By Emma Nolan
Photo courtesy of Stacy Spensley.
Chia seeds have been garnering a lot of attention recently as their many health and dietary benefits become more widely recognized. These little nutty seeds are fast replacing flax as the “it” super seed on the market, and with good reason.
Indigenous to South and Central America, chia seeds have been a staple food source since Ancient times (in fact, the word “chia” means “strength” in Mayan). The seed was revered by the ancient civilization for its energizing qualities and we’re starting to catch on ourselves.
The miracle seed is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, dietary fiber, even protein and minerals including iron, calcium, magnesium and zinc. According to the eco-friendly online guide One Green Planet, “Chia seeds are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, essential fatty acids that our bodies cannot produce and thus are needed in our everyday diet.”
Pamela Warren, MS, CHN, of the Art of Conscious Living, is an accomplished clinical nutritionist based in Brooklyn with a passion for educating everyone on proper nutrition. She tells BTR that, in a nutshell, “Chia seeds are a substantial source of nutrients. A one ounce serving provides approximately 11 grams of fiber — 1/3 of the daily requirement — four grams of protein, 18 percent calcium, and 14 percent iron, with 0 grams sugar and 0 grams cholesterol.”
“Chia seeds create a gel-like consistency when added to liquid, which slows down the absorption of glucose in the blood,” Warren continues. “This helps people with their glucose tolerance and may assist those with pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes. Their omega-3 fatty acid content, which is excellent for heart health, is 4915 mg in one ounce, which is something we can all use as the North American diet is generally lacking in this essential fatty acid, which is good for the heart and the brain.”
The benefits of the essential fatty acids in chia seeds are quite profound:
“The ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) omega-3 fatty acid found in chia seeds helps reduce inflammation in the body, prevent and treat diseases of the heart, lowers high blood pressure, and lowers cholesterol.” Need I say more?
Another health benefit of chia seeds that amplifies their trendiness is they aid weight loss in a safe and healthy way. By expanding in the stomach, they make you feel fuller and satisfied for longer, essential when trying to cut down on carbs to drop a few pounds. As they act like a sponge expanding in the stomach, chia seeds absorb sugars and stabilize blood sugar levels.
Warren informs BTR that “due to their low sugar content, substantial fiber content and control of glucose absorption, they create satiety, which is a feeling of fullness, creating less of a need to consume more food to be satisfied and therefore consuming less calories in a meal.”
Chia seeds also hold a great many advantages for athletes too. Christopher McDougall, best selling author of Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen, praises the stamina building properties of chia. In his book, McDougall says “In terms of nutritional content, a tablespoon of chia is like a smoothie made from salmon, spinach, and human growth hormone.”
That combination of ingredients make chia seeds the perfect pre- and post-workout snack and unlike flax and quinoa, chia seeds don’t have that hard outer shell so they can be eaten raw. Warren informs BTR that “the nutrients in chia seeds are more easily absorbed in the intestinal tract than flaxseeds. Flaxseeds need to be pulverized or broken down in a blender and made into a powder in order to extract their nutrients, otherwise they pass through the intestines unchanged, without being broken down and absorbed.”
In terms of including chia seeds in your diet, well they can be sprinkled on just about anything. They make a great addition to porridge and oatmeal for breakfast, can be sprinkled on to salads, incorporated into baked goods, stirred into yogurt, and added into sauces or soups with no real effect on the overall taste.
“They can easily be included in meals as they have no discernible flavor and for picky eaters this is a way to increase nutrient absorption naturally,” says Warren.
A common drink containing chia in Mexico is “chia fresca,” and it’s so simple to make. It contains water, chia seeds, lemon/lime juice, and sweetener to taste. Trader Joe’s also sell a strawberry chia smoothie, so when you need an energy boost on the go it’s an easy way to gain nutrients.
Pamela Warren recommends “a great breakfast meal” by soaking chia seeds in water for 20 minutes until they form their gel like consistency and then that gel can be added to warmed milk or almond milk and stirred to make a porridge-like consistency.
There are also chia products which exist on the market such as Health Warrior Chia Bars. These bars come in four different flavors: coconut, apple cinnamon, banana nut, and acai berry, and are perfect for just throwing in your bag to have before or after a workout, or even for just a healthy snack or something for the kids’ lunch boxes.
Having discovered the benefits of including chia seeds in our diets, I think it’s safe to say that they will become more popular and mainstream in the next few years, and with the ease at which they can be included in our diets, we should all give them a try.
For more information on nutrition and her other services, visit Pamela Warren’s website theartofconsciousliving.com.