They may be small in size, but chia seeds benefits are mighty. They’re a nutritional powerhouse, packing gut-healthy fibre, filling protein, omega-3 fatty acids and micronutrients like calcium and magnesium into each little black orb.
Chia seeds can be found everywhere these days – baked into pastries at your favourite brunch spot, stacked on shelves in almost every supermarket. Here, Mike Wakeman, clinical nutritionist for Feel Alive, talks us through the various chia seed benefits locked inside those tiny black seeds:
Chia seeds benefits: 13 reasons to stock your cupboards
Native to Central America, chia seeds are chock-full of healthful attributes and easy to prepare. We’ve pulled together 13 of the most impressive chia seeds benefits:
1. Impressive nutritional profile
Chia seeds are especially rich in phosphorus, manganese and magnesium, providing around one third of your recommended daily amount (RDA) in every 30g serve, which Wakeman describes as a standard serving size.
This also ‘typically provides around 20 per cent of the RDA of calcium and small amounts of vitamins B1, B2, and B3,’ he says. ‘Chia seeds are also a source of polyphenolic phytocompounds such as quercetin.’
2. High in omega-3 fatty acids
Not only are chia seeds the richest plant source of omega-3 fatty acids, but they contain more than salmon, gram-for-gram. However, they consist mostly of ALAs (alpha-linolenic acids) which need to be converted into EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DNA (docosahexaenoic acid) before it can be be utilised by your body. This conversion process is inefficient in humans, which is why it’s recommended to eat fatty fish regularly or take a omega-3 supplement.
3. Complete protein
Chia seeds are a complete protein, containing all nine essential amino acids that cannot be made by the body. A 30g serving contains around 5g of protein, which is far higher than most plant foods. Protein is essential to make enzymes, hormones, and other body chemicals. It's also an important building block for bones, muscles, and other tissue.
4. Gut-healthy fibre
A 30g serve of chia seeds contains 11g of fibre, which is mostly made up of soluble fibre and mucilage (which gives soaked chia seeds a sticky, gluey texture). ‘In terms of dietary fibre content, chia seeds exceed dried fruits, cereals or nuts,’ says Wakeman.
Fibre feeds the gut bacteria in your intestine, causing them to reproduce and diversify. This proliferation of bacteria helps your body absorb nutrients from food, and also contribute to your physical and mental health.
5. High in antioxidants
Chia seeds are high in antioxidants, which help to preserve the fats in the seeds and prevent them from going bad. Antioxidants protect your body from free radicals – unstable atoms that damage your cells and have been linked to diseases such as heart disease, cancer and stroke.
6. Promote healthy weight loss
High-fibre foods help you feel to feel full for longer, and are often relatively low in calories – a 30g portion of chia seeds contains around 140 calories. Due to their high levels of fibre, chia seeds can absorb large amounts of water and expand in your stomach, promoting a feeling of fullness. This could help to reduce your appetite and therefore the amount of food you eat, which may assist with weight loss.
7. May promote heart health
Studies have shown that high-fibre foods have heart-healthy benefits, such as reducing blood pressure, triglycerides and inflammation. People who eat 14g of fibre for every 1,000 calories are associated with significant reductions in the risk of coronary heart disease, according to The National Institute of Medicine. Since chia seeds are high in fibre, it’s possible that consuming them as part of a healthy, balanced diet may contribute to these effects.
8. Promote bone health
Chia seeds are high in calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and protein; all essential nutrients for bone health. A 30g serve contains one fifth of your total calcium recommendation for the day – more than a glass of milk – making chia seeds a great alternative for those who follow a vegan diet, are lactose intolerant, or otherwise don’t drink milk.
9. Help lower cholesterol
A fibre-rich diet also helps to lower cholesterol, which reduces your risk of heart attack and stroke. A review of 67 studies found that increasing fibre intake by just 10g per day can reduce both ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol – equivalent to adding a tablespoon of chia seeds to your breakfast each day.
10. Reduce blood sugar
Having too much sugar in the blood for long periods of time can cause serious health problems if left untreated, and even excessive temporary spikes can cause adverse health effects. The fibre in chia seeds slow down digestion, which can prevent blood sugar spikes after eating a meal.
11. Support digestion
Getting enough fibre is important for keeping things regular and preventing constipation. Regular bowel movements are crucial not just for your digestive system but your health as a whole, since it’s one of the primary ways your body excretes toxins. Chronic constipation is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular events, such as a heart attack.
12. Versatile ingredient
Chia seeds don’t really taste of much, so they can be added to pretty much anything. You can sprinkle them over finished dishes, or add them during cooking. ‘A typical serving of chia seeds is around 30g and this can be added to breakfast cereals, yoghurts, smoothies and salads,’ says Wakeman. Because of their ability to absorb liquid, they can be used to thicken sauces, substitute eggs, or mixed with water and turned into a gel.
Chia seeds are often added to everyday supermarket items, too. ‘Chia is used in industrial food production as whole seeds, ground or mucilage to increase the nutritional value of the product,’ Wakeman continues. ‘There are numerous products with the addition of chia seeds on the market, such as bread, cookies, pasta, ice cream, yogurt, sausages or even ham.’
13. Long shelf life
Chia seeds last for between four and five years without requiring refrigeration, just store them in a cool, dry place.
Last updated: 07-08-2020
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