Who would have guessed that the seeds responsible for our adored chia pets of the 1980s would become a nutrition “super food” a few decades later?
With good reason, chia seeds are a hot topic among health conscious consumers and professionals. Plus, unlike other whole seeds, chia seeds are usually safe for people on low fiber diets.
Although these oval seeds might only range from one to two millimeters in length, they’re jam-packed with nutrients. One tablespoon contains roughly 70 calories, 3 grams of protein, and 5 grams of fiber.
Much of the fiber in chia seeds is soluble fiber, which dissolves in water to form a gel that ultimately slows down digestion and adds bulk to bowel movements. As a result, chia seeds can be helpful for constipation or diarrhea but should be avoiding by people with a history of intestinal strictures or bowel obstructions.
Chia seeds are also full of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, like quercetin. Antioxidants help strengthen our immune systems and lower our risk of developing chronic disease, notably cancer.
What’s more is that chia seeds are one of the few sources of alpha-linolenic-acid (ALA). Our bodies convert ALA into anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, and most of us could use a lot more omega-3s in our diets.
Omega-3 fats have been shown to fight inflammation, decrease the risk of coronary heart disease and sudden death, lower blood triglyceride levels, stabilize mood, support a healthy nervous system, and provide necessary ingredients for normal eye and brain development.
Some studies have shown that chia seeds, specifically, help promote weight loss, manage blood sugar, and decrease triglycerides. Other studies have not supported these findings.
Chia seeds come from the Salvia hispanica plant grown in Mexico and South America where natives have eaten them for thousands of years. They were used by the Aztecs and other cultures for food, medicine, supernatural powers, cosmetics and currency.
The Salvia hispanica plant belongs to the mint family, but don’t expect chia seeds to taste like mint. Rather, they offer a mild, nutty flavor at most.
I like to add these gluten-free seeds to my smoothies and overnight oatmeal. You can also bake with them by mixing ground chia with flour or using hydrated chia seeds in place of eggs.
Chia seeds can be eaten whole or ground.