Chia Seeds - Health Food or Hype?

Maylin Rodriguez-Paez, RN

Once a staple of the Aztec diet, chia seeds fell out of favor when the Spanish conquistadors took over the “New World.” Since then, chia seeds have seemingly made a comeback.

First, they surfaced in the form of the bizarre “Chia Pet,” but now they’re being hailed as a formidable health food. Interesting progression, isn’t it?

These days, just about every “health foodie” out there has taken a liking to these seeds, making them a staple in their own diet.

But in the end, are they really worth all of the hype? Let’s take a look.

Below, we’ll discuss the known health benefits of chia seeds so that you can draw your own conclusion.

Chia is a Good Source of Omega-3s

There’s a decent chance you’re eating chia seeds because you heard they’re a good source of omega-3 fats. If so, you’re on the right track. They’re unquestionably good for that reason!

Chia seeds are one of the richest sources of omega-3s on the planet, with about 60% of their oils coming from alpha-linolenic acid1 (ALA), a type of omega-3 found in plants. Chia seeds don’t contain DHA or EPA, the omega-3 fats found in fish and algal oils.

You don’t have to grind the chia seeds before eating them. Unlike flaxseeds, you can eat them whole and still absorb their nutrients. Also, the fats in chia seeds don’t easily oxidize, making them an ideal food to store all year around.

The omega-3s in chia seeds are highly absorbable. In one study, 25 grams of chia seeds taken for 7 weeks increased blood levels of ALA significantly after one week, and with 138% by the end of the study period2.

Chia Seeds are Nutrient Dense

Apart from being a good source of omega-3s, chia seeds are also extremely nutrient dense. They’re a great source of calcium, protein, manganese, and fiber.

A serving contains about 11 grams of fiber, which satisfies close to 40% of your daily needs.3 They also contain valuable antioxidants4 including the following:

  • Chlorogenic acid
  • Flavonols
  • Quercetin
  • Caffeic acid

Do Chia Seeds Satisfy Your Appetite?

Chia seeds have a great capacity to hold water.5 If you put them in a glass of water, the fiber in the seeds expand and form a viscous gel after several minutes. This could potentially happen in your stomach, helping you to feel full.

Overall, studies show fiber helps to satiate one’s appetite.6 This is due to their ability to expand in the stomach, signaling to the brain that there’s little room left for food.

All of us could use a little more fiber in our diets. Don’t you think?

Chia is Heart Healthy and Helps Maintain Blood Sugar Levels

Chia seeds may one day be called a heart healthy food. In animal studies, they’ve been shown to reduce heart inflammation7 and prevent the onset of dyslipidemia,8 the condition of having abnormal amounts of fat in the blood.

In patients with type 2 diabetes, 12 weeks of ingestion lead to positive changes in the following factors associated with heart disease9:

  • Systolic blood pressure
  • C-reactive protein (a marker of inflammation)
  • Fibrinogen ( a blood coagulation marker)
  • HBA1C (a test that measures blood glucose control over several months) 
Not bad for a tiny little seed!

Recipe: Pomegranate Lime Chia Fresca

Finally, we’ve included a recipe for you to try. This is a spin-off of a traditional drink called “chia fresca” that we think you'll love!

Chia Fresca:

Ingredients:

  • 3 Tbsp. chia seeds
  • 1/2 c. water
  • 3/4 c. pomegranate juice
  • 1 Tbsp. fresh lime juice
Instructions:

Place chia seeds in a glass. Pour water, pomegranate juice, and lime juice over seeds. Let sit for 15 minutes. Whisk to break up any clumps of seeds, then serve and enjoy!

The Bottom line

Currently, there really isn’t much research on the health benefits of chia seeds. In fact, only a handful of studies have been conducted on animals and humans.

This was quite surprising, since chia seeds have quickly become a veritable “holy grail” for health enthusiasts. But, overall we’re pretty sure that future studies will help substantiate their benefits.

So, are chia seeds worth the hype? We’re not overly excited yet, but for now they seem worth the eat.

References:

  1. Available at: http://www.hindawi.com/journals/bmri/2012/171956/. Accessed March 6th, 2013.
  2. Plant Foods Hum Nutr. 2012 Jun;67(2):105-10.
  3. Available at: http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/nut-and-seed-products/3061/2. Accessed March 6th, 2013.
  4. Available at: http://www.hevoise.com.br/media/files/chia.pdf. Accessed March 6th, 2013.
  5. Food Sci Technol Int. 2010 Feb;16(1):89-96.
  6. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2009 Sep;19(7):498-503.
  7. J Nutr Biochem. 2012 Feb;23(2):153-62.
  8. Br J Nutr. 2009 Jan;101(1):41-50.
  9. Diabetes Care. 2007 Nov;30(11):2804-10. Epub 2007 Aug 8.

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13 comments:

Chia Lover said...

Great overview of the Mighty Chia :D We love chia seeds and use them in a lot of recipes. There's no doubt that they are not only super healthy for you but very versatile in the ways they can be used! Compared to Flax they are a great seed. And there's a lot of hype about them for sure...

LifeExtension said...

Chia Lover - Why thank you! Thanks for reading. :)

Anonymous said...

thanks for share..

LifeExtension said...

Anonymous - Our pleasure!

Virtual offices Singapore said...

Really usefull!!! Thanks for sharing.

LifeExtension said...

Virtual offices Singapore - Glad you liked it! Our pleasure.

Georgie Mcvoy said...

Great post :-) I absolutely love chia seeds, they are very versatile in the way that you can add them to pretty much any meal you desire and is a great and easy way of increasing the nutritional profile of any meal. I find Chia does help keep you fuller for longer also.

LifeExtension said...

Georgie Mcvoy - Thanks for your input and the positive feedback!

Peter Anderson said...

I didn’t know that chia seeds rich in omega 3, do you know a place to that in UK?

LifeExtension said...

Peter Anderson - You should be able to find them in a health food store or even in supermarkets.

Jared said...

Good, objective article. I agree that in time, scientific studies will prove their health benefit. At the very least, they provide a good source of ALA, high fiber and protein. How can you go wrong?! Main point, chia and flax won't replace eating healthy fish containing EPA and DHA. Both are critical for brain development and don't have to rely on your body converting from ALA. http://upoweru.com/can-chia-seeds-make-child-better-reader/

LifeExtension said...

Jared - We couldn't agree with you more. :-)

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