Ch-ch-ch-CHIA! Remember the commercials for Chia Pets — the terra cotta animals that grew “fur” from chia seeds? While that fad has passed, people have started to realize that chia itself is no joke. Chia seeds are small yet mighty, packed full of nutrients. They’re perfect for adding to smoothies, topping your yogurt or cereal, or sprinkling on your salad. No matter how you use them, they offer some wonderful health benefits! Here’s why you should pick up some chia seeds on your next grocery run.
Mega-Fiber, Minimal Calories
Fiber is crucial to your overall gut health. Although your body doesn’t digest fiber, your gut’s microbiome — the beneficial bacteria in your intestine — will love it. They feed on it, growing their population. By consuming enough fiber, you ensure that your gut has enough probiotic microbes to efficiently break down your food.
Fiber also soaks up excess liquid and keeps things moving along, as it were. IF you struggle with bowel movements, you probably need more fiber in your diet.
Unfortunately, many fiber-rich foods are also high in carbohydrates. Your body converts carbs to sugar, which is normally a good thing. If you’re trying to lose weight, though, you definitely don’t want those extra carbs.
Chia contains just one digestible carb per 28 grams — 12 grams total, 11 of which are fiber. That high fiber content allows chia seeds to soak up liquid and expand in your stomach. This helps you feel fuller, absorb more nutrients from your food, and avoid sugar overload from excess carbohydrates.
Fiber also promotes cardiovascular health, both indirectly through weight loss and by lowering the amount of LDL — the bad cholesterols that impacts blood pressure.
In short, chia is a fiber-rich food that should absolutely be in your diet if you wish to lose weight, improve your gut health, or both.
Chia vs. Cancer
Chia seeds are rich in antioxidants, which prevent fats and proteins from breaking down. That’s what oxidation is, and when it happens too much in your cells, cancer can develop. The basic chemistry is that electrons detach from the molecules that drive your cellular function. These are called free radicals and they can tear apart cells and lead to cancerous growth.
Antioxidants intervene by reversing the oxidation process and keeping your cells intact. These days, we face unprecedented levels of exposure to UV and carcinogenic chemicals. Chia relies on antioxidants to protect its sensitive husk and oils. You can benefit from these cancer-fighting compounds by making chia a regular part of your diet.
Seeds For Smarts
While yes, chia seeds contain fat (they are seeds, after all), it’s the good kind of fat. Out of a single ounce’s 9 grams of fat, 5 are omega-3s, which boost cognitive power and protect your neurological system. Now, these omega-3s aren’t as easily converted to DHA as those found in fish, but every little bit counts.
Studies have also shown that omega-3s seem to lower cholesterol levels, blood vessel plaque, and your overall risk for cardiac disorders.
Chia is rich in vitamins B1, which creates helpful neurotransmitters, B2, which promotes energy production, and B3, which helps with cell communication and expression. Altogether, B vitamins keep your body ticking and your brain humming. So, if you need to focus on a project or ace that exam, toss a handful of chia into your snack to fuel your mind and body!
Many people assume you can only get protein from meat. Nope! Despite being part of a plant, chia packs a punch. Its seeds are 14% protein, which means a single ounce of chia provides 4 grams of protein. You need 46-56 grams of protein per day, depending on your body composition and activity level, so a handful of chia in your smoothie is a great way to start your day or follow up a workout!
Protein also satisfies your appetite sooner, so again, look to chia as a beneficial food for a weight-loss program.
And of course, if you don’t eat meat, chia can be a great way to boost your protein intake in a plant-based diet.
Speaking of getting strong: An ounce of chia provides 30% of your recommended daily magnesium plus a helpful dose of potassium, both of which support bone health, muscle function, and energy. Keep your body strong and healthy with a dose of chia!
Vegetarians will also appreciate chia’s impressive calcium content, which is proportionately higher than most dairy products. A single ounce of chia seeds contains 18% of your recommended daily calcium. By contrast, an ounce of milk provides just 3.45%. This makes chia a powerful bone-booster for people who don’t consume dairy, whether due to ethical concerns or lactose intolerance!
Chia is also rich in phosphorus, which may not be as famous as calcium but is just as important for healthy bones! One ounce of chia seeds provides 27% of your recommended daily phosphorus. Like calcium, phosphorus is most often found in meat and dairy products, although you can also obtain it from beans, legumes, and grains.
If you’re on a low-carb diet, have Alpha-gal, or are sensitive to tyramine, purine, or FODMAPS, you probably want to avoid meat, dairy, wheat, and legumes. Chia can be an excellent alternative.
Blood Sugar Stability
We all know the importance of regulating our blood sugar, especially for diabetics and those at-risk for diabetics. High-carb meals are known to cause blood sugar spikes. However, chia seems to modulate blood sugar levels by boosting insulin sensitivity. This means you can still enjoy your carbs — as long as your bread is sprinkled with chia seeds!
Ways to Use Chia
Chia may be nutrient-rich, but they’re also relatively tasteless. This is a good thing — it means you can add them to anything! Here are some ideas for incorporating chia into your diet:
- Sprinkle on top of cereal, yogurt, or muesli.
- Add them to your smoothie or milkshake.
- Soak them in juice or milk to make a jelly topping for bagels, biscuits, or muffins.
- Sprinkle on top of your stir-fry, roasted vegetables, or rice dishes.
- Use as a substitute for eggs in baking.
- Thicken sauces while adding some nutrients.
Don’t go overboard, though: suddenly adding so much fiber to your diet can backfire! Nutritionists recommend about 20 grams of chia (1.5 tablespoons) twice a day to start. Always mix your chia seeds with liquid before you attempt to swallow them! They turn into a gel very quickly. Otherwise, be creative! Even a small amount of chia adds a nutritional boost to any of your meals or snacks.
Dr. Casey Sinclair, D.C. is a leading holistic healthcare doctor trained in functional medicine. He has extended his reach around the world by co-founding Family Health Advocacy, a health advocacy group lead by doctors and health professionals providing resources and education on global health matters. He has been fortunate to act as health a consultant to some of the largest companies in North America and as a professional speaker he’s had the privilege of speaking to thousands of people. Dr. Casey is an advocate for people suffering with chronic pain and fibromyalgia and has authored a book on the subject.