They may be a tiny seed, but chia seeds sure know how to pack a punch when it comes to nutrition! With their unique macronutrient ratio and incredible range of nutrients working together so harmoniously, chia seeds are easily super enough to be called a “super food”! In fact, many truly do consider these to be natures perfect food! One of the only complete botanical proteins, it is said that the Aztec warriors and runners used Chia as a high energy supplement while on their conquests, while the Indians of the south west reportedly sustained themselves on as a little as a teaspoon of chia while on their 24 hour forced marches.
Perhaps then it is certainly not surprising to note that these friendly little seeds have long been hailed as “the running food”.
What’s that you say? Not a runner? Well, not to worry because the benefits don’t stop there!
Whether it’s simply a boost in natural energy you desire or if you’re looking to enhance your athletic performance, the nutrients in these seeds harmoniously work together to give you just that! The carbohydrates enter the bloodstream with minimal impact on blood sugar due to the seeds expansion in the stomach, creating a physical barrier between carbohydrates and the digestive enzymes required to break them down. This helps to prevent those horrible sugar crashes occurring, instead providing you with a sustained dose of fuel, and supplying that perfect (non-jittery) buzz to not just help you through your day, but to help you feel like living it to the full as well!
Especially high in dietary fibre, these could be the perfect little helpers for anyone on the weight loss wagon, or suffering from sugar cravings and withdrawal. This is due to the soluble fibre that surrounds the outer layer of the seeds expanding once inside the stomach, helping to slow down the absorption of carbohydrates into the blood, and allowing energy to be more slowly released. This in turn, can help to suppress appetite by keeping your blood sugar levels to stable for longer (crucial for controlling those crafty little cravings!)
A study from 2009 examined the effects of chia seeds on blood sugar levels and appetite, Using between 7 and 24 grams, they discovered the “highest dose” resulted in a blood glucose reduction of between 33-44%, while the “intermediate dose” of chia also showed a considerable 47% drop in hunger levels.
To read more about this study: http://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT00728065
(It’s also worth noting that these studies saw positive results, despite using their chia seed in white refined bread, which itself has been shown to raise insulin, contributing to blood sugar imbalances, and subsequent weight gain.)
As well as keeping you full, chia is also hydrophilic. The soluble fibre in these seeds can help to keep you optimally hydrated and maintain proper electrolyte balance. Their ability to absorb more than 12 times their own weight in water means that when consumed with liquids or moist foods, the seeds swell and hold onto the water, keeping it in the body and thereby keeping you hydrated for longer. This is why chia seeds are so useful for ultra athletes, and also why they work well as a thickener in the kitchen!
Particularly if you’re not drinking dairy, it can sometimes be difficult to make sure you’re still getting enough calcium. Chia seeds are a super source, containing – by weight – even more calcium than milk, along with all the other essential trace minerals required to enhance this absorption. The additional benefit to getting calcium from chia seeds is that they also aid digestion, whereas milk can hinder it, especially if you’re one of many who unknowingly suffer from lactose intolerance.
Brain Function and Depression
Omega 3 and 6 are also becoming recognised for their anti-depressive effects and impact on mental concentration. This is due to their support of the nervous system. A nourished nervous system helps the membrane to function better, thus enabling more efficient nerve transmission which allows greater absorption of nutrients to be exported into the cells. To summarise, they’re great for improving mood and keeping those brain cells in tip top condition. Still, it doesn’t stop there!
Essential fatty acids aren’t just called “essential” for nothing! Vital to your health, clinical studies have already shown just how beneficial these are in maintaining and improving:
- Cognitive function
- A healthy heart and liver
- Cholesterol balance
- Flexible joints
- Stable blood sugar levels
And these are merely a few of the benefits scientists are discovering all the time!
A study published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry reports that rats supplemented with chia seed had improved insulin sensitivity and tolerance, reduced visceral and liver adiposity (those devious fats that can silently build up on your insides, contributing to heart and liver diseases.) compared with the rats fed a high fat, unhealthy diet, who developed impaired insulin resistance, fatty livers, fibrosis, obesity, hypertension and various other drastic signs of ill health. If you compare this to humans, I think it’s pretty fair to say there seems to be a noticeable parallel in human society, correlating with the rapidly increasing intake of nutritionally void foods and lifestyles.
Chia seeds are the richest botanical source of ALA, containing more omega 3 than flaxseed and also, by weight, than salmon. This could be the perfect answer if you’re not eating oily fish on a regular basis (or even if you are!)
Building Lean Muscle Mass
Chia contains high quality protein and a higher percentage than most other grains and seeds (about 4.4g for every ounce of seeds.) This makes it a perfect alternative to grains where possible, and great for those looking for some extra protein intake, such as vegans, or those living a gluten free or low carb lifestyle.
Suitable for a number of lifestyles
Perhaps one of the best things about these seeds is their versatility. Not only are they gluten free (making them ideal for individuals suffering from celiac disease, Chrohns, hypoglycemia, or other wheat and gluten sensitivities), but one particular study found that even when eaten by people with peanuts or tree nut allergies, there was no notable allergic response (PDF on this study) They’re also extremely low in sodium, making them suitable for those watching their sodium intake.
The benefits don’t stop at your health; they can take the stress off of your wallet too, as high quality chia seeds can be bought in bulk at reasonable prices and will store for up to two-three years without becoming rancid. (due to the high antioxidant content) Their nutritional density in combination with their incredible durability, makes Chia seeds the perfect portable and storage food!
With all of this in mind, it’s hard to imagine anyone who couldn’t benefit from the wonderful array of nutrition this seed offers, and while I currently try and consume an array of various super-foods that I believe all beneficially contribute to the positive factors I find in my health, I have definitely noticed that on days of eating chia seeds, I take far longer to become hungry again and my energy and endurance while exercising or even just performing daily activities seems to have an extra edge and just an overall better vibe. I’ve also noted that on days of eating chia seeds, my concentration felt substantially improved, even, on some occasions despite a lack of sleep!
To find out about the different ways you can use chia seeds to their best effect, you can read my article on how to eat chia seeds here.