds are high in magnesium, phosphorus, and protein which are all nutrients essential for bone health.
9. Chia seeds can boost exercise performance (and be the best sports drink)
The Aztecs and Mayans not only consumed chia seeds to get optimal nutrition - they also did so to increase their power and exercise performance. In fact, chia seeds were the best source of energy for them, and new studies have also confirmed that.
One of these studies had one group of people "load with carbs" from Gatorade and another from chia seeds. After running for an hour on a treadmill, there was no difference between the two groups - which confirms that chia seeds are as great for exercise performance as Gatorade.
What is good about chia seeds is that they can help athletes to load their body with carbs while increasing their intake of protein and nutrients. Unlike many carbs, though, chia seeds are not full of sugar which also benefits the exercise performance.
10. They have been found to improve results in type 2 diabetics
One of the most successful studies ever done on chia seeds is the one done on a group of type 2 diabetic patients. The study basically took 20 diabetic patients who received either 37 grams of chia seeds (the alpha group) or 37 grams of wheat bran (the beta group) for 12 weeks.
After the first few weeks, the alpha group taking chia seeds saw major improvements in several crucial health markers. Their blood pressure went down by 3 to 6 mm/Hg, accompanied by the inflammatory marker called hs-CRP which also went down by 40% and a risk factor called vWF which also decreased by 21%. The blood sugar also dropped a bit, but not enough to cause significant results.
Even though most of these markers are not common to people on an everyday basis, they are all crucial for preventing the development of type 2 diabetes.
11. Great for the bones and teeth
The high amounts of calcium, phosphorus, vitamin A and zinc also make chia seeds perfect for dental health and bone health. Even though they tend to get in-between our teeth when consumed raw, the nutritional value of chia seeds and calcium as the main building block are actually incremental for tooth and bone health.
Zinc, on the other hand, prevents tartar by keeping plaque from mineralizing onto your teeth and as such has a great antibacterial effect. Vitamin A and phosphorus are also vital for strong teeth and do a great job in keeping the germs away.
12. Fighting breast and cervical cancer
Last but not least is a benefit that makes chia seeds even more powerful - their effects in preventing and fighting breast and cervical cancer.
This is mainly due to the alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) found in chia seeds which is actually an omega-3 fatty acid. According to many experts and studies, ALA limits the growth of cancer cells in both breast and cervical cancers.
On top of that, many researchers have found that by consuming chia seeds (and with that ALA), you can kill the cancer cells without harming your normal healthy cells. Even though there should be more research n this topic, what's true is that the ALA prevents and fights many types of cancer - especially breast cancer and cervical cancer.
Now that you know the main chia seeds benefits, let's talk about how you can actually incorporate chia seeds in your diet.
Chia Seeds: Incorporating Them in Your Diet?
When it comes to chia seeds and diets for weight loss, it is safe to say that they can be easily incorporated in any diet.
The truth is, chia seeds taste bland so they can be added to pretty much anything. From your protein shakes to your standard oatmeal breakfast, you can eat them soaked in juice, added to porridge and pudding or even added to your baked goods.
Basically, chia seed diets are great because they:
- Suppress your appetite - The fiber in your chia seeds is known to absorb a lot of water and cause your stomach to expand - which actually makes you feel full and slows down your food absorption. Chia seeds react whenever they are put into some type of liquid and the fibers in them can absorb their own weight up to 10 or 12 times, creating a gel-like mass.
- Are digested more slowly than carbohydrates - The fiber found in chia seeds is digested more slowly than refined carbs. Not only it's healthier, but it is also linked to acetate which is an anti-appetite molecule that tells your brain when you are full and when you should stop eating.
- Limit your food intake - since they contain 19% protein, they limit your food intake from 15% to 30% of the total calories, according to research. Even though these numbers are similar to other seeds, the chia seeds contain more proteins compared to a majority of cereals and grains.
- Stabilize your blood sugar levels - Your body is susceptible to changing blood sugar levels which leads to food cravings and sugar cravings - and foods like sweets and refined sugars. This leads to weight gain and potentially diabetes - and is something that chia seeds excel in stabilizing.
- Provide constipation relief - The fiber found in chia seeds is comprised of insoluble and soluble fiber - both of which are helpful to weight loss. So, chia seeds are able to absorb water which adds bulk to the stool while also making it soft and malleable. This allows fecal matter to pass through the digestive tract with ease.
- Enhances your exercise - Chia seed nutrition is great for pre and post workouts - only because of their high protein content. For example, having chia seeds a few hours before an intense workout can help you provide fat for fuel even after your carbs are diminished.
On the other hand, eating chia seeds after a workout can also provide valuable tissue repairing proteins.
So, you can also sprinkle chia seeds on top of your cereal, yogurt, veggies or rice. Since they absorb both water and fat, they have been proven to cause weight loss and have been even used as egg substitutes in many recipes - shown below.
Chia Seeds And Pregnancy: Should You Eat Them?
The chia seeds are also very beneficial as a snack during pregnancy, where expectant mothers can incorporate them into their diets. Since pregnancy is a period where the important nutrients from the body are depleted, eating chia seeds can help replace these nutrients while providing an energy boost.
Not only they benefit the mother's health - chia seeds also help the baby develop well - mostly because of the following reasons:
- They are a great source of omega-3s which are essential for the baby's brain development.
- They are actively replenishing the lost nutrients and essential minerals (magnesium, manganese, copper, zinc, iron, and niacin) - especially important during the final three months of pregnancy where adequate calcium is needed for proper skeletal development.
- They are absorbing sugars slow, which keeps the blood sugar levels stable during pregnancy.
- They are a great energy booster that will improve your mood during pregnancy and slow down the process of converting sugars into energy.
From this, it is safe to say that chia seeds nutrition is recommended for mothers during pregnancy, especially during late pregnancy. However, you should be cautious and consult with a doctor when it comes to dosage - or play it safe and keep the dosage at no more than one to two tablespoons per day.
The Best Chia Seeds Recipes and Ideas
Starting your day with a meal that contains chia can help you shred off the fat from your body in the long run - but also stabilize your weight and feel full longer. Since chia takes the hunger away and makes your stomach full, it can help you with your diet - whether it is sprinkled into your favorite smoothie, added to your baked bread or yogurt.
You can even sprinkle ground chia seeds into your eggs when you make scrambled eggs or omelets or make the famous chia pancakes by using egg whites, banana puree, and whole or ground chia seeds.
Wondering how can you try the perfect chia seeds diet? Here are some tips:
- Pour some chia seeds into your detox water - And let the seeds soak overnight before slurping them down.
- Sprinkle them onto sweet potatoes - The taste will be amazing.
- Add them to your sliced fruit and combine with nut butter - Apples or bananas, chia seeds are great when added on top of your nut or peanut butter.
- Mix them into your applesauce - A great chia seed recipe for appetite and a slim waistline.
- Top them off a fruit salad - Chia seeds and fruits are always a great combo that is rich in healthy fats and fiber.
- Add them to your dressing - Your favorite salad just got better and richer with omega-3s - not to mention full of more nutrients.
- Add them to your avocado toast - If you haven't tried this recipe, you should definitely put it on your list and combine it with chia seeds.
- Mix chia seeds with pureed berries - And create the perfect low-sugar 'jam' for your yogurt mix.
- Blend them into your pudding - Your pudding with berries just got more nutritious, all thanks to chia seeds.
- Add them to your Greek yogurt - One or two tablespoons are enough to create a healthy portion.
- Toss them into your smoothie - Any kind of smoothie works well with chia seeds.
- Try the chia-topped cauliflower medallions - It all starts with swapping potatoes for finely chopped cauliflower and combining them with cheese or onions.
- Add them to your homemade bites - If you are a fan of baking, you can always add chia seeds on top of your bread or custom energy bites.
- Mix them into your oatmeal - This is one of the most common chia seeds recipes.
- Add them to your pancakes - Traditional pancakes can get boring, and the best way to spice up the taste is by sprinkling chia seeds all over them.
- Make the classic chia peanut butter - A few spoonfuls of chia seeds into your peanut butter can be the best thing you ever tried.
- Combine them with meat - You can use one cup f almond meal mixed with 1 tablespoon of chia seeds and a combo of herbs and spices to make your meat better.
- Turn them into popsicles - Swap the refined sugars in ice creams with a healthier alternative - transforming your childhood favorite into a wholesome dessert.
- Add them to your soup - Your pureed veggie broth just got better.
- Blend them into your dessert - It's hard to stay away from desserts, but not when you are on a chia seed diet, right?
As you can see, there are numerous ways to add chia seeds into your diet. According to many, this is the best thing about the entire chia seeds nutrition topic.
How To Eat Chia Seeds?
If you ever tasted chia seeds in your mouth, you probably know the uncommon mild and nutty taste which makes them a great addition to many dishes as a garnish. However, you should know that chewing the small seeds like flax or chia won't make most of their nutritional value and doesn't make the omega-3s readily available for digestion and assimilation.
That is why we recommend consuming your chia seeds in some of the following ways.
What's Best - Raw Or Soaking Chia Seeds?
A lot of people are wondering if they should be soaking their chia seeds before eating. While some do the soaking, others eat them straight in their raw form. However, the best-case scenario is obvious once you realize that raw chia seeds actually make it harder for your body to get all of their nutritional value.
So, soaking chia seeds are much easier to digest and allow your body to access the dense nutrients inside the seeds. Since this is the best way to get the most nutrition out of chia seeds, it is definitely the choice you should be after.
How To Soak Chia Seeds?
The best way to soak your chia seeds is to mix them with water or milk - in a 1:10 ratio which is basically about 1.5 tablespoons chia seeds in one cup of water. Even though this number doesn't have to be exact - it will make them ideal - not too dense and not too watery.
As soon as you soak them in water or milk, you should mix them for 3-4 minutes and then let them sit for about 30 minutes to 2-3 hours. That is because chia seeds can hold up to 12 times their weight in water, which means that they are perfect for preventing dehydration. However, you should still drink plenty of water throughout the day and keep your body hydrated.
Ground Chia Seeds In A Coffee Grinder
Another great alternative to chia seeds in water or milk is to grind them in a coffee grinder, a Vitamix or Nutribullet. The point here is to break down the hard outer shells before actually consuming them. In a pulverized form like this, they can also be used in chia seeds recipes like pancakes, muffins, bread, and even pasta.
However, you should know that when grinding, the omega-3s may lose some of their nutritional value. That is why experts recommend storing your chia seeds in a sealed glass container either in your refrigerator or freezer.
Whole Chia Seeds
Last but not least is the option to eat your chia seeds whole. This means eating a spoonful straight - however, make sure to be careful as they will probably manage to find their way somewhere between your teeth.
In fact, because of this many people decide to either ground them or eat chia seeds with milk or water. Now is the right time to start and get all the wonderful benefits.
Chia Seeds Nutrition: How Much Should You Eat Daily?
Chia seeds are nutritious - however, that doesn't mean that you can eat as much as you want. On the flip side, there hasn't been research that says what exact amount of chia seeds is recommended. Instead, all research is preliminary and conflicting on the potential health benefits of the small black seeds.
According to experts, a right dosage of chia seeds is one of 25 grams which is slightly less than an ounce - as the most reasonable amount you can eat in a day. But what's the nutritional value of chia seeds - more precisely, one ounce of chia seeds?
Calories and macronutrients
One ounce of chia seeds (two tablespoons) contains around 136 calories, 4.6 grams of protein, 8.6 grams of fat and 12 grams of carbohydrates. However, only 0.9 grams of the fat is unhealthy and saturated fat - and about 9.6 grams of the carbohydrates are actually fiber - which helps you lower the risk of heart diseases, high blood sugar, and cholesterol.
Vitamins and minerals
When it comes to vitamins and minerals, an ounce of chia seeds has more than 10% of thiamine, niacin, iron, copper, and calcium - as well as more than 20% of selenium, manganese, phosphorus, and magnesium.
While thiamine and niacin help you convert the food into energy, iron and copper are forming red blood cells. Calcium, manganese, and phosphorus, on the other hand, are important for strong and healthy bones, while selenium acts as an antioxidant that limits cell damage.
As we said earlier, most of the evidence regarding the health benefits of chia seeds is based on small animal studies - where chia seeds were found to lower cholesterol levels, high blood pressure and prevent heart diseases.
Best Way to Consume Chia Seeds
You can mix the chia seeds with water in order to form an egg or oil replacement - or sprinkle them into smoothies, cereal or yogurt in order to add fiber and nutrients to them (check the chia seeds recipes above).
However, the main takeaway is that combining chia seeds with other foods can also cause some gastrointestinal disorders such as gases or bloating. That is why you should drink plenty of water, keep your body hydrated and increase the fiber intake gradually in order to limit this risk.
Chia Seeds Side Effects: Are There Any Potential Dangers?
When it comes to chia seeds and side effects, just like every food - there are some you should know about.
The main side effects of chia seeds are the ones linked to prostate cancer. According to a study done with ALA and prostate cancer, it was shown that fatty acids could increase the risk of prostate cancer. The study was later repeated and showed some bias.
Another study in 2010 found that the ALA found in chia seeds did not actually increase the risk of prostate cancer - but actually decreased it according to the examined participants. However, the general side effects of chia seeds don't go further than occasional stomach discomfort in cases where these seeds are consumed in high amounts.
So, the best advice at this point is to keep the chia seeds nutrition at the recommended levels which means to stick to not more than two tablespoons of chia seeds on a daily basis.
A Final Word on Chia Seeds
In the end, it is safe to say that chia seeds are among the best discoveries of the modern world - yet also a food that has been dating back to thousands of years ago and many ancient civilizations. However, the best thing about chia seeds is the fact that they are pretty versatile and can be eaten in a variety of ways.
As you saw, there are tons of chia seed recipes you can make use of and consume your daily dose of chia seeds in a quick way. If you choose to incorporate them into your diet or take them on a daily basis, you will have a stronger body, bones and overall improve your health. Whether you are exercising or not, chia seeds can help you store more protein in your body and give you the energy you need prior or after every workout.
At last, the chia seeds benefits are endless. They help with skin, aging, digestive health, energy, metabolism, bones and teeth, muscle, weight loss as well as when preventing a lot of cancers and heart diseases, stabilizing the blood pressure and keeping your cholesterol and triglyceride levels low.
Are you consuming chia seeds on a daily basis? Let us know in the comments below!