You probably had a run in with chia seeds as a kid, but didn’t even realize it. You know that ceramic hedgehog in Great Aunt Martha’s kitchen that “magically” grew green hair? That was because of sprouted chia seeds!
Chia seeds are the edible seeds of a flowering plant called Salvia hispanica. They are native to Mexico and southern Guatemala, but have continued to gain popularity internationally due to their culinary properties and potential health benefits.
The tiny gray seeds absorb water and can be used to thicken puddings, smoothies, and other creations. Chia seeds are also a source of fiber and fatty acids that play a role in their impacts on health.
Chia seeds are often called “superfoods” or functional foods. Functional foods are foods that have benefits in addition to their nutrition content.
Chia seeds may help support a healthy weight. They contain fiber and high fiber diets are associated with lower body weights. Fiber can increase satiety, or the feeling of fullness and satisfaction after eating. Therefore, high fiber diets may lead to less food being eaten overall which would have an impact on weight management.
Researchers wanted to investigate whether or not eating chia seeds can lead to greater satiety and lower calorie consumption. People were given yogurt with or without chia seeds as a mid-morning snack. They were then asked to rate their satiety before eating lunch. Those given the chia seeds reported more satiety and ate less calories at lunch than those who were given the yogurt alone.
Chia seeds may also help people maintain healthy blood sugar levels. One study found that eating chia seeds resulted in better blood sugar levels after a meal (AKA postprandial glucose levels) when compared with those who did not eat chia seeds. Another study found that chia seeds were better at improving blood sugar levels than flax seeds in healthy participants whose blood sugar was already within normal range.
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the recommended daily amount of dietary fiber is “about 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men.”
As discussed, chia seeds are a good source of fiber. They mainly contain a type of fiber called soluble fiber which can be beneficial to digestive health.
There are two main types of fiber: soluble fiber and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber attracts water and forms a gel which can slow down digestion. It can be found in plant foods such as oat bran and barley. Insoluble fiber adds bulk to stool and can help stool pass more quickly through the digestive tract. It can be found in wheat bran, many whole grains, and vegetables.
When it comes to supporting the health of the colon (large intestine), it’s recommended to eat plenty of high-fiber foods. This can help keep the walls of the colon strong and can help promote digestive health. Fiber can also help normalize bowel movements while increasing bulk and stool frequency and decreasing intestinal transit time. This is why fiber supplements are often promoted for occasional bowel irregularity.
Eating chia seeds can help you reach your fiber goals, while supporting your gut health!
Have you heard of omega-3 fatty acids? They are often discussed when talking about fish, but there are also plant sources of omega-3’s. Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is an omega-3 fatty acid found in foods such as chia seeds and flaxseeds.
Research suggests that consuming higher amounts of ALA in the diet is associated with a healthy cardiovascular system. The Lyon Diet Heart Study found that a Mediterranean-style diet rich in ALA was beneficial for heart health.
The soluble fiber in chia seeds may also help support healthy cholesterol levels already within normal limits.
Another potential health benefit of chia seeds is bone health support.
One study found that a long-term (13 month) intake of chia seeds was associated with an increase in bone mineral content. While this study was done using animals, it points to the need for further research into the impact of chia seeds on bone health.
The ALA and mineral content of chia seeds may be the reason for the bone improvements reported in the study. Also, chia seeds are a dairy-free source of calcium and calcium can help support bone health.
Chia seeds can be used in a variety of foods and beverages.
Using chia seeds in smoothies is a great way to add a punch of fiber! Chia seeds form a gel when mixed with liquids which can then be used as a thickener for soups, sauces, and chia pudding.
Chia seeds can also be used to replace eggs in baking. Just mix two teaspoons of ground chia seeds with 3 tablespoons of water and let sit for at least five minutes before using in your recipe.
You can also take chia seeds as a dietary supplement. We offer a Chia-Flax blend that’s easy to take with water, in yogurt, or your favorite protein powder!
As discussed, chia seeds have a variety of potential health benefits. However, there are a few important things to know before adding them to your diet.
Chia seeds can absorb up to 10 times their weight in liquid! This is why you should never eat dry chia seeds. Either soak them in water or eat them with moist foods (like oatmeal or yogurt).
Since chia seeds are high in fiber, you want to add them into your diet slowly. You should also increase the amount of fluid you are drinking as you increase your fiber intake. If you increase fiber too fast, you could get some digestive discomfort.
The amount of chia seeds to take depends on your goals and tolerance. Two tablespoons of chia seeds contain 11 grams of fiber towards your daily fiber recommendation. However, you may choose to use less.
Chia seeds have a variety of potential health benefits. They are an excellent source of soluble fiber and are rich in omega-3’s. They may help support gut, bone, and heart health and may also play a role in weight management.