What to do with chia seeds? If you’re like me, you’ve mostly associated the word chia with grassy little pets and a cheesy infomercial. I never associated these dainty little seeds with Aztec warriors or a superfood, let alone a food at all. Chia seeds were used as currency and in religious ceremony in Mayan and Aztec culture. You may have heard of the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico’s Copper Canyon, some of the best long distance runners in the world. Chia seeds are one of their staple foods. To fuel their long distance runs the Tarahumara consume what in their language is referred to as iskiate, which pretty much equals 10,000 year old red bull.
It took me awhile to warm up to chia seeds. These little seeds absorb up to 12x their weight in water and develop a somewhat unfamiliar mucilaginous texture, that many may find weird. I urge you to try them, in the right context they are delightful and add a really interesting texture to foods that may have been boring before. I love adding them to kombucha, coconut milk and honey, mashed berries and lemon water, respectively. Some people put them in soups and stews but I prefer their context in a sweet treat or a drink.
You’ll reap the most benefits from chia seeds if you soak them. You can sprinkle them on foods without soaking however the nutrients won’t be quite as bioavailable. Typically a ratio of 1:10 is taken when soaking chia to get a “pudding”, this equals about 1.5 Tbs per cup of liquid. You can also grind chia seeds and add the flour to baked goods or use it as a thickener. It’s important to note that when you consume ground or unsoaked chia seeds that they will absorb moisture, so be sure to stay hydrated. When you soak your seeds, allow them to sit for at least 30 minutes.
A 1 ounce serving of chia seeds contains :
- Fiber: 11 grams.
- Protein: 4 grams.
- Fat: 9 grams (5 of which are Omega-3s ALA).
- Calcium: 18% of the RDA.
- Manganese: 30% of the RDA.
- Magnesium: 30% of the RDA.
- Phosphorus: 27% of the RDA.
10 Benefits of Chia Seeds
Chia seeds are high in fibre, both insoluble and soluble fibre. Soluble fibre acts as a prebiotic and works to feed the gut flora. This type of fibre ferments into short chain fatty acids with plenty of associated health benefits. Chia seeds create a gel like substance in the gut which soothes and heals the intestinal lining, making them an appropriate fibre source for people with leaky gut syndrome or IBS. The current SAD (standard american diet) contains little fibre, processed foods are void of dietary fibre. Most health conscious people turn to whole grains to satisfy their daily fibre quota, but this isn’t necessarily doing you any favours. To put a long story short, grains contain gut irritants called lectins among others, this causes inflammation and over time can damage delicate microvilli in the stomach and lead to leaky gut syndrome and other autoimmune diseases. Chia seeds are great because they contain beneficial soluble fibre, without undigestible irritants such as gluten (1).
Clinical studies show that chia seeds are an appetite suppressant (2). Because of their water absorbing properties, they expand in the gut and make you feel more satiated. Their high levels of fibre have another role to play, helping to regulate blood sugar and balance insulin levels. These magical little seeds are also rich in a variety of minerals, namely zinc. Zinc helps your body increase levels of the hormone leptin, which regulates appetite and energy expenditure.
3.Omega-3 Fatty Acid ALA
A small amount of chia seeds contains a surprising amount of omega-3 fats. To get the same amount of omega-3 that you would from a 32-ounce piece of salmon you would only need to consume 3.5 Tbs of chia seeds. But what’s so great about omega-3’s and why are they important? Omega-3 fatty acids are essential to our health and we require them from outside sources since our bodies aren’t able to make them. They’re not only vital for brain health but also, heart health, reducing inflammation, and regulating hormones. A study done on individuals with severe depression, found that omega-3 rich chia seeds helped to alleviate their symptoms (3). Though I wouldn’t rely on chia seeds as an omega-3 supplement in it’s own right, they are still a useful addition.
With diabetes on the rise we seriously need to raise our awareness about potential treatment options. Chia seeds are one of them, researchers in Argentina conducted a trial where they fed rats a SRD (sucralose rich diet) for 3 weeks with their main source of fat from chia. They found that the simple addition of chia seeds completely prevented the onset of insulin resistance (4). Even though this study was done on rats, it’s interesting to note that they were only fed pure sugar and chia seeds, ditch the chia seeds and those rats would’ve be full fledged diabetics by the end of this study.
The fatty acids in chia seeds help to nourish the skin and strengthen the cell walls. Skin health is often related to how healthy and balanced a persons hormones are. Chia seeds are so rich in hormone balancing fatty acids, it only makes sense that they would be great for skin. The presence of ample fibre also helps in better elimination and reduction of environmental toxins, which can also lead to skin problems. Add in their incredible antioxidant power and you’ve got yourself a skin healing superfood.
6.Strong Bones and Teeth
Chia seeds are high in calcium and boron, a mineral essential for aiding in the breakdown of magnesium, manganese, phosphorous and calcium. One ounce of seeds is worth nearly 20% recommended daily calcium intake, and because boron is present, this calcium is is a highly absorbable form. The problem with most calcium supplements is that they are really hard to absorb and can often lead to constipation and even high blood pressure. Not so with these little wonder seeds.
Low energy is one of the most common complaints people have about their health. The cause is varied but often low energy can be linked to poor nutrition and accumulation of toxins. Chia helps to eliminate toxins, balance blood sugar levels and provides a great source of vitamins and minerals. Since it’s such an easy food to digest, you don’t have to expend much energy to reap the benefits.
These itty bitty seeds are a powerhouse of protein. One of the highest plant sources of protein, chia seeds contain an impressive spread of essential amino acids our bodies can utilize (5). For people who don’t eat animal products, chia is a great addition to get more protein in the diet. Protein is important for long term energy and is conducive to weight loss as it is associated with fewer cravings.
Antioxidants are our allies in preventing free radical damage from environmental toxins and overall cellular damage. They help to prevent diseases like cancer (6) and are also protective against premature ageing. Researchers found the antioxidant activity in chia seeds to stop 70% of free radical damage (7), making it one of the most potent sources of antioxidants out there.
Chia has the ability to significantly reduce inflammation. Because of their fatty acid profile, they help to reduce inflammation associated with joint pain, digestive health and heart problems. Most high fibre grains and seeds exacerbate inflammation but chia seeds are unique in their beneficial properties.
Just a few yummy ones to whet your appetite for chia seeds!
Raspberry and Vanilla Chia Seed Jam by my fussy eater
Extra Dark Paleo Chocolate Pudding by the healthy foodie
Cheesy Chia Seed Crackers by the iron you
Kiwi Coconut Chia Berry Pudding by yours truly
3. Ross, B. M., Seguin, J., & Sieswerda, L. E. (2007). Omega-3 fatty acids as treatments for mental illness: which disorder and which fatty acid? Lipids in Health & Disease, 621-39. doi:10.1186/1476-511X-6-21