Ch – Cha – Cha Chia…Seeds?
If were alive in the 1980s, you may remember chia pets, clay pots in the shape of animals that grew sprouts that resembled hair. These fuzzy pets coated in chia sprouts were all the rage. These days chia has made a comeback, but now people are more interested in the health benefits of the tiny seeds used to produce the sprouts. These days chia seeds are referred to as a superfood. Is it just a fad – or is there something special about the tiny seed that was once a food source for the Aztecs?
Chia Seeds and Protein
People often point out that chia seeds are a source of all eight essential amino acids that you need for good health but your body can’t produce. Unfortunately, a study published in the Mexican journal Respyn showed that the protein in chia isn’t very digestible. For raw chia seeds, only about 34% of the protein is absorbed and about 11% is absorbed from toasted chia seeds. On the plus side, the protein in chia flour is most digestible with almost 80% digested and absorbed. Unless you’re using chia flour, you’ll get the benefits of only a fraction of the amino acids in chia.
Chia Seeds and Omega-3
Chia seeds are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids – but it’s the plant-based form of omega-3 called alpha-linolenic acid. To get maximal benefits from alpha-linolenic acid it needs to be converted to EPA and DHA, the two forms of omega-3s with documented health benefits. Your body can only convert a portion of the alpha-linolenic acid you get from diet into EPA and DHA. So eating chia seeds won’t necessarily give you the same benefits as the omega-3s in fatty fish like salmon.
They’re a Good Source of Fibre
One area where chia seeds excel is with their fiber content. In a world where so few people meet their fiber requirements, a serving of chia seeds can have a significant impact. A one-ounce serving of chia seeds has an impressive 11 grams of fiber. With a single serving, you’ve met almost half of your daily fiber requirements.
A significant portion of the fiber in chia seeds is soluble fiber, the kind that lowers cholesterol levels and helps to protect against heart disease. Fiber also expands in your digestive tract and causes you to feel full and keeps blood sugar levels stable. A serving of chia in the morning may also reduce cravings later in the day by stabilizing blood sugar.
Chia Seeds Are Gluten-Free
More people are avoiding gluten these days. You can make a gluten-free cereal by adding chia seeds to milk and mixing it until it becomes gelatinous. For more flavor, add unsweetened cocoa powder and a touch of Stevia with some berries or nuts for a high-fiber breakfast that’s quick to make and gluten-free. It’s one of the lowest carb cereals you can eat with only one gram of net carbs per serving due to the high fiber content.
A Good Source of Calcium
Chia seeds are a good source of plant-based calcium. Three tablespoons of chia seeds has over 300 milligrams of calcium. It’s a good way to get the calcium your bones need if you eat a vegan diet or avoid dairy products.
Can Chia Seeds Help You Lose Weight?
Some people promote chia seeds as a weight loss food. Chia seeds may be low in carbs and satiating, but they don’t appear to have magical weight loss properties. A study published in Nutrition Research, overweight adults who ate 25 grams of chia seeds mixed with water twice a day experienced no greater loss of weight than a placebo group.
The Bottom Line?
Chia seeds have health benefits – they’re high in fiber, low in net carbs and relatively low in calories at 137 calories per ounce, but they’re not a reliable source of protein or EPA and DHA, the most beneficial types of omega-3s. The biggest benefit of chia seeds may be their high fiber content and their lack of gluten, which is helpful for people who want a breakfast cereal but are gluten-sensitive. They’re also a good source of calcium, and that’s important, especially for women. Add them to soups, cereals or you next smoothie – and enjoy this ancient food.
Respyn. Volumen 9 No. 1. Enero-Marzo 2008.
Mayo Clinic. “Omega-3 fatty acids, fish oil, alpha-linolenic acid”
Nutrition Research 29 (2009) 414–418.
Self Nutrition Data. “Chia Seeds Dried”