You have probably heard of the importance having the “faith as small as mustard seed.” But, what about the strength of a chia seed? Chia means strength in the Mayan language. Eating chia seeds reportedly gave Aztec warriors energy and endurance, and the seeds were valued for their overall medicinal properties even being used as a form of currency (yesteryear’s bitcoin, perhaps). Yes, those little chia seeds are pretty darn powerful and have numerous health benefits.
A little history on chia seeds. Chia seeds come from the flowering plant, Salvia hispanica. It is an annual herb growing up to 5 and 1/2 feet tall. It is native to Mexico and also grown commercially in Argentina, Australia, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Guatemala. The seeds are one millimeter in diameter and have brown, gray, black, and white colors. The seeds love water and can absorb up to 12 times their body weight in liquids. A mucinous coating (gel) is produced when the seeds soak.
Chia Seed Nutrition Facts
Here’s the nutritional breakdown of one ounce chia seeds.
- 11 grams of fiber
- 4 grams of protein
- 9 grams of fats with 5 of those grams in the form of omega-3 fatty acids
- 30% of the RDA for magnesium and manganese
- 27% of the RDA for phosphorus
- 18% of the RDA for calcium
- high in antioxidants
At 137 calories per ounce chia seeds are nutrient dense. They are also high in vitamins A, B, D, and E as well as iron, sulphur, and iodine.
Health Benefits of Chia Seeds
Below are the major health benefits of chia seeds that we will review today. Chia seeds do the following:
- improve energy and metabolism
- improve bone strength (remember chia means strength)
- improve body composition
- improve heart health
- improve sugar control
- improve skin aging
- improve digestion
- protect against cancer
Energy and Metabolism
Life begins and ends with energy production. Anything that improves your ability to generate and use energy will improve your quality of life. A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research concluded that chia seeds enhance exercise performance for workouts lasting more than 90 minutes to the same degree as sugared sports drinks – without the unhealthy sugar. An added side benefit of the chia seed was the increased omega-3 fatty acid intake that does not occur with sports drinks.
Consider a serving of chia seeds before workouts. Some research show that chia seeds can reduce visceral fats but that is in chickens. Because chia seeds absorb a lot of water (in part to their fiber content) they can provide an earlier sense of satiety when eating meaning you may feel fuller faster and thus eat less which may lead to weight loss.
Chia seeds are high in important bone minerals like calcium, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous, and even boron and strontium. Chia seeds contains nearly as much calcium as milk serving to serving. But, the boron and magnesium in them improve the absorption of calcium so calcium from chia seeds may be more bioavailable than calcium from milk. Chia seeds also contain strontium which closely related to calcium and has been used as a treatment for osteoporosis that we discussed in this article.
Improved Body Composition
The protein content of chia seeds is among the highest for plants. Protein is at the foundation of muscle development. Because of their ability to absorb water chia seeds function as a reservoir for hydration enhancing exercise workouts. Chia seeds also stimulate leptin production. Leptin is a hormone that regulates appetite and energy levels leading to healthier body composition.
Improved Heart Health
Through a variety of mechanisms chia seeds reduce inflammation, improve cholesterol levels, and lower blood pressure thereby improving heart health. The antioxidant activity in chia seeds reduces inflammation and prevent atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries. The seeds may prevent clotting of blood. They are high in fatty 3-omega acids which are heart friendly and contain linoleic acid which enhances absorption of the fat-soluable vitamins – A, D, E, and K.
Improved Sugar Control
A study in rats published in the British Journal of Nutrition concluded that the high levels of alpha-linoleic acid in chia seeds improved insulin resistance and prevented hypertriglyceridemia. In fact, it prevented both of those conditions from occurring despite the rats being a high sucrose (sugar) diet.
Improved Skin Aging
Chia seeds have high antioxidant activity which neutralizes free radicals that contribute to the aging process. Since the skin is a reflection of our total body health the effects of antioxidant on neutralizing free radicals is most evident in how our skin ages.
The high fiber content of chia seeds helps bowel regularity. The seeds produce a gel-like substance in the stomach which functions as a prebiotic supporting the growth of healthy gut bacteria. Read our article, Gut Microbiome: How it Keeps You Healthy. As stated previously, fiber and the fact the chia seed can hold a lot of water provides for early satiety that can suppress appetite and facilitate weight loss.
Chia seeds have been shown to limit the growth of breast and cervical cancers as described in this study published in the Journal of Molecular Biochemistry. This growth limitation of cancers is attributed to the omega-3 fatty acids and the alpha linolenic acid content of chia seeds.
Side Effects of Chia Seeds
Side effects of chia seeds are few. The main side effect is stomach discomfort especially if consuming them in high amounts. So if you are new to chia seeds start slow with your servings to make sure you tolerate them. Be sure to drink plenty of water when consuming chia seeds.
The seeds can be consumed raw or after soaking. There is some benefit to soaking the seeds first before consuming them. By soaking them you will get the chia seeds to sprout and that releases enzymes inhibitors to protect the seeds and preventing a loss of nutrients in the chia seeds.