You might remember the television commercials hawking a fuzzy green clay pet to the catchy tune of ch-ch-ch-chia! What caused the terracotta puppy to sprout green? A sloppy paste of wet chia seeds. Very few of us at the time considered the seeds something that could add a nutritional boost to our diets, and instead, just something that made a novelty product fun to see. But now these tiny chia seeds have reached superfood status, as they pack a serious nutritional punch. And, in this case, one that is not overhyped.
Read on to find out about chia seeds’ benefits and why you would be wise to sprinkle more into your life.
Chia is a small, subtlety flavored seed 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 the ancient Aztec armies, chia was cultivated by Mesopotamian cultures, but then essentially disappeared for centuries until the middle of the 20th century, when it was ‘rediscovered.’
Don’t let their small stature fool you: chia seeds have a large nutritional impact. In fact, a 1-ounce serving (about 2 1/2 tablespoons) of chia seeds contains:
“Chia seeds are a convenient and nutrient-dense food that can help runners meet their nutritional needs,” says Dana Norris, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D, dietitian of 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, what you’ll gain from eating chia seeds:
Some people still consider high-fat foods like chia as the enemy, but they’re our allies in health when they possess the right types of fat. Only about 11% of the fat present in chia seed is saturated, with the rest being health-benefiting monounsaturated and polyunsaturated.
In the case of chia, the most notable polyunsaturated fat is alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a type of omega-3 fatty acid that is deemed essential and therefore must be obtained from the diet. An analysis of data from 41 studies that was published in the journal BMJ linked a high intake of alpha-linolenic acid to a 10% lower risk of all-cause mortality, an 8% lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease and an 11% reduced risk of death from coronary heart disease, compared with lower consumption levels.
Other research has also suggested that this plant-based omega-3 fat can be protective against developing heart disease. Mechanisms aren’t yet fully known, but it might be that this fat helps lower inflammation in the body.
The omega-3 content of chia could also be one reason why some research suggests that consuming it daily could help drive down blood pressure numbers. But this benefit has only been demonstrated in those with existing hypertension and may not occur in healthy runners who don’t have troubling blood pressure levels.
Also beneficial: Chia seeds provide a 3-to-1 ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acid. “The standard American diet tends to be much higher in omega-6s than omega-3s, which can increase inflammation,” notes Norris. “So eating these seeds is a great way to consume more omega-3s and help improve this fat ratio in your diet.”
A mere tablespoon serving of chia seeds delivers about 4 grams of fiber. That is significant considering that many people struggle to reach their daily quota—men typically require about 38 grams of fiber, while women should aim for 25 grams. “So a daily serving or two of chia can make it a lot easier for runners to get enough fiber for better health,” Norris says.
The findings of a study published in the journal The Lancet suggests that high-fiber eaters (those who consume at least 25 grams a day) have a 15% to 30% lower risk of heart attack, stroke, type 2 diabetes, colorectal cancer, and cardiovascular-related death compared to people who eat much less fiber.
“Dietary fiber helps to 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 the day,” Norris tells Runners World.
A good portion of the fiber in chia hails from the soluble form of this carbohydrate. When exposed to liquids in your digestive tract, this soluble fiber forms a gelatinous coating that can slow down the digestion of your meals and snacks. There are a few benefits of this: For starters, this helps bulk up your stool and guard against constipation and diarrhea. It can also help you better manage blood sugar levels, which can make your energy more stable and lower the risk for certain metabolic conditions, like type 2 diabetes.
Slower digestion may also improve satiety to help with overall calorie intake regulation. In the best-selling book 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 quell hunger. Just keep in mind, it’s probably not a good idea not to experiment with consuming chia before an important run in case this fiber causes you gastro problems.
With about 15% of the daily need for calcium 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 do not consume dairy products,” says Norris. She adds that magnesium and phosphorus are two other micronutrients in chia that also work to improve bone health.
Additionally, you get iron in chia seeds, a mineral necessary for helping transport oxygen to your working muscles, and, in turn, something that is vital for maintaining peak performance. Though the form of iron in chia and other plant-based foods is not as well absorbed as that in meats, you can help partially remedy this by consuming the seeds with a source of vitamin C, such as berries, which improves absorption rates.
There is also a healthy amount of manganese in chia, which the National Institutes of Health says is involved in protein and carbohydrate metabolism and proper immune system functioning.
Nutrition analysis has revealed that chia seeds deliver a range of useful antioxidants including caffeic acid, rosmarinic acid, myricetin, and quercetin. Antioxidants are compounds that roam the body looking for cell-damaging free radicals to knock out. And in doing so, are thought to help reduce the risk for a number of chronic diseases, including cancer. But we don’t yet have any data to link specific antioxidants in chia seeds with disease prevention.
But there’s still an important benefit to these chia-backed compounds. “The antioxidants in chia seeds benefit muscle recovery as they help reduce inflammation in the body, which can be caused by strenuous exercise,” adds Norris.
As more people pivot to plant-based proteins, it’s helpful to know that chia seeds are a fairly good source. You get about 2 to 3 grams in each tablespoon. That makes them more protein-dense than most nuts, including almonds. In fact, a study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry determined that chia seeds supply a healthy balance of essential amino acids making them helpful in muscle recovery and muscle building for athletes.
Just know that other plant foods like tofu, beans, and tempeh still make it easier to meet overall protein needs if following a meat- and dairy-free diet, considering they contain a higher total amount of macronutrient.
Chia seeds come in both black and off-white, but there is little flavor difference and no proven major nutritional advantages of choosing one over the other. Unlike flax, chia does not need to be ground for its nutrients to be properly absorbed in your body.
Eating more chia can be as simple as sprinkling it over your oatmeal, yogurt, cottage cheese, steamed or roasted vegetables, and fruit salads. Norris points out that you can also blend 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 quirk that you can take advantage of to create better-for-you puddings and jams. For instance, for a nutritious chocolate pudding blend together 1/2 cup milk, 1/2 cup plain yogurt, 1 tablespoon cocoa powder, 1 teaspoon honey, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon. Pour into a jar and stir in 3 tablespoons chia seed. Seal shut and chill until thickened, about 2 hours. Or make a thirst-quenching, hydrating chia fresca by stirring together 1 cup water, 2 teaspoons chia seeds, juice of 1/2 lemon or lime and 2 teaspoons honey or agave syrup. Let sit for a few moments to thicken slightly.
The same gelling quality lets you create a substitute for eggs for baking. For each egg called for in a recipe, mix 1 tablespoon chia seeds with 3 tablespoons water and let sit for about 10 minutes, or until a goopy texture has formed. You can then use this to create a binding effect in a recipe much as an egg would.
Made by finely grinding up whole chia seeds, you can also add chia powder to baked goods like muffins and cookies, as well as the batter for your Sunday pancakes. Use it instead of breadcrumbs in recipes such as meatloaf or stir it into a pot of simmering oats.2022-09-30T20:05:23Z dg43tfdfdgfd