Benefits of Chia Seeds Include Protein, Fiber, Healthy Fats and More

You may remember television advertising peddling a fuzzy green clay pet to the eye-catching tune of ch-ch-ch-chia! What caused the terracotta puppy to turn green? A sloppy paste of moist chia seeds. Very few of us back then thought of seeds as something that could add a nutritional boost to our diets, and instead just something that made a novelty product fun to behold. But now these tiny chia seeds have achieved superfood status because they pack a serious nutritional punch. And, in this case, one that isn’t overhyped.

Read on to learn more about the benefits of chia seeds and why it would be wise to sprinkle more of them into your life.

Origin of chia seeds

Chia is a small seed with a subtle taste that comes from an annual herbaceous plant, Salvia hispanica L., a member of the mint family native to Mexico and Central America. Once a food prized by ancient Aztec armies, chia was cultivated by Mesopotamian cultures, but then essentially disappeared for centuries until the mid-20th century when it was “rediscovered.”

The health benefits of chia seeds

Don’t let their small size fool you: chia seeds pack a big nutritional punch. In fact, a 1 ounce serving (about 2 1/2 tablespoons) of chia seeds contains:

  • 138 calories
  • 5g protein
  • 9 g fat
  • 1 g of saturated fat
  • 5g omega-3 fatty acids
  • 12g carbohydrates
  • 10g fiber

    “Chia seeds are a convenient, nutrient-dense food that can help runners meet their nutritional needs,” says Dana Norris, MS, RD, CSSD, Registered Dietitian at Eleat Sports Nutrition. “That’s because they provide protein, omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, and many other nutrients like magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, and potassium.”

    Here is what you will gain by eating chia seeds:

    1. Mega-healthy fat

    Some people still view high-fat foods like chia as the enemy, but they are our allies in health when they have the right kinds of fats. Only about 11% of the fats in chia seeds are saturated, with the rest being health-promoting monounsaturates and polyunsaturates.

    In the case of chia, the most notable polyunsaturated fat is alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a type of omega-3 fatty acid that is considered essential and therefore must be obtained from the diet. An analysis of data from 41 studies that was published in the journal BMJ linked high alpha-linolenic acid intake to a 10% lower risk of all-cause mortality, an 8% lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease, and an 11% lower risk of death from coronary heart disease, compared to lower consumption levels.

    Other to research also suggested that this plant-based omega-3 fatty acid may protect against the development of heart disease. The mechanisms are not yet fully known, but it could be that this fat helps reduce inflammation in the body.

    The omega-3 content of chia could also be one of the reasons why some to research suggests that consuming it daily could help lower blood pressure numbers. But this benefit has only been shown in people with existing hypertension and may not occur in healthy runners who don’t have blood pressure levels of concern.

    Also beneficial: Chia seeds provide a 3:1 ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids. “The standard American diet tends to be much higher in omega-6s than omega-3s, which can increase inflammation,” Norris notes. “So eating these seeds is a great way to get more omega-3s and help improve that fat level in your diet.”

    2. Filler fiber

    A single tablespoon of chia seeds provides about 4 grams of fiber. This is important given that many people struggle to meet their daily quota – men generally need around 38 grams of fiber, while women should aim for 25 grams. “So a daily serving or two of chia can help runners get enough fiber for better health,” says Norris.

    The results of a study published in the journal The Lancet suggests that high fiber consumers (those who consume at least 25 grams per day) have a 15 to 15 risk of heart attack, stroke, type 2 diabetes, colorectal cancer and cardiovascular death. 30% lower than people who eat much less fiber.

    “Dietary fiber helps regulate the digestive system, feeds the good bacteria in the gut, promotes satiety (the feeling of fullness), positively impacts cholesterol levels, and helps manage energy levels throughout life. throughout the day,” says Norris. world of runners.

    Much of the fiber in chia comes from the soluble form of this carbohydrate. When exposed to liquids in your digestive tract, these soluble fibers form a gel-like coating that can slow down the digestion of your meals and snacks. There are a few benefits to this: For starters, it helps bulk up your stool and protect you from constipation and diarrhea. It can also help you better manage your blood sugar, which can make your energy more stable and reduce your risk of certain metabolic conditions, like type 2 diabetes.

    Slower digestion can also improve satiety to aid in the overall regulation of caloric intake. In the bestseller born to run, author Christopher McDougall reported that the Tarahumara indigenous group in Mexico, who are known for their world-class running endurance, often consume a chia drink before endless runs to help stave off hunger. Remember, it’s probably not a good idea not to experiment with consuming chia before a big run in case that fiber causes you gastrointestinal issues.

    3. Micronutrients for bone formation

    With about 15% of the daily calcium requirement in a 2 tablespoon serving, chia seeds are a viable non-dairy source of calcium. “Chia seeds can be a helpful way for athletes to increase their calcium intake, especially if they’re not consuming dairy products,” Norris says. She adds that magnesium and phosphorus are two other micronutrients in chia that also improve bone health.

    Plus, you get iron in chia seeds, a mineral needed to help carry oxygen to your working muscles and, in turn, something that’s vital for maintaining peak performance. Although the form of iron in chia and other plant-based foods is not absorbed as well as that in meats, you can help partially remedy this by consuming the seeds along with a source of vitamin C, such as berries, which improves absorption rates.

    There is also a good amount of manganese in chia, which the National Institutes of Health dit is involved in the metabolism of proteins and carbohydrates and in the proper functioning of the immune system.

    4. Disease-fighting antioxidants

    Nutritional analysis revealed that chia seeds provide a range of helpful antioxidants, including caffeic acid, rosmarinic acid, myricetin, and quercetin. Antioxidants are compounds that scour the body for cell-damaging free radicals to eliminate them. And in doing so, they are thought to help reduce the risk of several chronic diseases, including cancer. But we don’t yet have data to link specific antioxidants in chia seeds to disease prevention.

    But these chia-based compounds still have one important benefit. “The antioxidants in chia seeds are beneficial for muscle recovery because they help reduce inflammation in the body, which can be caused by strenuous exercise,” adds Norris.

    5. A surprising amount of protein

    As more and more people turn to plant-based protein, it helps to know that chia seeds are a pretty good source. You get about 2-3 grams in each tablespoon. This makes them higher in protein than most nuts, including almonds. In fact, a study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry determined that chia seeds provide a healthy balance of essential amino acids, making them useful for muscle recovery and muscle building in athletes.

    Just be aware that other plant foods like tofu, beans, and tempeh make it even easier to meet overall protein needs if you’re following a meat- and dairy-free diet, since they contain a higher total amount of macronutrients. .

    How to eat more chia seeds

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    Chia seeds come in black and off-white, but there’s little difference in flavor and no proven major nutritional benefit to choosing one over the other. Unlike flax, chia does not need to be ground for its nutrients to be properly absorbed by your body.

    Eating more chia can be as simple as sprinkling it on your oatmeal, yogurt, cottage cheese, steamed or roasted vegetables, and fruit salads. Norris points out that you can also mix them into your smoothies for a nutritional boost and incorporate them into homemade energy bars and balls.

    The high amount of soluble fiber in chia forms a gel when mixed with water, a feature you can take advantage of to create better-for-you puddings and jams. For example, for a nutritious chocolate pudding, combine 1/2 cup milk, 1/2 cup plain yogurt, 1 tablespoon cocoa powder, 1 teaspoon honey, 1 teaspoon vanilla and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon. Pour into a jar and stir in 3 tablespoons of chia seeds. Seal and refrigerate until thickened, about 2 hours. Or make a thirst-quenching and hydrating chia fresca by mixing 1 cup of water, 2 teaspoons of chia seeds, the juice of 1/2 a lemon or lime, and 2 teaspoons of honey or agave syrup. Let stand a few minutes to thicken slightly.

    The same gelling quality allows you to create an egg substitute for baking. For each egg called for in a recipe, mix 1 tablespoon of chia seeds with 3 tablespoons of water and let sit for about 10 minutes, or until a gooey texture has formed. You can then use it to create a binding effect in a recipe just like an egg would.

    Made by finely grinding whole chia seeds, you can also add chia powder to baked goods like muffins and cookies, as well as batter for your Sunday pancakes. Use it in place of breadcrumbs in recipes such as meatloaf or stir it into a casserole of stewed oats.

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