The little black dots decorating Instagram breakfast bowls and superfood smoothies everywhere you look aren’t, as you may have thought, pepper. In fact, they’re actually chia seeds!
But are these trendy black seeds worth incorporating into your healthy recipes and snacks? Well, with an endless list of health benefits and an incredible nutritional profile, we certainly think so.
So, we’ve rounded up our top 6 favourite health benefits of chia seeds – they’ll have you running to your local health store to stock up immediately!
What are Chia Seeds?
Chia seeds are the edible seed of a plant known as ‘Salvia Hispanica’, which is native to Central America and part of the mint family.
Chia seeds are oval and grey coloured with black and white spots, with a diameter of about 1mm. They’re hydrophilic, which means they absorb and contain moisture, with the ability to grow up to 12 times their own weight in liquid when soaked.
Historical studies suggest that the benefits of chia seeds have long been understood and enjoyed – because they’ve been a foodstuff since Aztec times! Indeed, the word ‘chia’ translates to mean ‘strength’.
6 Surprising Health Benefits of Chia Seeds
Chia seeds health benefits certainly pack a punch past their tiny size – they’re dense in nutrition and their small appearance and discreet flavour mean they’re really easily combined into a variety of foods and drinks, without interfering too much with taste or texture.
But don’t assume chia seeds are only ever included in health foods for their small ‘crunch’ – there’s much more to them than meets the eye! With that said, let’s take a closer look at the health benefits of chia seeds.
Chia Seeds for Weight Loss? That’s Right!
When following a healthy lifestyle with a robust diet regime, including chia seeds for weight loss, progress can be easily (and healthily!) be achieved.
The composition of chia seeds changes when immersed into liquid. They take on a gel-like consistency and, as previously mentioned, are able to expand up to 12 times. When in the gut, chia seeds are digested extremely slowly – keeping the digestive system working for longer and the individual feeling fuller for an extended period of time. This increased satiety is ideal for those who find themselves frequently snacking or giving into snacks between meals, as it can help to negate the craving for further food consumption.
What’s more, the consumption of chia seeds for weight loss purposes also gives you a strong dose of fibre to further promote satiety, on top of that achieved from its intestine lining properties. Clinical studies undertaken in 2015 suggest that consuming 30g of fibre of day can aid an individual’s weight loss journey better than following a more complicated macro-based diet – so there’s good reason to get in all the fibre you can. Just two tablespoons of chia seeds contain 10g of fibre, which amounts to over 40% of the recommended daily intake for an adult.
Although there is a common misconception that a robust protein intake should remain the domain of bodybuilders and gym bunnies only, a healthy consumption of protein can be a huge helping hand as part of any weight-loss regimen. Consuming chia seeds for weight loss purposes is a fantastic way to include a protein punch in an otherwise non-protein heavy diet, as these little black seeds are made up of a whopping 16% protein. Studies have shown that those increasing their protein intake tend to consume fewer calories on a daily basis than those who don’t and are able to lose weight without too much other dietary intervention.
Of course, they’re totally vegan and cruelty-free and also naturally gluten-free – so they really are suitable for just about everyone. It is really no surprise that so many are turning to chia seeds for weight loss as part of their dietary efforts!
They Might Be Small, but They Sure Pack a Nutritional Punch!
Don’t be fooled by their size; chia seeds are a pocket rocket when it comes to their nutritional content. and have been branded ‘superfood status’ by countless health experts and dieticians. Superfoods are touted to offer benefits beyond their standard nutritional content, and you’ll often find them added as an ingredient to less nutritionally rich products to help boost their ‘healthy’ value.
Studied at length by the School of Public Health at Harvard University, chia seeds have been found to be very rich in not just fibre and protein as already mentioned, but also polyunsaturated fats including Omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, phosphorus and zinc. The Omega-3 fatty acids are particularly prevalent – chia seeds are the most densely nutritious source of such acids that can be found amongst plants.
Both human and animal testing has shown that the consumption of plenty of Omega-3 fatty acids is beneficial to cardiovascular health, as the acids lower cholesterol levels, regulate heart rhythms, mediate blood pressure and act as an anti-inflammatory. One large study in China even demonstrated additional benefits to those fatty acids being consumed from plant sources – so the health benefits of chia seeds really are something special!
The nutritional benefits of chia seeds are so powerful, that several manufacturers petitioned successfully for chia seeds to become a ‘novel food’ under European Union food safety legislation. This means that they’re now able to create pre-packaged foods with up to 5% of their content being the seeds, despite them having previously been almost exclusively consumed only in Central and South America.
Chia Seeds are an Antioxidant Dream
As a superfood, chia seeds are abundant with minerals and antioxidants. Consuming plenty of antioxidants, which are capable of fighting free radical damage, promoting tissue repair and preventing life-threatening and chronic diseases, is undoubtedly a key component of good health.
One particularly important antioxidant that is plentiful in chia seeds is selenium. Selenium has antiviral properties and has been shown to increase fertility (in both men and women) and to reduce the risk of autoimmune thyroid disease. Those suffering from poor levels of selenium in their system are at a higher mortality risk and are more likely to experience rapid cognitive decline and thyroid issues. Whilst not explored yet in great detail medically, there’s also indicative study results to suggest that selenium has a positive effect on prostate, lung, colorectal and bladder cancers.
Four other important antioxidants that can be found in chia seeds (as a result of them being plant-based) are chlorogenic acid (linked to the healthy mediation of blood pressure), caffeic acid (an anti-inflammatory), quercetin (shown to reduce the risk of heart disease) and kaempferol (associated with a decreased risk of chronic illnesses).
Indeed, it is the high antioxidant content of chia seeds that results in them having such a long shelf life – they protect the essential fats within from decomposition over time.
Protein and Fibre? Chia Seeds are Packed with Them!
When you think of protein, the first ingredient that probably comes to mind is a big fat steak. Likewise, for fibre, you probably think of cereals. Yet chia seeds are neither of these things and contain plenty of both!
One of the health benefits of chia seeds is their naturally occurring richness in both protein and dietary fibre. You’ll find 16.5g of protein per 100g of chia seeds and 34g of fibre per 100g of chia seeds. With almost 6g of the full 100g being their water content, it’s easy to see just how rich a source they are in both of these important dietary elements.
Whilst your daily protein and fibre intake is best coming from a variety of sources, it’s totally worth incorporating some chia seeds into your diet as they give both a great boost – without you really feeling as though you’ve consumed anything additional at all!
Plus, They’re an Amazing Source of Vegan Omega-3
Most health food shops and dietary outlets now sell capsules of vegan-friendly Omega-3 fatty acid supplements – but actually, one of the real benefits of chia seeds is that they contain enough that you really never need to take such tablets. Almost 75% of the fats within chia seeds contain alpha-linolenic acid (known as ALA), meaning they’re quite literally packed with Omega-3 fatty acids.
The benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids are vast and well-proven medically. In fact, very few edible chemicals have been studied and tested as vigorously as Omega-3! There’s not enough time for us to go into every single health and wellbeing benefit of consuming these amazing little acids, but here’s a round-up of just some of those scientifically proven:
- Those who consume a healthy level of Omega-3 are less likely to suffer from depression or anxiety (due to the fatty acids’ anti-inflammatory functions within the brain).
- Consuming the daily recommended dosage of Omega-3 reduces the risk of macular degeneration, which is the leading cause of blindness.
- Pregnant mothers who consume the optimum amount of Omega-3 throughout pregnancy have babies with improved cognitive function.
- The consumption of Omega-3 fatty acids is linked to a range of health benefits that promote heart health.
- The risk of diabetes is reduced with regular consumption of Omega-3 fatty acids.
- Omega-3 consumption reduces fat in the liver (for those who are not alcoholics).
The health benefits of Omega-3 are plentiful; and so, when considered as part of the wider health benefits of chia seeds, really do present an unbeatable package.
Back Off, Osteoporosis! Chia Seeds Are Chock-a-block with Calcium
Everyone knows of the benefits of calcium on bone health, but it’s frequently considered to be only consumed through dairy products. But for those following a vegan or lactose-free diet, this, of course, isn’t obtainable.
Thankfully, chia seeds are an excellent plant-based source of calcium; with up to 650mg present per 100g of seeds. In fact, chia seeds are one of the richest calcium sources that vegans can enjoy.
Calcium is the most abundant minerals in the human body and is critical for bone growth and health – after all, 99% of it is found in the bones. It works by contributing to the density of the bones, reinforcing and strengthening them. Ideally, it needs to be consumed heavily up until the age of about 25, as this is when bone density hits its peak. However, it doesn’t do any harm to consume thereafter and still helps to contribute to healthy bones.
Don’t be fooled by mentions of osteoporosis and other specific bone conditions: calcium is a fantastically easy mineral to consume even just as a preventative measure before any such issues are experienced. There’s no need to wait until you have problems or hear of them within the family. Take action to curb them before they begin and incorporate calcium-dense foods like chia seeds into your diet!
Chia Seeds Health Benefits: The Bottom Line
So, there you have it: chia seeds are a prime example of the phrase “the best things come in small packages”. These tiny freckle-sized seeds contain an abundance of nutrition, including some minerals and nutrients that can be difficult to consume for those following a plant-based diet. Sprinkle some on your pudding, cereal, or in a drink to take full advantage and enjoy a nutritional boost!
To include chia seeds in your diet first thing in the morning and enjoy a heavy dose of hearty nutrients pulsing through your body throughout the day, try the Nutribuddy Instant Chia and Coconut Porridge or Breakfast Shake. Containing gluten-free oats as part of a 100% vegan and natural nutritionally balanced formula, it can be made with milk or your chosen milk alternative in just minutes and eaten around your breakfast table or on-the-go. There’s no substitute for a good breakfast to set you up for the day – and you can’t beat a hearty protein, fibre and antioxidant boost like this!