When you hear the word chia, you might just think of Chia Pets, those silly red clay pots that look like llamas or presidents who grow green fur after you water them for a while. Well, those joke presents (admit it, youve bought several) do indeed use chia seeds to grow the green hair. But did you know that chia seeds can do some really beneficial and important things for your health? Read on, pardner!
Chia seeds are the seeds of a Central American desert plant called Salvia hispanica (the green and more common kind) or of a North American variety called Salvia columbariae (the golden chia). The first time we hear of chia seeds in history is in records of European explorers who recorded the fact that they were a staple of the diet of the Aztecs. The plant is related to mint.
Chia Seeds are a GREAT Source of Omega-3s!
In more recent years, weve discovered that chia seeds are a very good source of omega-3 fatty acid, which plays an important role in our bodys metabolism and studies have also shown omega-3 has beneficial effects on our mental health, too. Chia seeds are a great source of dietary fiber as well, with some 10 grams of fiber for every ounce of seeds. They also contain significant amounts of zinc, calcium, magnesium, and iron.
Chia seeds are rich in antioxidants, which many anti-aging researchers credit with helping to prevent the damage caused by free radicals in our bodies, which many believe are a major factor in aging. Theres also evidence that a diet that includes chia seeds can reduce chronic inflammation in some sufferers, without harming the bodys ability to produce inflammation when it is really necessary to fight off microbial invaders.
You might be surprised to learn, too, that a one-ounce serving of chia seeds contains almost 6 grams of protein. That makes them around 14% protein, making them one of the most protein-rich plant foods out there.
Chia Seeds Have Tons of Vitamins and Minerals
That same one-ounce serving has zero sugar, more than 13 grams of complex carbohydrate, 8.5 grams of fat (more than half of which are omega-3s), and gives your body a little over 130 calories of energy. Trace elements abound in an ounce of chia seeds, as well: 27% of the recommended daily intake of phosphorus; 30% of the recommended daily intake of manganese; 30% of the recommended daily intake of magnesium; 18% of the recommended daily intake of of calcium. That calcium number is really impressive gram for gram, chia seeds contain ore calcium than dairy products so! And each zippy little chia seed ounce also delivers significant amounts of vitamin B3 (niacin), potassium, vitamin B1 (thiamine) and vitamin B2 as well. Heres the takeaway message: Chia seeds give you a huge helping of nutrition with a proportionately small helping of calories, a combination that is very hard to beat!
Some research suggests that chia seeds, when added to a healthy diet, can reduce some factors for cardiovascular disease: lowering blood pressure, triglycerides, and bad cholesterol (while at the same time increasing your good cholesterol).
Chia seeds are also known to feed the friendly bacteria in your intestines, and maintaining healthy digestive flora is, as doctors increasingly acknowledge, very important for human health.
And get this studies have found that chia seeds improve insulin sensitivity and blood sugar control for some diabetics, tending to stabilize their blood sugar levels after eating; in addition several studies report that eating bread with chia seeds added to or baked int it lowers the rise in blood sugar after meals that is experience by many people, including diabetics.
Diversify Your Diet With Both Chia Seeds AND Sprouts
And you dont have to restrict yourself to eating the seeds alone, either: chia sprouts are edible and texture-rich additions to many dishes including sandwiches, soups, salads, and as a garnish to almost anything. They have essentially the same benefits and nutrients as the seeds.
Chia seeds and sprouts have a subtle flavor that many people like. But if youre the kind of person who likes bold tastes, you might want to add a little bit of spices in chia dishes so that the flavor better harmonizes with the already-rich texture for your palate.
Chia seeds can be popped into your mouth raw, just like candy and a whole lot better for you! Or try spreading the raw seeds on vegetable dishes, cereal, or oatmeal. Or mix a few in with your smoothies for an extra flavor and texture boost. Chia seeds absorb water and other liquids easily, and so can be made slightly or greatly softer, depending on how long theyre exposed to liquid and the thickness of the liquid itself. So experiment and find our what texture you prefer. In fact, unless the chia seeds are certified organic, its a good idea to soak or rinse them before eating to remove any traces of chemicals, fertilizers, or other non-chia material.
Chia Seeds: An Egg Replacement for Vegans
And heres a great cooking tip for vegans: Soak the seeds in water, then mix, until the resultant solution is semi-solid and gelatinous-looking then use the result as an egg substitute in most any recipe. Yum! (In fact, chia seeds with their high protein and calcium levels are particularly good for folks on a plant-based diet or health-conscious people who just want to rebalance their diets to decrease animal-based foods.)
Chia seeds do tend to absorb liquids easily, soaking up up to 12 times their weight, and will increase in size dramatically when they do so. So, if you are a person who has difficulty swallowing, or who has a narrow throat opening, avoid swallowing a lot of dry chia seeds and then drinking afterward. Pre-soaking the seeds for five or ten minutes avoids this risk.
Chia seeds are widely available in local grocery stores and online, and they are very easy to prepare if you decide to prepare them at all! With their high nutrient profile, and low-calorie/low-fat footprint, Chia seeds are truly a superfood, and theyre one that most of us would benefit from having in our diet, if were not eating them already.