If you are looking for a real superfood - Chia seeds could be the answer. They are truly nature's perfect food. They are chock full of nutrients to help both body and mind.
Here are the top scientifically-proven benefits from a health perspective:
High in Nutrients, Low in Calories
Chia seeds come from a plant that is distantly related to common mint and is native to South America. The indigenous peoples of South America prized these seeds for their energy enhancing effects. But only recently has the spotlight been returned to Chia seeds. Since then, they have become a dietary staple for people wanting to look after their health.
Don't let the size fool you - these are little powerhouses. In just 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) of these seeds you get:
- 11g of fiber
- 4g of protein
- 9g of fat (Half of this is in the form of Omega-3's)
- 18% of the recommended daily allowance for calcium
- 30% of the recommended daily allowance for magnesium
- 30% of the recommended daily allowance for manganese
- 27% of the recommended daily allowance for phosphorus
As if that wasn't enough, they also contain significant levels of vitamins B1, B2 and B3 as well as Zinc and Potassium. All for less than 140 calories and about 1g of carbs. If you also consider that the fiber is not digestible, the total calorie count comes down to about 100. This means that they are the best source in the world for a number of different essential nutrients and give you the best bang for your calorie count.
Still not convinced? They are also classified as whole grains, are not processed, are often grown using organic methods, have no gluten and are not genetically modified.
They are Brimming with Antioxidants
They also come out top when you consider how many antioxidants they have. While supplementing antioxidants is pretty much a waste of time, if you can source them naturally, you can win health wise. Antioxidants are key in the fight against free radicals, molecules which can play a part in damaging otherwise healthy cells and contribute to aging and diseases like cancer.
The Carbs are Pretty Much All Fiber
If you are following a low-carb diet, the carb count of 12g may put you off a bit. Great news - only 1g of those carbs is in a digestible form - the rest is fiber. Fiber cannot increase blood sugar and so does not evoke an insulin response. It, therefore, ought not to count as a carbohydrate. Chia seeds are thus low-carb. Overall, 40% of their mass is fiber. This merits their inclusion in the list of top fiber sources worldwide.
Another upside to the fiber content is that the seeds absorb around about 10 times what they weigh when exposed to liquid. So they swell in the stomach and help to create a feeling of satiety. They also slow the absorption of other foods.
Fiber is also necessary if you want to feed the good bacteria in your gut. This is vital to health.
They Have Top Class Protein
As we know, not all proteins are created equal. With a high protein count of about 14%, the quality of the protein in chia becomes more important. The protein here contains a decent balance of amino acids that are vital to health. In addition, this protein intake is a dieter's best friend. Eating top class protein with meals helps to reduce your appetite for the whole day. It helps you to feel full and can help stop obsessing over food. Your tendency for midnight snacking is likely to be cut significantly.
High Fiber + High Protein = Weight Loss?
A lot of health professionals view Chia as a weight loss tool. The satiety factor and high protein help in curbing your appetite. The problem is that the studies aiming to prove the benefits in terms of losing weight have not been encouraging. A study did prove that the seed could help in curbing your appetite, but that there was really no noticeable effect when it came to weight loss.
A group of 90 people with weight problems ate 50g of Chia every day over a three month period and there was no difference when it came to weight loss or improved health indicators. Another study had 62 women eating Chia seeds for ten weeks but this also had no impact on weight loss. Levels of Omega-3 in the bloodstream increased though. So Chia seeds eaten on their own are not going to get you where you need to be weight-wise but they are still a valuable food to be included in your diet.
As with any diet plan, there is not one super food that makes weight magically disappear. You have to take a more holistic view. Do this and Chia will be a powerful force in helping you to lose weight.
They Have a Lot of Omega-3s But...
Chia and flaxseeds contain lots of Omega-3s. Chia is actually a better source than salmon, if you look at it weight-wise. What you do need to remember is that these mostly consist of ALA and that is not as good for you as you may believe. The body needs to convert this into a more useable format to benefit you but evolution has left us ill-equipped to convert it. For that reason, fish is a better option - there may be fewer Omega-3s but they are available in a more useable form.
Chia should thus not be your main source of Omega-3s. Either eat fish or take a supplement.
Chia Seeds May Help to Improve Markers in the Blood
Considering the high levels of protein, Omega-3s and fiber, you should get definite health benefits in terms of your metabolic system. This has also been subjected to rigorous study but so far the jury is still out.
A couple of studies did indeed show an improvement in LDL levels and a decrease in inflammation but there were other factors at play here as well. Because of the other seeds included, no conclusions about Chia could be drawn. Chia seeds have been proven to be a health benefit when it comes to cholesterol, visceral fat and syndrome X in rodents, but results tend to fluctuate suggesting that the Chia was not the main contributing factor.
It is best to assume that there is some benefit to you in terms of the risk indicators when it comes to Chia but that you cannot rely on it as the sole protective measure that you adopt.
Lots of Nutrients for the Skeletal System
There are a number of essential nutrients in Chia that are needed for a healthy skeletal system including magnesium, calcium, phosphorus and protein. Its calcium content is especially good - nearly 20% of what you need on a daily basis in one ounce. This is an impressive showing when compared to dairy sources. If you do not eat dairy products, Chia is a viable alternative.
It Can Help with Type II Diabetes
When it comes to health benefits, chia shines when it comes to adult-onset diabetes. A study of 20 people with diabetes had participants eat either an ounce of chia or an ounce of wheat bran daily over a 3 month period. Those taking chia demonstrated a positive effect when it came to the most important markers of good health. Blood pressure dropped and one of the markers of inflammation reduced by almost half. Sugar levels did decrease a little but not enough to cause concern.
Considering the fiber content, it is logical that Chia could help to prevent dangerous spikes in sugar after a meal. More studies are needed in this respect though.
The Ultimate Sports Drink
According to lore, Chia seeds were an important performance enhancer in indigenous South Americans. A study conducted more recently seems to bear this out. The study had participants consume a mix of Chia and Gatorade or just plain Gatorade. They were then put through their paces on treadmills for an hour before setting out on a 10km run. No discernable difference could be made at the end of the trial. Even by swapping out half of the traditional sports drink, the athletes still performed as well as their competitors. Chia is thus of great use for athletes.
This is encouraging - it seems to indicate there is no need for copious amounts of carbs and sugar before an endurance race. I do think that this needs to be investigated further though - it doesn't ring true considering the low carb count of the seeds.
Chia Seeds are Easy to Use
The problem with a lot of health foods is that they are difficult to incorporate. This is not true of Chia though - it has no real flavor to speak of so it can be added to whatever you want. You don't have to grind Chia either - you can simply sprinkle it over your breakfast or add it to a smoothie. They are a viable substitute for eggs and can help to thicken a sauce as well. If you want to, you can soak them in water to get a gel-like texture.
Overall, the nutritional benefits of these seeds are huge.
They are easy to digest but do take care to introduce them slowly if your fiber intake has been low. Most people work on about one and a half tablespoons morning and evening.