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Ultimate guide to chia seeds

What are chia seeds?

These are the seeds of salvia hispanica, otherwise known as chia. Chia is native to Mexico, but also grown in South American countries like Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Guatemala and Nicaragua. Traditionally, the plant was cultivated by the ancient Mayans and then by the Aztecs, who came later, for its seeds, which came to be used as a staple food. The word chia in fact, means strength in the Mayan language.

Why chia seeds?

Although the Mayans and the Aztecs did not have advanced lab testing facilities, they were quick to learn that chia seeds provide a significant amount of nutrition. In the 21st century, chia seeds have been shown to contain fibre, Omega-3 fatty acids, protein, minerals and antioxidants.

It is grown commercially for its seed, which provides up to 30% extractable oil. The oil is 55% Omega-3, 18% Omega-6, 6% Omega-9 and 10% saturated fat. 100 grammes of chia seeds provides you with 486 kilocalories of energy, according to the US Department of Agriculture. This explains why chia seeds were used as a 'performance fuel' by the Mayans and Aztecs.

In a more modern study, the physical performance of two groups, one which used carbohydrate-rich Gatorade, and the other which used 50% Gatorade and 50% chia seeds (rich in Omega-3) were observed, and researchers found no differences between the two. The only explanation is that chia seeds help improve performance as much as Gatorade does. The alternative is that both are equally ineffective, but this cannot be considered as Gatorade has indeed shown to improve performance.

Let us take a look at the typical nutritional makeup of 100g of chia seeds:

Energy
486 kcal




Carbohydrates
42.12 g

Dietary fibre
34.4 g



 
Fat
30.74 g

Saturated
3.33

Monounsaturated
2.309

Polyunsaturated
23.665

omega-3
17.8 g

omega-6
5.8 g



 
Protein
16.54 g



 
Vitamins


Vitamin A equiv.
54 μg
7%
Thiamine (B1)
0.62 mg
54%
Riboflavin (B2)
0.17 mg
14%
Niacin (B3)
8.83 mg
59%
Folate (B9)
49 μg
12%
Vitamin C
1.6 mg
2%
Vitamin E
0.5 mg
3%



Minerals


Calcium
631 mg
63%
Iron
7.72 mg
59%
Magnesium
335 mg
94%
Manganese
2.723 mg
130%
Phosphorus
860 mg
123%
Potassium
407 mg
9%
Sodium
16 mg
1%
Zinc
4.58 mg
48%









Looking at the table you can see chia has a great mix of nutrients your body needs. 

  1. Get enough fibre with chia seeds

For most people, there isn't enough of fibre in their diet. Two tablespoons (about 28 grammes or one ounce) of chia seeds gives you 11 grammes of fibre - if you are a male, this is sufficient for a nearly a third of your recommended fibre intake, and if you are a woman, this is enough for 44% of your suggested fibre intake.

Sufficient intake of fibre improves gut health and lowers the risk of various diseases. Chia seeds are rich in insoluble fibres, which reduce the chance of diabetes and also bring down constipation.

Chia seeds are also highly water-absorbent - it is actually the soluble fibres that absorb water. If you soak chia seeds in a bowl of water for 30 minutes, you can find that the amount of water absorbed is 9-12 times the weight of the chia seeds. These water-rich chia seeds prevent carbohydrates from being broken down easily by the enzymes in the stomach, so the end result is that there is lesser hunger and subsequently decreased food intake. Chia seeds help keep athletes hydrated.

  1. Amazing omegas in chia 

Chia seeds are a great source of Omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to be healthy for the heart. 75% of the fat in chia seeds is actually Alpha Linolenic Acid or ALA, an Omega-3 fatty acid. Another 20% is contributed by Omega-6 fatty acids.

So which is better? You actually need both. The recommended ratio of Omega-6 fatty acids to Omega-3 fatty acids is 2.5–4.0:1.0, but in reality, their presence tends to be around 15.0–17.0:1.0 owing to the excess consumption of Omega-6 fatty acid-rich oils.

Increasing the amount of Omega-3 fatty acids would bring down this ratio, and chia seeds are better than flax seeds when it comes to the supply of Omega-3 fatty acids. A healthier ratio can help prevent heart disease, inflammatory diseases, cancer and even premature death.

  1. Chia seeds will boost your protein intake

19% of chia seeds are protein, and this is already higher than most other cereals and grains. The protein contained in chia seeds are of high-quality, meaning they contain essential amino acids (these are the building blocks of life and assist in various life processes). A higher intake of protein also increases satiety, which leads to the individual consuming lesser amounts of food. This may help those who are trying to control their weight.

Chia seeds by themselves do not cause weight loss but are bound to help those with food cravings who are on a weight-loss diet. As they are gluten-free, chia seeds are recommended for those intolerant to gluten.

Chia seeds are a great source of plant protein.

  1. Chia seeds supply you with a great mix of minerals

 Some of the minerals provided by chia seeds and their advantages are listed below:

  • Manganese: This is needed for the body's metabolism as well as its growth and development.
  • Phosphorus: This mineral is essential for tissue maintenance and bone health.
  • SeleniumThis mineral has significance as an antioxidant.
  • Magnesium: The number of life processes that this mineral plays a vital role is too many to be listed. Have a read about magnesium here 
  • Calcium : This is the most-widely found mineral throughout the human body. It is needed for the development of bones and muscles and also aids in the growth of nervous system (young children are traditionally asked to drink milk to help them grow because milk is rich in calcium).
  • Iron: It is associated with the haemoglobin in red blood cells - these transport oxygen all over the human body.
  • Copper: This mineral is good for the heart, but is often found lacking in one's diet.

Conclusion

Apart from the numerous health benefits listed above, chia seeds also bring down insulin resistance, which is great news for those suffering from Type 2 diabetes. Scientific studies have shown that consuming bread made from chia seeds/chia flour causes lower spikes in blood sugar than other types of bread (the traditional variety). Chia seeds may also reduce blood pressure in those individuals who have hypertension or high blood pressure.

Chia seeds generally do not interfere with medication, except in the case of those taking blood-thinners. The Omega-3 fatty acids in chia seeds are very good blood-thinners themselves, so it may hamper the efficacy of the blood-thinning medication. In such an instance, it is recommended that you consult with your doctor first before proceeding to consume large amounts of chia seeds.

Chia seeds can be used in baking, added to water, oats, yoghurts, sprinkled onto salads and so much more. Overall, the versatile nutrition and convenience of chia seeds make it a true superfood which anyone can consider adding to their daily diet.

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