Chia seeds are one of the most studied grain in the world due to their mind-blowing nutritional content that has served countless cultures and civilizations since the ancient period. The high levels of wholesome energy and important compounds packed in the tiny structures of chia seeds put them in the impressive list of superfoods, which are mostly natural and plant-based foods that provide holistic support for the body. So what are the health benefits of chia seed that many wellness and fitness enthusiasts gush about?
Chia seed is a superfood that has been cultivated and used for its therapeutic benefits since the old times.
After discovering how small amounts of chia seeds help with boosting the body’s immunity, treating infections, and preventing diseases, people from thousands of years ago started extensively growing the plant for their medicinal properties rather than just a simple food source. Present studies have confirmed that chia seeds own well-proportioned phytonutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals that impart positive effects in the body through their immunostimulatory, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, hypoglycemic, and hypotensive properties. Read on to learn more about the wonderful advantages you can get from eating chia seeds.
What are Chia Seeds?
Chia seed is a small, edible, oval-shaped grain harvested from certain herbaceous flowering plants belonging to the Lamiaceae or sage or mint family, along with other important herbs like basil, rosemary, oregano, lavender, perilla, and thyme. The two known chia species are called Salvia columbariae and Salvia hispanica, both of which are almost similar in appearance and nutritional features.
Chia plant is thought to have been first cultivated by various Native American tribes, including Aztecs, Incans, and Mayans, naming it after a Mayan word that meant strength and considering it a highly important food source in their cultures. However, the cessation of the Aztec population due to the arrival of European colonizers lead to the decline of chia seed utilization, replacing them with rice, corn, and wheat. It is only at the beginning of the 21st century that people started giving attention to the health benefits of chia seeds again.
A few spoonfuls of nutrient-dense chia seeds a day are enough to achieve optimum health.
The low-growing chia herb is an annual, drought-tolerant plant that flourishes well in sandy, fertile lands and can grow up to a meter tall. It bears wide, green leaves and purplish-pink flowers that appear around four months after planting. Meanwhile, chia seeds resemble pinto beans but 20 times smaller, which come in different colors that range from black to brown to off-white, depending on their cultivar type. Each seed is coated with a mucilage covering that absorbs water, causing it to swell up several times its original size.
A few spoonfuls of chia seeds a day is said to be enough in fulfilling the recommended levels of protein, minerals, vitamins, and other phenolic antioxidants for the optimum development and protection of the body. To be more specific about how nutrient-dense these tiny seeds are, they carry no cholesterol while being rich in energy, healthy fats, carbohydrates, dietary fiber, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, sodium, potassium, zinc, vitamins A, E, and C, and B-vitamins like niacin, thiamin, and riboflavin.
Nutritional Profile of Chia Seeds
What are the Health Benefits of Chia Seeds?
A recent study affirms that the robust antioxidant activities of chia seeds have been proven numerous times through different designs and methods. They contain flavonol glycosides, kaempferol, quercetin, caffeic acid, chlorogenic acid, ferulic acid, linolenic acid, and myricetin, each of which scavenges free radicals, lessens oxidative damage, and lowers your risk of chronic diseases like cancer and cardiovascular diseases.
Chia seeds are chock-full of omega-3 fatty acids, particularly alpha-linolenic acid, protein, and dietary fiber, which display anti-inflammatory properties crucial for lowering levels of cholesterol and blood pressure, easing joint inflammation and pain, and improving cognitive performance. These essential anti-inflammatory nutrients also protect the body in tumor growth and development.
Essential oils from chia seeds were found to possess sesquiterpenes, which exhibit antimicrobial activities against some pathogenic microbes, such as fungi and bacteria. Several tests have proven that chia oil can be used in controlling periodontal or gum pathogens, including Aggregatibacter actinomycetemcomitans, Fusobacterium nucleatum, and Porphyromonas gingivalis.
Major Health Benefits of Chia Seeds
1. Chia seeds nourish your oral health
Daily consumption of chia seeds promotes overall oral health due to their rich antibacterial agents and mineral content. The compounds that provide nourishment and protection to both your teeth and gums include omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, iron, phosphorus, and zinc.
2. Their fiber promotes better digestion
The water-soluble mucilage constituents in the outer coating of chia seeds provide dietary fiber that aids digestion and smooth bowel regulation, thereby alleviating constipation. The gel-like substance also acts as a prebiotic, nourishing the useful bacteria in your gut.
3. They prevent osteoporosis
The ample minerals present in chia seeds play an important role in the production of red blood cells, synthesis of enzymes, mineralization of bones, and regulation of skeletal muscle movements. They contain sufficient amounts of calcium, boron, iron, magnesium, manganese, and phosphorus, each of which helps in lessening inflammation associated with arthritis, preventing joint weakness and osteoporosis, and improving body flexibility.
4. Chia seeds support diabetes treatment
Aside from being a low-glycemic food, chia seed’s antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids support the treatment and prevention of diabetes by providing a steady flow of energy while regulating the blood sugar levels, as well as glucose absorption in the body.
5. They are also good for the heart
Dietary intake of chia seeds, which are full of omega-3 fatty acids, has been linked to a simultaneous increase of good cholesterol and a decrease of bad cholesterol in the body, deeming them as one of the best heart-healthy foods. Monounsaturated omega-3 fats also reduce fats, lower high blood pressure, correct irregular heartbeat, and inhibit arterial plaque accumulation, preventing hypertension, stroke, coronary heart disease, and other heart-related ailments.
6. The seeds’ omega-3 fats ward off cancer
Clinical study shows that omega-3 fatty acids, which are abundant in chia seeds, exhibit strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions that specifically fight the growth and proliferation of breast, prostate, and colon tumor cells. It has been found that the essential fatty acids, particularly the alpha-linolenic acid, induce cytotoxicity among cancer cells through apoptosis without affecting other healthy cells.
7. Chia seeds provide ample energy
Chia seeds are becoming a popular ingredient for making energy-boosting beverages, including pre and post-workout drinks, due to their ability to fuel the body when burning carbs off and providing protein to help repair tissues. The primary nutrients responsible for these health benefits include omega-3 fats, B-vitamins, iron, zinc, and magnesium, which also soothes irritability, insomnia, fatigue, and poor memory.
8. Their nutrients maintain healthy vision
Another benefit of omega-3 fatty acids in chia seeds is lessening eye inflammation and easing dry eye syndrome (DES) symptoms, including redness, irritation, fluid discharge, and blurry vision. Eating chia seeds every day also boosts your macular, retinal, and ocular health, warding off eye disorders like macular degeneration and blindness.
9. Chia seeds are helpful for skin care
The high levels of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds in chia seeds are found helpful in increasing blood circulation, repairing the skin cells, reducing inflammation and dryness, and preventing further damage. These nutrients, especially the omega-3 fatty acids, promote your overall skin health by improving its moisture level, delaying the appearance of wrinkles and other signs of aging, treating acne, and reducing skin sagging.
10. They improve satiety and weight loss
Aside from supporting better digestion, the dietary fiber in chia seeds also enhances your satiety, making you feel full for a long time and suppressing your cravings, thereby promoting weight loss.
How to Prepare
Chia seeds are readily available throughout the year in most supermarkets. Generally, cleaned whole chia seeds, as well as ground chia flour, are sold in airtight packs or bulk bins. Simply soak them in liquid for 20 minutes or even overnight to maximize their therapeutic potential.
Here are a few serving suggestions on how you can enjoy your chia seeds:
- Usually, chia seeds are mixed with hot water or milk to make a nutritious drink, which you can enhance the flavor by adding some chopped fruits or squeezing in fresh orange, lemon, or lime.
- Ground chia seeds also make a refreshing summer beverage by adding them to fresh lemon juice and some sugar.
- Sprinkle plenty of whole or ground chia seeds over your favorite yogurt, milkshake, fruit smoothies, and other desserts.
- Toasted chia seeds are ideal for bread, muffin, and cookie preparations.
How to Select and Store
Selection: Generally, cleaned whole chia seeds, as well as ground chia flour, are sold in airtight packs or bulk bins. Make sure the seeds have a deep brown or white color, shiny surface, and no bad smell. To ensure freshness, check for any moisture in the container and the label for the “best before” date.
Storage: Unopened chia seed container can last for several months to a year when placed in a cool, dark, and dry room. However, you can store your leftover chia seeds inside an airtight box or glass jar placed in a dark, cool room to last for a few weeks.
Possible Risks and Complications
So far, chia seeds have no known allergic reactions or intolerance in humans. Children, elderly, and pregnant women can also relish the seeds in small amounts and moderation. But, with their high levels of fiber, excessive consumption of chia seeds may cause digestive issues like constipation, diarrhea, gas, bloating, and abdominal pain.
It is mind-blowing how the many potent health-promoting compounds fit in the tiny chia seeds. Their impressive nutritional value has long been savored by ancient civilizations and even more now, with the numerous scientific evidence supporting their medicinal claims. With their excellent amounts of antioxidants, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial agents, protein, energy, dietary fiber, minerals, vitamins, and other phytonutrients, chia seeds can boost your immunity against chronic conditions like cancer, diabetes, heart diseases, indigestion, osteoporosis, gum issues, macular degeneration, skin aging, and obesity.
What fruits do best go with chia seeds? Share your chia recipe with us in the comments below!