Salvia hispanica, also known as the chia plant, is a plant with origins in Mexico and Guatemala. This Central American native is a member of the mint family and produces small round seeds with a glossy appearance.
There is evidence that the seeds of the chia have been used traditionally by the Aztecs and Maya for many generations.
In fact, the word “chia” comes from the ancient Mayan word meaning “strength.” The Mayans chose this designation because their warriors are said to have eaten a spoonful of chia seeds before battle. This small serving of chia seeds was considered to provide enough nourishment for a 24 hour period!
Such claims may sound like hyperbole, but a scientific look at the nutritional properties of chia seeds reveals that the Mayans may not have been exaggerating after all.
Chia seeds are packed with powerful nutrients including fiber, antioxidants, protein, minerals, and omega-3 fats.
These are the 5 best reasons to eat more chia seeds.
1. Insoluble Fiber
With a whopping ten grams of fiber, two tablespoons of chia seeds can provide about ⅓ of the recommended daily intake of fiber. This is because the majority of the carbohydrates in chia seeds (80%) is in the form insoluble fiber.
Insoluble fiber is not digested by the body, but is instead used as food for the beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract. This means that insoluble fiber does not raise blood sugar or even contribute to the caloric density of a food. They are perfect for those on a low-carb or ketogenic diet.
In addition to feeding the probiotics in the gut, the insoluble fiber found in chia seeds is known to help with digestion by soaking up toxins and scrubbing the intestinal wall clean.
When you subtract this indigestible fiber, chia seeds are left with only 100 calories per ounce, making them one of the most nutrient dense foods per calorie known to man.
One of the primary reasons chia seeds are considered to be so nutrient dense is because they are loaded with antioxidants. Antioxidants combat free-radicals which cause oxidation (aging) of cells.
The high antioxidant content of chia seeds actually keep the delicate omega-3 polyunsaturated fats they contain from going rancid (a form of oxidation).
The antioxidants in chia seeds include: chlorogenic acid, which has been associated with lowering blood pressure; quercetin, which has been shown to reduce heart diseases risk; and kaempferol, which reduces the risk for chronic disease.
Chia seeds are 14% protein by weight. Aside from the superfood algae spirulina, chia seeds are the next best source of vegan protein due to the presence of all 9 essential amino acids. For this reason, chia seeds are an important addition to the diets of those who don’t eat meat.
The ratio of these amino acids is also preferable to the human body making the protein in chia seeds highly bioavailable.
Adequate protein absorption decreases cravings and improves satiety which helps with weight loss and overall health.
Chia seeds are mineral powerhouses. Just one ounce can provide 18% the daily recommended intake of calcium, 30% of magnesium and manganese, and around 27% of phosphorus. Minerals are important for electrolyte balance, nervous system function, hydration, and cellular function.
Much of the soil around the world has been over-farmed and depleted of minerals thus the plants the land produces are also lacking in these valuable nutrients. This is why it is important to eat as much mineral dense food as possible to make up for this deficit.
5. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids such as ALA, EPA, and DHA, are crucial to cellular health. Found in abundance in the brain and the nervous system, these healthy fats are most readily available in animal foods such as wild-caught cold water fish, krill, grass-fed beef, and lamb.
Chia seeds are often touted as a superior source of omega-3 fatty acids because it actually contains more than salmon.
The caveat, however, is that chia seeds contain mostly ALA which is the inactive form of omega-3 that must be converted by the body to EPA and DHA. Unfortunately, the human body does a poor job at conversion.
Since DHA is by far the most important omega-3 fat and chia seeds provide little-if any-of this valuable nutrient, then are they useless as a source of omega-3’s?
Not necessarily, ALA has been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties which can help with weight loss and overall health.
How to Eat
Due to their ability to absorb water and add gelatinous structure to meals, chia seeds are frequently used by vegans and those with egg allergies as an egg replacer. Simply make a “chia egg” by whisking together 1 tablespoon of chia seeds with 3 tablespoons of water then place in the fridge for 15 minutes. This can be used as a 1 to 1 replacement for eggs.
Additionally, chia seeds are often used as smoothies. They are a great way to add both nutrition and texture without significantly affecting calorie count or glycemic index.
In order to increase digestibility, chia seeds are often soaked in a 1:10 ratio seeds to water. This is about 1.5 tablespoons for a cup of water. Let sit anywhere from 30 minutes to 12 hours (perhaps overnight) and then consume. This increases the availability of nutrients by activating dormant enzymes and it also decreases the anti-nutrient phytic acid which can be irritating to those who are sensitive.
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