Rich in protein, Omega-3, fiber and antioxidant molecules, chia seeds are the perfect ally to stay healthy. Here are the beneficial properties and possible contraindications.
Chia seeds are small, flat and oval seeds that are very rich in properties. They are generally gray-black in color and represent the seeds of Salvia Hispanica, an extremely common floral plant in areas of central and South America, particularly in Mexico and Guatemala, where they formed the staple food of ancient populations such as the Aztecs and Maya.
Their peculiarity? They are extremely rich in fiber, “good” Omega-3 fatty acids, proteins and also have good levels of minerals such as phosphorus and calcium and antioxidant molecules!
Nutritional values per 100g of chia seeds:
- Kcal: 486
- Proteins: 16.5g
- Carbohydrates: 42.1g
- Fat: 30.7g
- of which saturated: 3.33g
- of which monounsaturated: 2.31g
- of which polyunsaturated: 23.67g
- Fibers: 34.4g
Properties of chia seeds
Now let’s see in detail what are the potential positive effects on health due to the regular consumption of chia seeds.
✓ High fiber content
Simply by reading the nutritional values of chia seeds, you immediately notice how they are an extraordinary source of fiber. But what is fiber used for? It is very important to guarantee the right daily intake of fiber, which is around 30g, as they have 3 fundamental functions on our body:
- Swelling in the stomach increases the sense of satiety, preventing us from taking too abundant meals, especially in calories;
- They improve intestinal transit;
- They constitute a sort of filter to reduce the absorption of a portion of simple sugars and fats, especially cholesterol.
The fibers most present in chia seeds are insoluble (95% of the total) and several studies have shown that their consumption is associated with a lower risk of developing diabetes. Additionally, some of the insoluble fiber can be fermented in the intestine promoting the formation of short-chain fatty acids, thereby improving colon health.
If you try to dip a teaspoon of chia seeds in water, you will immediately notice how much liquid they are able to hold; for this reason they can be considered as “small sponges” which swell, increase the volume of food in the digestive tract, resulting in a greater sense of satiety and a lower intake of calories!
✓ High content of Omega-3
Another property of chia seeds is their content of Omega-3, essential fatty acids also called “good” which are essential to take in our diet as they help reduce triglyceride levels, keeping the heart healthy.
They have a powerful anti- inflammatory effect, therefore they are useful in all those pathologies in which inflammation is the master such as hypothyroidism, hypercholesterolemia, type 2 diabetes, gout.. and they are also useful in preserving memory, keeping the brain young!
About 75% of the fats of which chia seeds are composed is represented by alpha linolenic acid, also called ALA, a fat that is part of the Omega-3 family and this high content crowns chia seeds as the best source Omega-3, even surpassing flax seeds!
Did you know that the Omega-6 / Omega-3 ratio of diet is very important? We currently have too many Omega-6s in our diet, the source of which is mainly vegetable oils, at the expense of Omega-3s. Many studies have shown that an ideal ratio of 2.5-4 / 1 of Omega-6 and Omega-3, would reduce the risk of developing various diseases such as cardiovascular, cancer, inflammatory diseases and premature death.
The important thing to remember is that ALA is the precursor of the long-chain Omega-3s found in fish (EPA and DHA) and needs to be converted into its active forms before it can be used by the body, a process that it is often inefficient. For this reason the advice is to choose a varied diet that also includes fish products rich in bioavailable Omega-3 such as salmon, tuna, mackerel and blue fish.
And for those who follow a vegan diet, who does not like fish or does not take it by choice?
In addition to chia seeds, there are other plant sources of Omega-3 (ALA) which, for those who do not consume fish, it is necessary to take regularly:
- Linseed and / or flaxseed oil (Omega-6 / Omega-3 ratio of 1: 4)
- Hemp oil (Omega-6 / Omega-3 ratio of 3: 1, optimal for preventing various diseases)
- Dried walnuts (6.21g / 100g)
- Dry rosemary (6.20g / 100g)
- Fresh walnuts (5.65g / 100g)
- Wheat germ oil (5.30g / 100g)
- Dried oregano (4.20g / 100g)
- Soybean meal (1,66g / 100g)
✓ Source of vegetable proteins
Chia seeds contain all the essential amino acids and a much higher quantity of proteins than cereals (19%), a characteristic that determines a greater satiating power. They are therefore an excellent source of vegetable protein and, moreover, do not contain gluten.
✓ The micronutrients of chia seeds
Chia seeds also provide several minerals while the vitamin content is quite lacking. Let’s see what these small but powerful seeds contain:
- Manganese: plays an important anti-aging role. It is involved in the activation of enzymes and vitamins, in the synthesis of cholesterol, proteins and carbohydrates and in normalizing the production of hormones. It acts on development and growth and seems to have a positive role in diseases such as diabetes, multiple sclerosis, schizophrenia and in promoting fertilization;
- Phosphorus: is the structural element of teeth, bones and cells and supports the immune system;
- Copper: participates in the formation of hemoglobin (a protein specialized in transporting oxygen in the blood) favoring the use of iron. It supports the health of skin, nails and hair and is essential for nerve functions and in building bones and connective tissue;
- Selenium: it is a natural antioxidant that acts in synergy with vitamin E, protecting us from damage caused by the action of free radicals;
- Iron: essential for the formation of hemoglobin. The absorption of iron is favored by vitamin C, calcium and copper, while it is reduced by milk, tea and coffee;
- Magnesium: plays an important role in muscle contractions, in the functioning of the nervous system and in regulating the hydro-saline balance.
- Calcium: it is the most abundant mineral in our body, essential for bones, muscles and nerves.
Chia seeds are also rich in various antioxidants such as quercetin, canferol, caffeic acid and chlorogenic acid, which act by protecting our body from cell damage caused by free radicals. They are also a source of all essential amino acids.
Benefits of chia seeds
Let’s now briefly see all the benefits of chia seeds.
✓ Increase in Omega-3 levels
The benefits of chia seeds are related to the benefits of consuming foods containing omega-3 unsaturated fats. Specifically, beneficial effects of these fats have been found in various diseases but in particular in diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and cancer prevention.
✓ Improvement of blood sugar levels
Animal studies have shown that chia seeds reduce insulin resistance and improve blood sugar levels, both of which are risk factors for the development of metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
✓ Reduction of blood pressure
High blood pressure is the major risk factor for many diseases such as heart attack. Several studies have shown that the consumption of chia seeds is useful in promoting the reduction of blood pressure in individuals with arterial hypertension.
✓ Increased fiber intake
Just 2 tablespoons of chia seeds provide 11 grams of fiber (about half of the daily requirement) which, as we have seen, are useful for improving bowel health and reducing the risk of developing various diseases. In addition, the consumption of fiber in a meal helps to keep the glycemic index low and reduces the absorption of cholesterol introduced with food.
✓ Source of antioxidants
As we said above, chia seeds are a natural source of antioxidants that help fight aging and free radicals. Antioxidants, then, also perform an anti- inflammatory action helping to counteract what is called “chronic low-grade inflammation”, that is, an asymptomatic inflammatory state that can lead, in the long term, to the development of various pathologies.
Chia seeds: how many to eat
The average amount recommended to obtain the benefits described above is about 5 grams per day of chia seeds, corresponding to about a teaspoon. In these quantities it is possible to consume chia seeds even every day, in addition to other oil seeds and / or dried fruit.
Chia seeds: how they are used in cooking
There are several ways to use chia seeds. Surely the simplest is to consume them raw, for example on salads, fruit salads or yogurt, even for breakfast. Given their hydrophilic capacity, before consuming raw chia seeds (for example in salads) it is advisable to leave them to soak for at least 10/15 minutes, to avoid dehydration or a sense of thirst after their consumption.
You can then prepare numerous recipes based on these seeds, one of the most popular is chia pudding.
To store chia seeds, follow the instructions on the package purchased. In general, the important thing is to keep them away from sunlight, in a cool and dry place. With the passage of time there will be no alteration of the taste and quality of the same.
Contraindications of chia seeds
As for contraindications, the consumption of chia seeds is not correlated with adverse effects, except for problems of individual allergenicity. Chia seed allergy symptoms can include skin rashes, hives, and excessive tearing. In severe cases, breathing problems, vomiting, diarrhea and swelling of the tongue may also occur. If you are eating chia seeds for the first time it is advisable to start with a small amount (for example a tip of a teaspoon) to rule out allergy problems.
It should also be noted that chia seeds, as well as other oil seeds, contain nickel, therefore those who are allergic to this metal should pay attention to their consumption. Precaution also in case of diverticulosis: in these cases the use of seeds is not recommended to avoid inflaming the diverticula. On the other hand, there are no particular contraindications in case of thyroid problems or gastritis (as long as the quantities are not exceeded).
Where to find chia seeds
Chia seeds are readily found in health food stores and some supermarkets. For even more choice, you can buy chia seeds online. In any case, we advise you to choose organic products and without added additives. The price is quite low and varies from 5 to 8 USD for a package of about 250 gr. Larger packs can be priced even cheaper. Finally, if you prefer it, there are also bakery products with chia seeds on the market, to benefit from these small seeds while also consuming a tasty snack. In this case it is advisable to buy products that are as natural as possible.