If you browse any health food store, you will likely see an entire aisle dedicated to seeds, nuts, and raw ingredients. Many refer to these sections as “the bins” and know the contents of each container offer a ton of nutritional benefits. One of the more popular things you will find are chia seeds, an item seemingly making an appearance everywhere. Chia seeds often top the fancy smoothie bowls we see on Instagram and searching for a chia pudding recipe is not a tough task anymore. Chia seeds are likely already in some of your favorite foods without you even knowing it, as muffins and breads tend to feature them more heavily as of late. USHEALTH Group highlights some reasons they have become popular in the health conscious community.
So, what do we really know about these tiny little seeds? Many people seem to tout their health benefits left and right, but can such a small thing really bring this much good to our bodies? Today, we are going to explore all chia seeds have to offer—the benefits, the concerns and how you can use them in your daily life to bring about a higher level of health. While one single superfood certainly is not a replacement for a balanced diet and plenty of exercise, it seems chia seeds may be something to consider if you are interested in boosting the amount of nutrients you eat on a daily basis.
A Rich History with Many Benefits
While the latest and greatest health trends might offer some benefits, it is important to consider the history of certain items to see if they’re really worth their weight. When exploring the background of chia seeds, one might be surprised to discover they have been around much longer than the Chia Pets we all had decades ago. It might seem odd to think the thick, gel-like substance you spread over a terracotta head could be good for your health, but it turns out the benefits of chia have been known and utilized for thousands of years.
The use of chia seeds dates to Mayan and Aztec cultures and is part of the desert plant Salvia hispanica. Folklore tells us these ancient people used the seeds as energy boosters, as the word chia means “strength.” These cultures incorporated chia seeds into a variety of ancient foods, and by all accounts, they seemed to be a staple of their diet. These nutrient-dense seeds took a backseat for a while, then reemerged in popular ‘90s home decor. Now, you can find them everywhere and, for some, they have become an irreplaceable staple in the pantry.
A quick glance at the chia seed shows some interesting nutritional facts quite at odds with their small size. Considered to be whole-grain foods, as they are unprocessed, one ounce of chia seeds contains 9 grams of fat, 4 grams of protein, 139 calories, 11 grams of fiber, 12 grams of carbs and a host of important vitamins and minerals. Unlike flaxseeds or other foods not in their raw form, chia seeds can be absorbed by the body without having to grind them. This makes them an ideal addition to a range of foods you probably already eat, as they are easy to incorporate into your favorite recipes without much additional preparation.
A Myriad of Benefits
While it certainly sounds like chia seeds have a lot of nutritional power packed into one tiny vessel, are they as healthy as people make them out to be? What sort of benefits do chia seeds bring to the table, and how do they compare to any potential negative aspects? Let’s explore some of the possible benefits you can expect when incorporating chia into your diet:
Those who eat a vegetarian diet often have a difficult time getting enough protein into their systems and with a 14 percent protein count by weight, chia seeds are a great way to solve this problem. Not only do they contain a high amount of amino acids allowing your digestive system to actually use the protein, but they may also help curb nighttime snacking by up to 50 percent. If eating after dinner has become a regular part of your evenings, you may want to consider eating chia seeds during the day to help cut this habit.
Chia seeds contain a ton of vitamins and minerals, but their antioxidant properties are truly something incredible. Not only do these help keep the seeds from going bad, but experts also believe antioxidants can help fight against free radicals in the body. While we certainly cannot say chia seeds will fight cancer, their benefits are not anything to shake a stick at. Their resilient nature makes them a great choice for eating on the go, and they can be stored for a long time without their nutritional value being affected.
Helping the Heart
Although studies have been inconclusive, some still believe eating chia seeds can reduce the risk of heart disease. There may also be evidence showing chia can lower blood pressure and reduce certain risk factors for cardiovascular issues, including insulin resistance and triglycerides. Some other research indicates less of a correlation, and it is probably more likely chia played a smaller role alongside other heart-healthy behaviors.
While an injury obviously includes some level of inflammation, there is an entirely different process your gut goes through when a poor diet is consumed over long periods of time. Chronic inflammation, both in the intestinal tract and elsewhere, can lead to a host of other health concerns, but chia seeds have proven to help reduce inflammatory markers by up to 40 percent. However, other studies have not netted the same results, which still leaves experts wondering just how beneficial they may be.
More Fiber than Carbs
Anyone who has tried to lose weight knows staying full can be a challenge, but chia seeds might be one way to help curb cravings. Instead of a carbohydrate-filled item eventually raising your blood sugar as you digest it, chia seeds are mostly fiber, which is part of the carbohydrate family. One of their more amazing attributes is when soaked in water, chia seeds turn into a gel and expands in your stomach, theoretically helping you stay full.
Rich in Omega-3s
Omega-3 fatty acids are important for a healthy diet and like flaxseeds, chia seeds are high in this important substance. While fatty acids come in several types, not all of them are as beneficial to the body as one would think. Chia seeds do not contain enough DHA for their omega-3s to be properly processed, so it is important to consider how you can provide a well-balanced supplementation in your daily routine. Experts recommend coupling chia seeds with other fatty acids like fish oil or a DHA supplement.
Keeping Bones Strong
Vegan diets often lack adequate calcium supplementation, but with 18 percent of the recommended daily allowance in one ounce of chia seeds, many can benefit from incorporating them into their daily diets. Phosphorus, magnesium, and protein—all of which contribute to bone health—are also present. Even if you do consume animal products and drink milk or eat cheese regularly, having a bit of extra bone support is never a bad thing, particularly later in life when bones become more fragile.
Balancing Blood Sugar
Anyone who is diabetic knows firsthand how challenging it can be to maintain appropriate blood sugar levels, as each meal has the potential to throw things out of whack. Some animal studies have shown chia seeds may help with blood sugar control and insulin sensitivity, and while they should not be used as a crutch to eat an imbalanced meal, they can help promote overall health.
Will You Lose Weight?
One of the main benefits people tout when it comes to chia seeds is their ability to help you lose weight. Given the above benefits, it does not seem like a stretch—they keep you fuller for longer, feature a wealth of vitamins and minerals promoting overall health, and even fight food cravings if you eat them regularly. While all of this sounds great, can we really look at chia seeds as a magic bullet for weight loss?
It is important to remember many of the studies around chia seeds and health either have minimally conclusive evidence or may prove a specific health benefit only to have another study disprove it entirely. Ultimately, we don’t really know much about how chia seeds affect the body just yet, but some physicians have weighed in on the matter. Keep in mind, discussing the integration of chia seeds into your daily diet may be smart the next time you see your primary care physician. He or she will be able to offer you valuable insight into whether their health benefits are truly worth it.
Doctor Andrew Weil touches on the subject of chia seeds and notes he has not seen any conclusive evidence for integrating them into one’s diet helping with weight loss. He references one specific study and describes how 90 overweight yet healthy individuals were analyzed over the course of 12 weeks. Some were given a placebo and others were asked to consume 25 grams of chia seeds per day. At the end of the trial period, there was no notable difference between the two groups.
While this study may point to some clear evidence, it is hard to ignore chia seeds are high in fiber, which has proven to help with weight loss and promote a more balanced digestive tract. Ultimately, if you are looking to lose some weight and are interested in using chia seeds to help, there aren’t many negative coming from incorporating them into your diet, right?
Things to Consider
Any primary care physician or nutritionist will tell you simply stocking up on any one type of supplement with the intention of reaping its full benefits likely will not work and is not the best approach to health and well-being. Some people may look at chia seeds as the holy grail of health but eating them every day will not necessarily create a dramatic impact in your weight, blood pressure or any other aspect of your health. Instead, eating a balanced meal including fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats and healthy fats alongside daily chia intake will help you to get the results you are after.
However, it is not just false expectations of chia seeds that can be concerning. These tiny seeds are incredibly absorbent and can hold up to 27 times their weight in water. If you mix chia with a glass of water, you will notice they form a rather thick gel and while this can be great for keeping you full between meals, it can also create health concerns. Imagine eating dry chia seeds and then drinking a glass of water—this thickened substance could potentially create esophageal obstructions possibly requiring emergency attention. Instead of simply eating chia seeds as they are, you can incorporate them into a wide range of recipes.
Chia Seeds in Everyday Foods
While chia seeds exhibit a bit of a nutty flavor if eaten alone, their overall taste pairs quite well in a variety of dishes. From baked goods to desserts, you can get creative with your chia use. Many people opt to use them as a fancy garnish while others make chia the star of the show in various recipes. Here are just a few ways you can utilize this amazing superfood:
- Try using chia seeds instead of eggs in your next baking adventure. Simply combine one tablespoon of chia seeds with three tablespoons of water, and let it sit for five minutes. The thickened consistency will mirror an egg and pair well with your favorite baked goods.
- If you love making your own meatballs or meatloaf, consider incorporating some chia seeds into the meal. They are light enough in flavor for you to not taste them much, but you will still gain the same nutritious benefits they bring to the table.
- Chia seed pudding seems to be all the rage right now, so try creating this unique dessert with flavor combinations which appeal most to you. Rather than indulging in candy after dinner, chia seed pudding can be a sweet and healthy treat.
- Incorporate chia seeds into homemade jams and jellies, black bean burger patties and more. Mix it into yogurt and granola for a quick and balanced breakfast on the go or create a smoothie bowl and top it with chia seeds and fresh fruit.
Is Chia the Future of Food?
For so long, we have been told eating a balanced diet and exercising regularly is the key to good health, yet as more and more supplements and superfoods come onto the market, it makes one wonder exactly how to approach this new way of eating. While staying away from prepackaged and processed foods is the smart way to go, should the extra time and money really be spent on things like chia seeds?
It depends on your personal health goals and before adding any new type of supplement to your diet, it is best to talk with your primary care physician. He or she can discuss your plans for integrating chia into your diet and take a broad look at how they might affect you. In most cases, there are not really any negative aspects to eating chia seeds regularly, but keep in mind they should not be viewed as a cure-all or a band aid for an otherwise poor diet. Blending chia seeds into smoothies rich in fruits and vegetables or using them to create sweet treats in place of sugary options is far more beneficial than simply eating a spoonful each day along with your multivitamins.
About USHEALTH Group
USHEALTH Group is a health coverage provider that has served more than 15 million customers. They provide innovative insurance solutions for self-employed individuals, families, business owners and their employees.
Health and wellness are important to the team at USHEALTH Group, and their new health blog helps ensure you are knowledgeable and up-to-date on the various ways to bring extra nutritional benefits into your life. From eating well and exercising, to regular visits with your doctor, the goal is to provide support for great health and a fulfilled life. Consider integrating chia seeds into your diet for extra health benefits, and make sure to visit your primary care doctor to discuss just how helpful they can be.