Chia is a flowering plant that originated in central and southern Mexico and Guatemala. It was grown by the Aztecs in pre-Colombian times when. It was eaten as a food crop just like the way maize was important. Its seeds were considered highly nutritious and were renowned for their medicinal properties. The seed of the chia is dense with nutrients and is full of energy- boosting power. Aztec warriors and couriers would eat them as high energy fuel during battles or while running. Currently, they are grown for food in the western South America, western Mexico, and the south-western USA.

Chia seeds are rich in protein, dietary fiber, omega-3 fats, vitamins, and minerals. According to the US Department of Agriculture, 100g (3.5oz) of the dried seeds contains:

  • Energy – 486 kcal (2,030 kJ)
  • Protein – 16.5g
  • Carbohydrates – 42.1g
  • Dietary fiber – 34.4g
  • Fat – 30.7g

The dry seeds contain oodles of protein (16.5%) and are well loaded with of fiber (34%) yet contain no cholesterol, but have a lot of fat (31%). However, the major fats are linoleic acid (17-26% of total fat) and linoleic acid (50-57% of the total fat), two essential fats that cannot be made in the body but must be obtained through food. Chia seeds are also 6% water by weight and contain no cholesterol. They are rich sources of antioxidants. Chia seeds also deliver plenty of vitamins, especially B vitamins.

In 100 g of dried seeds, there are:

  • B3 – 8.83mg (59% of recommended daily value (DV))
  • B1 – 0.62mg (54% DV)
  • B2 – 0.17mg (14% DV)
  • B9 – 49ug (12% DV)

The seeds are equally rich in dietary minerals.

100 g of dried seeds contains:

  • Manganese – 2.723mg (130% of recommended daily value (DV))
  • Phosphorus – 860mg (123% DV)
  • Magnesium – 335mg (94% DV)
  • Calcium… 631mg (63% DV)
  • Iron... 7.72mg (59% DV)
  • Zinc… 4.58mg (48% DV)
  • Potassium… 407mg (9% DV)

Benefits of Chia Seeds

whole and ground cia seeds

Digestion

Over one-third of a chia seed consists of dietary fiber, which regulates bowel movements. In addition, the dried seeds absorb 10 to 12 times their weight in water, forming a gelatin-like substance in your stomach. Common sense suggests that this makes you feel full quicker as the seeds expand as soon as they hit your stomach, curbing your appetite and thus contributing to weight loss (good for diabetics). This has been confirmed by several studies. The gelatin-like substance also slows the digestive process down and helps keep blood sugar levels stable, another plus for diabetics.

Zinc

100g of chia seeds delivers nearly 50% of your recommended daily allowance of zinc. Zinc helps your body increase leptin, a key hormone that regulates the appetite and energy levels, which may explain why it boosts energy levels. In the mouth, the copious amounts of zinc in these seeds prevent tartar by stopping plaque mineralizing onto your teeth. It also has an antibacterial effect that keeps the germs that cause bad breath away.

Cardiovascular risks

In 2015, a systematic review of studies into the effects of consuming the seeds on cardiovascular risk factors reported that most studies were of poor quality and did not demonstrate significant effects. However, the Cleveland Clinic, the fourth best hospital in the USA according to the US News & World Report 2013-14, has stated that these seeds decrease blood pressure and C-reactive protein (a sign of inflammation) in type 2 diabetics. The Clinic also states that the seeds may lower total, LDL, and triglyceride cholesterol, and raise HDL (good) cholesterol. Though the Clinic admits further studies are required to better define the cardiovascular benefits, in its opinion chia seeds are a safe and effective treatment for cardiovascular risk factors.

Energy levels

As the ancient Aztecs were well aware, the seeds improve stamina and endurance. This is borne out by recent research. A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning in 2011 reported that these seeds boost the performance of workouts that last 90 minutes or more to the same extent as sports drinks but without the risks associated with ingesting large amounts of sugar.

Metabolism:

ground chia seeds

Adding a tablespoon a day of chia seeds to your diet can help boost your metabolism. It can also help burn the fat around your belly which affects your metabolism. Belly fat is the form of obesity that is most associated with diabetes.

Antioxidants:

A study published in 2014 by Mexican researchers, available from the U.S. National Library of Medicines, shows that the antioxidant activity of the seeds inhibits nearly 70% of harmful free radicals. This makes these seeds one of nature’s best high antioxidant foods. Many experts believe that the damage caused by free radicals is a factor in the development of atherosclerosis, accelerated aging, damaged or mutated cells, tissue break-downs, the activation of harmful genes within DNA, and an overloaded immune system. Perhaps these seeds can help prevent cancers and rebuild damaged skin.

Cancers

Chia seeds are rich in alpha-lipoic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid. A study published in the Journal of Molecular Biochemistry in 2013 found that ALA limited the growth of cancer cells in both breast and cervical cancers. The researchers also found that ALA caused the death of the cancer cells without harming normal healthy cells. More research is needed to find out whether ALA can be used to treat other types of cancer.

Bone health

100 gram of chia seeds contains almost two-thirds of the recommended daily amount of calcium. Calcium is fundamental to the health of your bones. These seeds also contain boron, another essential nutrient for bone health that helps metabolize calcium, magnesium, manganese, and phosphorus all of which are needed for the healthy growth of bones and muscles.

Protein

100g of the seeds provides 16.54g of protein, which is the same as 16.5% protein. This is tops for a plant-based protein, making it a great choice for those trying to put on lean muscle, burn fat and balance blood sugar levels, another plus for diabetics. Research into the potential of chia seeds to affect health is only beginning and so far this work has been sparse and inconclusive.4

Side Effects of Chia Seeds

Research has not found any evidence to date that eating chia seeds has adverse effects on or interactions with prescription drugs. However, according to an earlier meta-analysis of five very large prospective studies published in 2010, available from the U.S. National Library of Medicines in the National Institutes of Health, ALA does not increase prostate cancer risk and actually decreases the risk slightly.

Some people may experience discomfort in the stomach when consuming Chia seeds, especially in large amounts. This is due to their high fiber content. As with any food, you should eat in moderation. You should always drink plenty of water with the seeds as they are very hygroscopic.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, Chia seeds are quite safe as a source of food, except that they can interact with warfarin, a medication (blood thinner) taken to treat and prevent blood clots and prevent heart attacks and strokes. The Cleveland Clinic also states that patients on blood pressure medication should take Chia seeds cautiously.

How to Eat Chia seeds?

ground chia seeds

Chia is one of the most fun and versatile foods. It’s so easy to use and easy to combine. Chia seeds can hold 10 to 12 times their weight in water. Bearing this in mind, there are several ways:

Whole vs Ground Chia Seeds

You do not have to grind these seeds to access their nutrition as you must do with flax seeds. However, because they are so tiny they tend to stick in your teeth. They have a mild, nutty flavor and you can add them as a garnish to most dishes. Eating Chia seeds whole, however, means that you may not be able to readily access the omega 3s for digestion and assimilation. But eating them whole does not cause you any harm.

Chia Popsicles

Chia pops are fantastic for when you want a snack, and they’re also great for kids. Using a blender, or food processor, you can puree your favorite mixture of fruits, much like a smoothie. However, instead of drinking, just stir in your chia, and pour into pop molds. Plastic molds are super inexpensive, and you can use them over and over. Once you make up a batch of popsicles and freeze them, they’re always ready to help you add another serving of fruit to your day or fight off a snack craving. In a food processor or blender, add 1 banana, 3 tablespoons rice or almond milk, 1 to 2 teaspoons dry chia seeds & 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder. Blend and pour into molds. The banana sweetens the cocoa without added sugar AND makes the pops fudgy & creamy.

Bake with Chia

Whether it is cookies, cakes, (non-yeast) bread or muffins, you can swap out chia gel for part of the fat. The gel adds moisture, while the seeds themselves add 2 kinds of fiber, and all the other nutrients chia contains. There are plenty of chia seeds recipes available if you love to bake.

Ground Chia Seeds

You can grind Chia seeds in a coffee grinder to break down their hard outer shell before eating them. Once ground, the seeds can be used in gluten-free recipes such as pancakes, muffins, bread and when making pasta. If you do grind chia seeds, remember that they are rich in omega-3 and, unless you are using them straight away, you should store them in a sealed glass container in your refrigerator or freezer.

Chia Fruit Smoothies

ground chia seeds

Try a chia smoothie for breakfast. When you mix up a smoothie using whole fruits (be sure to leave the skin ON whenever possible, fruit peels are loaded with fiber & nutrients) and almond or rice milk, you get a delicious boost for your morning. Adding chia seeds in smoothies helps you feel full, so you can have just the smoothie, and you won’t want to reach for a bagel, donut, or toaster pastry. Smoothies are quick to mix up, so you just need minutes in the morning. Skipping breakfast has actually been proven to lead to weight gain in several studies.

Chia seeds are sometimes used by bakers to keep baked goods moist because they absorb so much water. You can mix the seeds or ground chia seeds into foods such as muffins, or sprinkle chia on yogurt or salad. Chia seeds may be added to other foods as a topping or put into smoothies, breakfast cereals, energy bars, granola bars, yogurt, tortillas, and bread. Since 2009, the European Union has allowed chia seeds to make up 5% of a bread product’s total matter. The seeds may also be made into a gelatin-like substance or eaten raw. The gel from ground seeds may be used to replace as much as 25% of the egg and oil content in cakes, also providing other nutrients. In Iran, Chia seed is used to prepare a cold beverage called Sharbat.

How to Soak Chia seeds

All you have to do is to mix them in water in a ratio of 1:10 (Chia:Water). This is about 1 1/2 tablespoon to a cup of water. Then leave the mix to soak for at least half-an-hour, up to two hours. When mixed with water, chia seeds become mucilaginous (gooey). If you use too much water, they will be too watery. As earlier shared, Chia seeds can hold up to 12 times their weight in water, excellent for preventing dehydration. But if you don’t soak them, they will absorb water during digestion. Make sure you drink plenty of water for the rest of the day to keep yourself hydrated.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, 15 grams (about two tbsp.) a day will deliver 3,000 mg of omega-3 fatty acids and 5 grams of fiber. For children between the ages of 4 and 18, 1 tbsp. a day would be enough.