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Benefits of Chia Seed and The Best Way To Eat Them

Benefits of Chia Seed and The Best Way To Eat Them

You've probably seen chia seeds pop in every grocery store, online recipes, and even hip brunch spots! This tiny seed might seem like a modern superfood fad, but the use of them actually dates back to hundreds of years ago. Chia seeds are native to Central America and played a significant role in the ancient Aztec and Mayan diet and even in several Native American tribe's diets. According to the United States Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA), it had medicinal uses and was used as a treatment for fever, inflammation, and other ailments. [1]

They had a resurgence in popularity these last few years, and are now available in any grocery store. These little seeds are extremely versatile, and they pack a punch in benefits! Those benefits are the very reason it was used hundreds of years ago and why people nowadays include them in their healthy diets when trying to achieve certain fitness goals like weight loss. Except now, there's actual research and studies that have been conducted to prove the various health benefits of chia seeds. 

So what's so great about this little seed and how can it help you on your fitness journey?

Chia Seed Nutrition Facts

Chia seeds, as we know originated from Central America, come from the seeds of the flowering plant Salvia Hispanica, a member of the mint family. To understand why they are considered a healthy superfood, you have to look at their nutritional value.

Two tablespoons of chia seeds (or 28 grams) contain:

  • Roughly 140 calories
  • 4 grams of protein
  • 11 grams of fiber
  • 7 grams of unsaturated fat
  • 18% RDA for calcium

Not only that, but they are rich in Polyunsaturated fat (omega-3 fatty acids), phosphorus, trace minerals (like zinc and copper), and they are a complete protein, meaning they contain all nine essential amino acids. [2] So you really hit the nutritional jackpot with one serving of chia seeds!

Health Benefits of Chia Seeds

Just a few grams of chia seeds are jam-packed with nutrition. Those nutrients are what gives it the wonderful health benefits it has! Here are why people use chia seeds in their daily diets ...

High in dietary fiber and quality protein

Dietary fiber and protein are two nutrients that help keep you full. The carbs found in chia seeds are almost all fiber, specifically soluble fiber. This type of fiber that works mainly with your stomach to improve digestion, increase metabolism, and it even reduces hunger by absorbing water and expanding in your stomach! Plus, it's a complete protein meaning chia seeds help give your body essential amino acids that it can’t make on its own. For example, it contains lysine, methionine, and other amino acids that help boost your metabolism. They are also especially high in tryptophan. This essential amino acid is used specifically for making serotonin (your body’s hormone for happiness).

Chia seeds being a complete protein and containing high fiber is a reason why some believe it's helpful for weight loss. Both of those nutrients are known for making people feel fuller for longer thus temporarily suppressing appetite and reducing overeating. Although there is mixed research on chia seeds and their effects on weight loss... One study found that eating chia seeds in the morning increased satiety and reduced food intake throughout the day. [3] But other studies show that chia seeds have no effect on body weight. [4]

So be wary about believing any hype surrounding chia seeds in regards to weight loss. Unfortunately, they are not a little magic seed that will instantly help you shed some weight. Instead, think of them as a useful addition to a healthy diet that can promote weight loss. When you eat a balanced diet that includes chia seeds, other nutritious foods, and you exercise regularly then chia seeds can definitely help promote weight loss and better overall health.

High in omega-3 fatty acids and other antioxidants

Not many foods contain omega-3 fatty acids, mostly it comes from fatty fish, walnuts, flaxseeds, and chia seeds. Chia seeds are packed with omega-3s, but the downside is that the omega-3's found in them are mostly alpha-linolenic acids, or ALA, which isn't the most beneficial. That's because ALA needs to be converted into active forms, EPA and DHA, before your body can use it. And sadly, the body is not efficient at converting it. So omega-3's found in fish oil and fatty fish are superior but can be used in combination with chia seeds in order to help convert it into the active form. However, if you're a vegan combine a plant-sourced DHA supplement with chia seeds (or chia seed oils) to get a higher quality form of omega-3's in your daily diet.

Chia seeds are also a fantastic source of a number of different antioxidants that include chlorogenic acid, caffeic acid, myricetin, quercetin, and kaempferol. These are hard to pronounce, but all you need to know is that they have been known to help improve heart health, and may have anti aging, anti inflammation, and anticarcinogenic benefits.

May lower your risk of heart disease

Chia seeds contain high fiber, protein, and omega-3's which all can help reduce your risk of heart disease. A study published in the American Journal of Medicine found an association between a high fiber diet and a low risk of heart disease. [5] Another study shows that chia seeds provided improvement in cardiovascular risk factors in individuals with type 2 diabetes. [6]

Chia seeds may benefit heart health, but just like with weight loss, it needs to be paired with dietary changes and an active lifestyle.

May reduce blood sugar levels

As mentioned earlier, the fiber in chia seeds is mainly soluble fiber, but it also has another fiber - Mucilage. This fiber is responsible for the gooey texture chia seeds get after absorbing water. These fibers are linked to helping lower LDL cholesterol and slow down digestion, which promotes satiety and can prevent blood sugar spikes after eating. This benefits those with type 2 diabetes. [7]

Packed with lots of minerals that improve bone health

Chia seeds are packed with calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and protein - All nutrients that are important for bone health. It also has a good amount of iron which is used heavily in your circulatory system. So it'll help promote strong bones and healthy blood running through your veins which all ensure that your body is in tip-top shape for any weightlifting or cardio!

Also, the calcium content is especially impressive (18% RDI in 28 grams) making it the perfect source of calcium for those who are vegan or dairy-free.

How to incorporate chia seeds into your diet

Chia seeds are usually sprinkled onto a nice breakfast to start the day off right, but they are just as effective at other times in the day! You can add them into yogurts, oatmeal, salads, muffins, smoothies, and you can even make a chia seed pudding with it! You can always sprinkle a tablespoon or two onto whatever you prefer to reap the health benefits it has. They do expand in water or any liquids, so keep that in mind when incorporating them into your meals. 

In case you're wondering about the risks, there really aren't any. The only side effect of overeating chia seeds is a possible upset stomach due to the high fiber. So if you're sensitive to fiber, or want to lose weight, then be mindful of the amount you eat.

In summary, this superfood is definitely one you want to have in your pantry at all times. Chia seeds are packed with nutrients that help keep your bones healthy and strong, help keep you full longer, improve heart health, and so much more. Just remember, don't eat chia seeds and expect to shed massive weight and belly fat. Eating chia seeds on top of living a healthy active lifestyle is what will help you get the best results and improve your overall health.