It’s inevitable. Mention the word chia and that ear worm wriggles its way into your brain. Go ahead, I’ll sing it with you, “Ch-ch-ch-Chia…” Catchy, I know. While you might be familiar with the growing, green pottery, the story behind the product’s namesake seeds may just surprise you – there are a lot of health benefits of chia seeds.
Salvia Hispanica, the proper name for the chia plant, is thought to have first sprouted up in the southernmost parts of Mexico where the Aztecs cultivated them as far back as the 16th century. Grown alongside maize as a readily available source of protein, the seeds of the chia plant were used to make nutritious drinks and, when ground, as flour for making bread.
Fast forward a few centuries and it would seem that people everywhere can’t stop talking about them. Why all the chatter over chia? It may surprise you to learn that chia seeds are a bona fide superfood. They’re so super, in fact, that if they made tights and capes small enough you can bet they’d be wearing them. Here are 10 reasons why chia seeds should be stocked in your pantry and a regular part of your diet:
1.) Chia seeds pack more protein than eggs. You don’t have to understand the Kreb’s Cycle or be able to squat 800lbs to know that proteins are an important part of any well-rounded diet. Protein is used by your body to build new cells, create enzymes and generally keep your body from falling apart. If you’re like most Americans, you’re probably not getting enough. How much is enough? According to the CDC, the average adult should consume about 50g of protein per day from sources like lean meats, beans and dairy. And now you can add chia seeds to that list. Ounce for ounce, chia seeds have more protein than eggs with a single ounce (28g) of chia seeds containing 4 grams of the good stuff. No wonder Chia Seeds made it on our list of 50 Great Vegetarian Sources of Protein!
2.) Chia seeds are full of fiber. Fiber’s an important part of your diet, helping to keep you regular and regulate blood sugar and cholesterol. The problem is, most Americans are lucky if they manage to get half of their recommended daily amount of fiber – according to the Institute of Medicine, women should get 25 grams of fiber per day while men should aim for 38 grams. A tablespoon of chia seeds is crammed with 11 grams of fiber. That’s more than two slices of whole wheat bread or an entire cup of raw broccoli. Toss some on your salad next time, your colon will thank you.
3.) When it comes to the good fats, Chia seeds rule. You need fat. I’m not talking about the nasty ones like saturated fats and (shudder) trans-fats. I’m talking about the fats that do a body good, the unsaturated kind, the kind of fats that start with omega and end with a healthy heart and longer life. Chia seeds provide and easy (and meatless!) way to get your daily dose of omega-3 and omega-6 fats. One of the best health benefits of Chia seeds is that they’re loaded with good fats, more than even salmon, with 6.5 grams per ounce. And if you still need more convincing, research has shown that getting at least 1 gram of good fats per day can reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, and cancer, protect against memory loss and reduce the symptoms of depression. Nothing fishy about that.
4.) Chia seeds can help to keep your blood sugar in check. Over time, your body’s response to refined carbohydrates (think white flour and sugar) can create a condition in which your cells become less and less able to respond to the insulin produced by your pancreas. This is called insulin resistance and it’s a precursor to obesity and diabetes. Chia seeds, full of soluble fiber, slow the digestion process. This means that those cupcakes you just ate won’t spike your blood sugar nearly as fast, that your blood sugar levels are more apt to remain stable and that your chances of developing diabetes just went down.
5.)Blueberries got nothin’ on chia seeds when it comes to antioxidants. Antioxidants scavenge “free radicals” that go around the body breaking things down. Fewer free radicals = fewer health problems associated with aging, like heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease. In 2008, a study by the Department of Foods and Nutrition at Purdue University found that chia seeds kick ass in the antioxidant department and independent lab testing by Spectrum Essentials has shown that chia seeds have 83% more antioxidant capacity than blueberries.
6.) Chia seeds are loaded with a multitude of minerals. It’s not all about the essential fatty acids. Chia seeds are also teeming with a myriad of minerals, each with their own unique health benefits. A single serving of chia seeds contains 30% of your recommended daily intake of manganese, great for your brain and central nervous system, 27% of your recommended daily intake of phosphorous, helping to improve digestion and hormonal balance, and a stunning 179mg of calcium, that’s 17% of your recommended daily intake and great for keeping your bones strong and fighting off osteoporosis.
The major health benefits of Chia seeds have landed them a moment in the spotlight. After hundreds of years muddling in obscurity this miniscule morsel has the backing of heavy-hitting nutritionists and mainstream foodies alike. Chia seeds are the quintessential definition of a superfood and it’s hard to ignore their laundry list of health benefits. If you still aren’t ready to embrace the chia or you just want to geek out on more chia trivia check out the National Science Research Institute’s chia page or the Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology’s paper, The Promising Future of Chia.
Have you noticed the health benefits of chia seeds? What are your favorite recipes that incorporate chia seeds? Post them in the comments section below, and be sure to share this blog with those who could use a little more ch-ch-ch-chia in their lives.