Chia Seeds: Health Benefits & Nutrition Facts Based on Science

Chia Seeds: Health Benefits & Nutrition Facts Based on Science

Chia seeds are extremely healthy edible seeds that are full of fiber, nutrients, and high levels of omega-3 fatty acids. Chia seeds are rightly classed as a superfood because of their many health benefits. Soaking chia seeds allows them to absorb up to 15 times their weight in water. Consuming soaked or raw chia seeds can improve your digestion, help lower blood glucose levels, and assist in weight loss.

You don’t have to soak chia seeds in water to boost your health. You can add ground chia seeds to smoothies, mix them with oatmeal, or sprinkle them on a delicious salad. Chia seeds are a complete protein source because they contain all the 9 essential amino acids that are required by your body.

2 tablespoons of chia seeds (about one ounce or 28 g) contain 4.7 g protein (9% RDA) and 9.8 g fiber (42% RDA). (3)

What is so special about chia seeds and why are they so good for you? In this article, you will learn what scientific research says about these wonder seeds and their many health benefits.

What are Chia Seeds?

Chia seeds (Salvia hispanica) belong to the mint family Labiatae, and originally come from Mexico and Guatemala. Chia seeds have been a nutritious part of the human diet since around 3500 BC.

Chia seeds taste like poppy seeds. They have a very subtle nutty flavor but some people find them a bit bland.

Some people like to make a chia seed drink by soaking the seeds in water. Chia seeds can absorb up to 15 times their weight in water.

Chia seeds are also gluten-free and can be used as a nutritious addition to your diet if you have gluten sensitivities or celiac disease. (30)

The Journal of Food and Science Technology reports that chia seeds have been used for centuries for their nutrition and therapeutic properties. In fact, researchers have discovered that ancient diets that included chia seeds were just as nutritious as modern diets. (1)

Chia seed oil is also a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids that have many health benefits. (1)

Are chia seeds a superfood?

Chia seeds are a functional food that could be called a “superfood”. Research into the nutritional benefits of chia seeds has found that they are healthy sources of protein, minerals, carbohydrates, fats, and antioxidants. (2)

Nutritional Value of Chia Seeds

Chia seeds are extremely healthy and good for you due to their high nutritional value.

The United States Department of Agriculture reports that 2 tablespoons of chia seeds (about one ounce or 28 g) contain 138 calories, 8.7 g of fat and 12 grams of carbs (4% RDI). Chia seeds also have a very low glycemic index of just 1. (3)

Chia seeds are a perfect addition to a keto or a low carb diet because almost all of the carbs in chia seeds are fiber. This means that almost none of those carbs are sugar or starch and as such they are a low carb food source.

Consuming 1 tablespoon of chia seeds a day is a good way to keep your bowels moving and your digestion healthy. One tablespoon of chia seeds (about 1/2 oz. or 14 grams) gives you 5 grams of fiber which is 20% of your RDI.

Chia seeds also contain vitamin C, B-group vitamins, vitamin A, and trace amounts of vitamin E.

Chia seeds also contain micronutrients that are good for healthy bones. For example, 1 oz. of chia seeds contains 177 mg of calcium (18% RDI), 2 mg of iron (11% RDI), 265 mg phosphorus (27% RDI), and 0.6 mg manganese (30% RDI).

Chia seeds are high in omega 3 fatty acids (ALA)

One of the biggest health benefits of chia seeds is that they are rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.

2 tablespoons of chia seeds contain nearly 5 g of omega-3 and 1.6 mg omega-6 fatty acids. Chia seeds are so rich in omega-3 that 60% of the chia seed fat is omega-3 type of fatty acids. (4) The type of omega-3 fatty acids in chia seeds is alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) which is good for your cardiovascular health. (29)

It is good to remember that your body needs to convert ALA omega-3 into eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Some studies suggest that ground chia seeds can raise ALA and EPA levels in the blood but not DHA. (5, 6)

Even though chia seeds are high in omega-3, it still remains that fish oil is the best source of omega-3 because it contains both EPA and DHA fatty acids. (7)

Learn more about the benefits of taking omega-3 fish oil daily.

Chia seeds are packed with antioxidants

One of the reasons why chia seeds are classed as a wonder seed is that they are packed full of antioxidants.

Research has found that chia seeds contain phenolic compounds and isoflavones that are powerful antioxidants. The researchers said that chia seeds have a high antioxidant capacity and are a good source of dietary antioxidants. (8)

Chia seeds vs. flaxseeds. Which are the healthiest?

Flaxseeds have many health benefits, and many people wonder if flaxseeds are healthier for you than chia seeds.

1 oz. of chia seeds contains 10.6 grams of fiber whereas flaxseeds contain 7.6 grams of fiber. However, flaxseeds contain 1.3 g more ALA omega-3 fatty acids than chia seeds. (9)

So, both flaxseeds and chia seeds are excellent sources of fibers, nutrients, and fatty acids.

One of the reasons why many people prefer chia seeds to flaxseeds is that you don’t need to grind chia seeds to benefit from their nutritional value. You can just soak a tablespoon or 2 of chia seeds in a glass of water. This chia seed drink becomes a jelly-like liquid that you can drink or add to your smoothie.

The Many Health Benefits of Consuming Chia Seeds

Let’s look in more detail at why adding chia seeds to your diet is extremely good for you. You will learn how chia seeds can help you lose weight, lower blood glucose levels, keep your heart healthy, and your digestive system working properly.

Chia Seeds Contain Lots of Fiber That Promote Digestive Health

Consuming a chia seed drink containing 2 tablespoons of chia seeds is good for your digestion because it gives you over 40% of your daily fiber needs.

Chia seeds contain both soluble and insoluble fiber. Researchers say that 100 grams of chia seeds contain nearly 7 grams of soluble fiber and 35 grams of insoluble fiber. (10)

Chia seeds can absorb up to 15 times their weight in water. (1) This helps to slow your digestion and allows your body to absorb more nutrients. Doctors say that soluble fiber also helps prevent constipation and diarrhea. (11)

Insoluble fiber is also necessary to keep your digestive system working properly because it helps stool pass through your digestive tract easier. (11)

The high fiber content in chia seeds has also been linked to preventing digestive problems like diverticulitis. (1)

Chia seeds are about 34% of fiber by weight which means that they are an excellent source of dietary fiber. (1)

Soluble fiber is also necessary to keep the microbiota in your gut healthy and increase the number of probiotics bacteria strains. (12)

Chia Seeds Help with Bowel Movements

Because chia seeds are so good for your digestive system, consuming a glass of soaked chia seeds a day could prevent constipation.

To help keep your bowel movements regular and prevent constipation, Dr. Jennifer Robinson on WebMD says that women need 25 grams of fiber a day and men need 38 grams. (13)

2½ to 3 tablespoons of chia seeds a day will give you 100% of your RDI of fiber (25-30 grams of dietary fiber). However, because other foods contain fiber, you may not need to consume as many chia seeds. Doctors say that the average diet in the U.S. only contains 15 grams of fiber.

So, to help meet your daily fiber needs and boost your bowel health, try consuming a chia seed drink containing 1 or 2 tablespoons of soaked chia seeds daily.

If you have pain when you pass stool, find out other natural ingredient that can work wonders on your digestion.

Compounds in Chia Seeds Boost Cardiovascular Health

Adding more chia seeds or soaked chia seeds to your diet will also help to keep your heart healthy.

One randomized controlled trial found that long-term consumption of chia seeds can have a positive effect on your cardio health. Chia seeds are a good source of ALA omega-3 fatty acids that have a protective effect on your heart health. Chia seeds can also help to reduce inflammation that is associated with cardiovascular disease. (14)

Some studies have found that chia seeds contain a compound called tanshinones that can help prevent death from stroke or heart attack. (15)

However, not all trials on the benefits of chia seeds for your heart health have been conclusive. The journal Nutricion Hospitalaria reported that a systematic review of a number of trials didn’t show that chia seeds have a significant effect in preventing cardiovascular disease. (16)

Learn about other seeds such as quinoa that can help to keep your heart healthy.

Chia Seeds May Help Manage Diabetes Symptoms and Lower Blood Glucose Levels

Chia seeds help to slow down digestion and have a low GI rating, which means they are a good food if you have diabetes.

One small study involving 6 men and 5 women found that supplementing your diet with chia seeds can help to lower blood glucose levels after eating. Researchers also found that chia seeds can protect cardiovascular health and reduce inflammation in people with type 2 diabetes. (17)

One trial involving rats with unhealthy levels of lipid (fat) in the blood found that consuming chia seeds help to normalize blood glucose levels and lower visceral fat (the fat that surrounds vital organs in the body). (18)

According to scientific research, both ground chia seeds and whole chia seeds have a positive effect in lowering blood glucose levels. The study involved using chia seeds in baked white bread. The addition of whole or ground chia seeds helped prevent postprandial glycemia (elevated blood sugar following a meal). (19)

Chia seeds are just one of the many foods that can help to manage diabetes symptoms.

Chia Seeds Can Help You Lose Weight Due to High Levels of Protein and Fiber

The nutritional value of chia seeds can assist with weight loss because consuming a tablespoon of chia seeds in water should increase feelings of fullness.

A double-blind randomized controlled trial found that consuming chia seeds every day helps to promote weight loss. Over a 6-month period, overweight people with type 2 diabetes lost more weight than those consuming oat-bran supplements. Consuming chia seeds helped to suppress appetite and also maintain stable blood sugar levels. (20)

The reason that chia seeds can suppress appetite is that the soluble fiber absorbs water and expands in your stomach. This also has the beneficial effect of slowing down food absorption. (21)

If you want to lose weight, you could try adding one tablespoon of chia seeds to plain yogurt for your breakfast. A randomized controlled trial found that 14 g of chia seeds (1 tablespoon) in yogurt helped to increase satiety and reduce the desires for sugary snacks. (22)

However, not all trials on the effects that chia seeds have on weight loss are conclusive. For example, one study found that adding ground chia seed powder or whole chia seeds to the diet didn’t have a significant effect on weight loss. However, there was an increase in ALA omega-3 fatty acids. (23)

It is important to remember that losing weight safely is about reducing calorie intake and increasing exercise. Because chia seeds are high in protein and dietary fiber but low in calories, they can be useful as part of a weight-loss program.

Chia Seeds Consumption May Help Strengthen Your Bones

Regularly consuming a tablespoon or two of chia seeds daily can help to improve your bone strength and prevent osteoporosis.

A trial involving the long-term consumption of chia seeds found that, over a 13-month period, bone mineral content increased. Researchers put this increase in bone density to the fact that chia seeds are rich in ALA omega-3 fatty acids and minerals. (24)

For example, 2 tablespoons of chia seeds contain many minerals that are essential for bone health. 28 grams of chia seeds give you 18% of your daily calcium needs. Chia seeds also contain minerals such as iron, phosphorus, manganese, and magnesium – all essential micronutrients for healthy bones. (3)

Find out what you can do to prevent osteoporosis and what are some of the best alternatives to calcium from dairy.

Chia Seed Oil and Its Benefits

Another way to get the amazing benefits of chia seeds is to consume chia seed oil supplements or use it topically.

Vegans can use chia seed oil as an alternative to omega 3 from marine source (fish oil). In fact, you can buy omega 3-6-9 chia seed oils (like this one) to help meet your body’s daily essential fatty acid requirements.

Chia oil is high in ALA omega-3 and because of that chia seed oil is a great natural healing moisturizer. One study found that creams with a high content of alpha-lipoic acids help to improve the appearance of facial skin. Over a 12-week period, applying a cream containing 5% ALA help reduce the effects of photoaging – skin damage caused by prolonged sun exposure. (25)

How to Consume More Chia Seeds Every Day

How can you eat more chia seeds a day to boost your heart health, lose weight, and improve your nutritional intake?

Here are some ways you can consume more chia seed a day:

Soaking chia seeds (chia seed drink)

You could just make a simple chia seed drink by putting a tablespoon or 2 in a glass and filling the glass with water. Allow it to sit for an hour or two to allow the chia seeds to absorb the water. The “drink” will be like a thick jelly that you can consume.

However, a more palatable way to consume chia seeds is to soak them overnight and then add a glass of soaked chia seeds to your favorite smoothie.

You can also eat raw chia seeds without soaking them in water. If you eat them this way, be sure to drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration, as chia seeds will absorb fluids from your body.

Because chia seeds form a sticky, gelatinous coating when exposed to liquid, it also makes them useful as a vegan, egg substitute because they serve as a binding agent. To replace an egg, mix 1 tablespoon of chia seeds with 3 tablespoons of water and let the mixture sit for 15-20 minutes until the mixture has a gel consistency.

Chia seed powder

Turning chia seeds into a powder is a great way to make gluten-free foods. Grind chia seeds using a coffee grinder and then use the chia seed flour to make delicious gluten-free breads, pancakes, and other baked items.

Whole chia seeds

Add chia seeds to your oatmeal or yogurt, sprinkle over a salad, mix them into muffins or homemade granola.

Side Effects of Chia Seeds

There are no known direct adverse effects of consuming a tablespoon or 2 of chia seeds per day.

Doctors from WebMD advise that some types of chia seeds can increase triglycerides (a type of blood fat). If you want to consume chia seeds for their health benefits, then you should just use Salba chia seeds. (26)

There are conflicting reports if chia seeds can increase levels of ALA which could increase the risk of prostate cancer. One study found that high levels of ALA omega-3 could increase prostate cancer risk. (27) However, other studies seem to indicate that ALA fatty acids have a protective effect and don’t affect prostate cancer risks. (28)

Where to Buy Chia Seeds?

Many supermarkets stock chia seeds. You can also buy them from health food stores or online.

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