Last updated on September 8, 2021.
Originated from Guatemala and Mexico, chia seeds have become really popular in recent years. They are recognized as a “superfood” for their massive health benefits and their versatility to be incorporated into so many recipes. In case you are wondering, these tiny black seeds were once a staple food in ancient Aztecs and Mayans diet and the ancient Mayan word “Chia” grants the meaning of “strength”. The most astonishing super power of chia seeds is their ability to expand up to 10-12 times their weight in a gel-form when they are soaked in water. Let us walk you through the health benefits of chia seeds, those special seeds encapsulated within tiny black coats.
Chia seeds are good for weight management
For those who are aiming to lose weight, this article may slightly disappoint you. In a 12-week study, 90 overweight participants were given 50g of chia seeds daily but none of their body weights or disease risk factors showed significant improvement after the study. But here is the good news: chia seeds do play a role in appetite control and food intake reduction. As mentioned, chia seeds turn into a gel-like structure and expand in size after mixing with water or other liquids. The fibrous gel mass slows down the digestion and absorption process and stays in the stomach for a longer time. This increases fullness and enhances a sense of satiety, and thus reduces the urge to take in more calories.
Moreover, though chia seeds on their own cannot directly bring about weight loss, some experts believe that they are key ingredients to be included in a weight loss diet.
Chia seeds are packed with antioxidants
Chia seeds are very rich in antioxidants, which are naturally present to prevent delicate fats in chia seeds from going rancid. The naturally occurring preservatives explain why chia seeds have an extended shelf-life. When absorbed into the body, the main role of antioxidants is to protect against cellular damage from oxidative stress as a result of accumulation of free radicals produced by the body or external sources (e.g. processed food and air pollution). Hence, eating chia seeds may reduce the risk of cancer, cardiovascular diseases and slow down aging.
Antioxidants in chia seeds exist in forms of different phytochemicals and minerals. Phytochemicals like chlorogenic acid, quercetin and kaempferol are antioxidants that help lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart diseases, cerebrovascular diseases, osteoporosis, certain types of cancer and other chronic diseases respectively. Also present in chia seeds is the mineral selenium, which is an important antioxidant involved in a variety of body functions, for example, immunity and cognition.
Chia seeds are high in omega-3
Chia seeds are amongst the best sources of plant-based omega-3 fatty acids in the world, even higher than salmon proportionally. Numerous research studies showed that chia seeds can increase the blood level of omega-3 in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) by 138% and EPA by 39%. On one hand, omega-3 can raise the “good” high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol which is responsible for removing other forms of cholesterol in blood to reduce the risk of heart diseases and stroke. On the other hand, omega-3 can lower the “bad” low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, which accumulates in the inner wall of arteries and blocks the passageway of blood. By balancing the HDL and LDL ratio in the body, chia seeds are helpful in promoting heart and blood vessel health.
Nevertheless, omega-3 exists mostly in the form of ALA in chia seeds, which cannot be utilized by the body unless it is converted into the active forms eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). But this conversion process is not efficient. Therefore in order to obtain adequate omega-3, it is generally recommended to rely on animal sources such as fish oil which contains DHA; or for vegans, to rely on DHA or EPA supplements.
Chia seeds contain plenty of high-quality protein
It may surprise you, but these tiny black seeds can help you strengthen your muscles as protein is essentially the raw material for, well, building muscles. Chia seeds are one of the few plant-based foods that have high protein content and all 9 essential amino acids (basic units of protein which cannot be synthesized within the body) required by the body for protein synthesis. This makes chia seeds a good source of plant-based protein for vegans particularly.
What’s more, a higher protein intake is also associated with lower appetite as it keeps you full longer. Research showed that protein can put off the urge to eat and the craving for a nighttime snack. This implies that chia seeds as an excellent source of protein may be ideal for weight management.
Chia seeds are high in fiber
Containing 40% of fiber by weight, chia seeds provide one of the best sources of fiber amongst all food. The majority of the carbohydrates in chia seeds comes in the form of fiber, of which 95% is soluble in water to form a gel-like structure. That explains why chia seeds can expand their weight up to 10-12 times when in contact with water. Also being indigestible, fiber can facilitate digestion by adding bulk to stool and stimulating peristalsis in intestines . This increases the ease to expel waste materials from the body, and in turns prevents or relieves constipation and reduces the risk of colorectal cancer.
According to a study on trends of dietary fiber intake in the US, most people did not consume enough fiber, possibly owing to the limited intake of fruits and vegetables in a contemporary lifestyle. For this reason, chia seeds are good supplements for fiber because they can easily blend with many recipes, often without even being noticed. Chia seeds are even popular toppings for yoghurt and work perfectly as a substitute for egg in cooking thanks to its coagulative property. Probably to your surprise, an ounce (28g) of chia seeds can provide half of the recommended daily intake of fiber in adults!
Are chia seeds suitable for everyone?
People who are taking blood-thinning medications such as Warfarin should be aware of the dose of chia seeds intake. High doses of chia seeds contain a large amount of omega-3 fatty acids, whose blood-thinning effect may affect the blood-thinner actions. Consult a doctor regarding the suitable dose of chia seeds intake if in doubt.
Is it safe to consume chia seeds?
In general, chia seeds are safe to eat. In a rare case, it’s been reported that a man had an esophageal blockage after consuming a tablespoon of dry chia seeds followed by a glass of water. To prevent similar accidents, it is advisable to mix chia seeds with a liquid of your choice before eating to ease swallowing.
Are there any adverse effects of chia seeds?
There is generally no adverse effect from consuming chia seeds. But it should be noted that the phytic acid content in chia seeds may hinder absorption of certain minerals in food, such as calcium, iron and zinc, potentially affecting bone health in the long-term. Nonetheless, chia seeds provide excellent sources of minerals, particularly calcium. This balances off the effect of phytic acid in chia seeds.