Chia Seeds for Health: 8 Scientifically Proven Benefits for Your Body

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tiny chia seedThe rapid rise in the number of people suffering from chronic illnesses such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease has cause in increase in the number of health conscious people nowadays. People are in a constant search for functional foods that offer a long list of health benefits.

Just recently, the tiny chia seed, a food native to Mexico and Guatemala, became a mainstream superfood. It helps fight obesity by facilitating weight loss. It helps fight diabetes and other major illnesses like cancer and heart problems. With these claims on the benefits of chia seeds, we can describe chia seeds as big things in small packages. But, are they?

As consumers, it is important to research about a product first before believing what it has to offer. As for chia seeds, here are 8 scientifically-proven benefits for your body:

1. Chia Seeds Contain a Substantial Amount of Nutrients.

It was only lately that chia seeds made it to the list of superfoods. During the ancient times, chia seeds were a staple food for the Aztecs and Mayans because they were an excellent energy-giving food.

Chia seeds are tiny white or black seeds similar to sesame seeds. Though small in size, an ounce, which is equal to 28 grams or approximately about two tablespoons of these seeds, contains a significant amount of important nutrients.

white or black seedsAdding an ounce of chia seeds to your daily diet gives you:

  • 11 grams of fiber.
  • Four grams of protein.
  • Nine grams of fat – five of which is the healthy fat called omega-3 fatty acids.

It is also a good source of vitamins and minerals such as:

  • Vitamins B1, B2 and B3
  • Calcium
  • Magnesium
  • Manganese
  • Phosphorus
  • Potassium
  • Zinc

cup of spinachTo give you a better picture of the nutrient content of chia seeds, here is a comparison of an ounce of chia seeds compared to other healthy foods:

  • Three times more omega-3 than a quarter cup of walnuts.
  • Twice the amount of iron and magnesium than a cup of spinach.
  • Twice the amount of fiber than a cup of oatmeal
  • As much calcium as a half cup of milk.
  • As much potassium as a third of a banana.

The best things about chia seeds is they will not affect the flavor of any food because they are bland. Plus, they are grown organically, are gluten-free and non-GMO.

You can add them to almost anything and everything, from cereals, yogurt, fruit mixes, vegetable salads, meat or fish, and to your drinks and healthy smoothies.

2. Chia Seeds are Abundant with Antioxidants.

smoothiesSome people claim chia seeds have higher antioxidants than blueberries, but this information is yet to be verified by scientific researchers. But, there is no question chia seeds are rich in antioxidants. Studies reveal these antioxidants are the same substances that prevent the delicate fats in the seeds from going bad.

Many people take antioxidant supplements to fight off free radicals in the body, which are the substances responsible for cell damage that contributes to faster aging and cancer. But, did you know the body absorbs more antioxidants when taken from food?

To get a daily dose of antioxidants, you can add chia seeds to your coffee, fresh fruit juices or vegetable smoothies. Here’s how:

  • Mix three tablespoons of chia seeds in a cup of warm water and stir.
  • Refrigerate overnight.
  • In the morning, the mixture has likely turned into a gelatinous substance.
  • Take a few scoops and add them to juices and smoothies.

Bottled organic chia seeds drinks are also available in supermarkets, but of course, they are a bit expensive.

3. Most of the Carbohydrates in Chia Seeds are Fiber.

weight lossCarbohydrates are a macronutrient needed in large amounts by the body, but too much of it can cause harm. Chia seeds contain 12 grams carbohydrates, but the great news is 11 grams of these carbs is pure fiber.

Its fiber content allows the chia seeds to soak up water and expand in size, leading to the conclusion that chia seeds can facilitate weight loss by making you feel fuller and therefore eat less. However, results of studies conducted to prove the benefit of chia seeds for weight loss have yet to show improvement.

Chia seeds may not effectively help you lose those stubborn extra pounds, but it can help keep the tummy healthy. Fiber nourishes the good bacteria in the intestines, and it promotes better digestion and the excretion of wastes. High fiber intake also reduces the risk of serious illnesses such as cancer, coronary heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

puddingFor a fiber-rich diet, you can make a chia seed pudding. It is simple and there’s no need for cooking:

  • Add honey and one cup of coconut milk or any of your preferred liquid to a 1/3 cup of chia seeds.
  • Stir with a fork until equally blended and then refrigerate overnight.
  • The chia seeds will absorb the liquid and turn into a gelatinous or pudding-like substance.
  • Serve in a glass.
  • You can also add toppings like raw almonds and nuts for crispiness.

On a side note, since the carbohydrates in chia seeds are mainly fiber, people claim that the intake of the seeds can replace energy drinks for ultimate performance, but research studies need to gather more solid evidence on that.

A study on a group of athletes with half of the group drinking Gatorade, and the other half an equal mixture of Gatorade and chia seeds showed no difference in their performance.

4. Chia Seeds are a Good Source of High Quality Protein.

rigorous workoutThe amount of protein in chia seeds is relatively high compared to most plants sources. Thus, chia seeds make a good substitute for meat sources of protein, especially for vegetarians. Chia seeds also contain fair amounts of amino acids, so the body can maximize the use of protein.

As suggested by the studies, chia seeds do not contribute to weight loss, but a high protein intake can reduce appetite and food cravings.

Protein is also essential for building muscles and repairing tissues. For those who train to build muscles, adding a couple of tablespoons to protein shakes will help get those bulges evident and help your body recover after a rigorous workout.

5. Chia Seeds are High in Healthy Fats.

As mentioned, five grams from the nine grams of fat in chia seeds is made up of omega-3 fatty acids; a healthy fat that promotes heart health. However, most of the omega-3 found in chia seeds is called ALA or alpha-linolenic acid, which needs to be turned into EPA and DHA before it can be utilized by the body.

heart diseaseAs studies reveal, consuming chia seeds can increase the levels of ALA and EPA in the blood, but not DHA, the most important omega-3 fatty acid needed by the body and brain. This is due to the fact that the human body is not capable of converting ALA into DHA.

Moreover, studies that involve the benefits of chia seeds in lowering the risk of heart disease remains questionable. A study on rats suggested chia seeds can increase good cholesterol levels, while other studies showed no improvement. Two studies show a diet with chia seeds improved cholesterol levels, but experts are not sure if the change is due to chia seeds, or the other healthy components of the diet.

If you want to add DHA omega-3 to your diet for a healthy heart, the best source would be fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna and herring. Chia seeds may contain more omega-3 fatty acids than salmon, but the quality of the healthy fats for heart health is inferior.

6. Chia Seeds Can Help Keep the Bones Strong.

Chia seeds are probably one of the best plant sources necessary for bone health. Based on your daily RDA, or recommended dietary allowance, an ounce of chia seeds gives you:

  • 18 percent of your calcium needs.
  • 30 percent of the RDA for magnesium and manganese.
  • 27 percent of your daily phosphorus requirements.

Not only that, chia seeds can also keep your hair and nails healthy.

For people sensitive to dairy products, chia seeds make a good substitute as a source of bone-building nutrients. Chia Fresca, refreshment made from a concoction of chia seeds, lemonade and stevia, would be a better to beat the heat while nourishing the bones. You only have to mix all the ingredients in a glass, and let it sit for an hour in the fridge and voila – you now have a chia fresca.

7. Chia Seeds May Help Improve Type 2 Diabetes.

Blood pressureOne of the most successful studies that showed the health benefits of chia seeds involved type-2 diabetes.

The study included 20 diabetic patients who were divided into two groups. The first group consumed 37 grams of chia seeds, while the other group consumed 37 grams of wheat daily for 12 weeks.

Those who received the chia seeds showed improvements in the following major health markers:

  • Blood pressure lowered by 3-6 mm/Hg.
  • High plasma WF levels common in diabetics decreased by 21 percent.
  • A marker of inflammation called hs-CRP, or high-sensitivity C-reactive protein decreased by 40 percent.

Although there was a decrease in blood sugar levels, the amount was insignificant.

8. Chia Seeds Can Help You Stay Hydrated.

Since chia seeds can absorb 10 times water than their weight, bringing a container filled with soaked chia seeds added with sweeteners and nuts for flavor can help backpackers and campers stay hydrated and energized.

Some experts believe the regular consumption of chia seeds may prevent sugar spikes after eating meals because of its fiber content. However, this notion needs further investigation.

There is no question that chia seeds are rich in important nutrients and offer a long list of benefits, but claims on its effect on weight loss, and preventing or improving diseases, such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease needs further and thorough investigation.

diabetesTo get the best out of chia seeds, here is how you can pick the ones with the best quality:

First and foremost, buy organic. Make sure it is organic by reading labels carefully.

Buy them whole. Ground chia seeds are easier to add on drinks and meals, but it is best to buy the whole grains. The nutrients in whole chia seeds remain intact. For easy grinding, you can put them in a peppercorn mill and distribute them on your food like you do with pepper.

The color of the seeds matter, too. Chia seeds color range from white to dark brown and black. Reddish or light brown chia seeds indicate a premature harvest.

Are chia seeds safe for everybody? People with food allergies, especially with seeds, should take extra precaution. People taking high blood pressure medications or blood thinners should consult with a healthcare professional before trying chia seeds. If you are ready to give them a try, just pick one of the preparation methods mentioned above to try for yourself. You may be pleasantly surprised by their mild, nutty flavor and the feelings of satiety they can provide.

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