Chia seeds are an ancient food source, used as a dietary staple by both the Mayans and Aztcs who considered it more valuable than gold. The name chia even comes from the Aztec word, chian, which means oily, and their omega-3 rich oil, soluble fibre and protein offer numerous health benefits.
Chia seeds health benefits
Chia are the small seeds of a member of the mint family, and vary in shade from black to white. Chia seeds offer have a mild, nutty taste, contain good amounts of calcium, and provide around 20% of their weight as protein, and 30% as oil. Chia seed oil has a higher content of the essential omega-3, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) than any other plant source, at around 60%.
Chia seeds are also rich in fibre and antioxidant polyphenols. They supply 641mg polyphenols per 100g weight, including myricetin, quercetin, kaempferol and oestrogen-like lignans similar to those found in flax seeds.
Two tablespoons of chia seeds (1oz) typically supply 137 kilocalories, 11g fibre, 9g fat, 4g protein and just 1g carbohydrate.
Chia seeds and weight loss
Chia seeds are an excellent source of protein and fibre, both of which help to fill you up and suppress appetite. When mixed with water or milk and left for 15 minutes, the mixture thickens to a texture that quickly reduces hunger, so chia seeds are an increasingly popular support for healthy weight loss, despite their calorie count.
In a study involving 77 overweight or obese people with type 2 diabetes, all followed a 6-month calorie-controlled diet; one half also received a chia seed supplement per day (30 g for every 1000 kcals consumed), while the other half took an oat bran supplement as a control (36 g for every 1000 kcals per day).
After 6 months of this diet regimes, those taking the chia supplement lost an average of 1.9kg more weight than the control group , and also showed a 3.5cm greater reduction in waist circumference. Their blood levels of adiponectin, a protein involved in the breakdown of fat, also increased by 6.5%.
The results of this study suggest that chia seeds can help to promoted weight loss.
Chia seeds and heart health
Chia seed fibre and omega-3 have beneficial effects on the liver to reduce inflammation and can lower blood pressure.
This was tested in 26 people with high blood pressure, of whom 17 were on antihypertensive drugs, and 7 had untreated high blood pressure.
Volunteers were randomised to consume either 35g chia flour per day, or a placebo, for 12 weeks.
Those receiving placebo showed no changes in blood pressure readings. In those taking chia flour, however, there was an average reduction in mean clinical blood pressure of 8.8 mmHg (recorded using 24 ambulatory monitoring) in those on antihypertensive medication.
In those not on medication, who took chia seeds, there was a decrease in systolic blood pressure of 9.5 mmHg but no change in diastolic blood pressure.
Another study involving 37 people with type 2 diabetes, found that found that taking 37g chia seeds (Salvia hispanica) per day for 12 weeks lowered systolic blood pressure by 6.3 mmHg.
Some other studies have not found an effect in people without diabetes, however, so this is still under investigation.
How to add Chia seeds to your diet
Chia seeds can be ground (eg in a coffee grinder) to produce chia flour that can be sprinkled over foods or added to smoothies or recipes to make gluten-free pancakes or muffins.
Unlike flax seeds, however, Chia seeds do not have to be ground to obtain their nutritional benefits. Chia seeds can also be eaten ‘raw’ without soaking, or eaten after soaking.
When soaked, Chia seeds can absorb up to 12 times their weight in water, forming a thick paste or gel which makes them easier to digest.
To soak chia seeds, mix them in a ratio of around 1:10 seeds to water eg 15g chia seeds to 150 ml water.
Dark Chocolate Chia Pudding
This is one of my favourite chia recipes.
- 300ml unsweetened almond or hazelnut milk
- 60g Chia seeds
- 25g cacao (or unsweetened cocoa) powder
- 6 chopped dates (with stones removed)
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
Mix all the ingredients together and leave to soak in a fridge for at least 3 hours, or overnight, to allow the pudding to thicken.
Transfer all the soaked ingredients to blender and whizz until the mixture is smooth and creamy.
Serve garnished with nuts, cacao nibs, berries or seeds.
Chia seeds side effects
Because of their high fibre content, eating too many chia seeds can lead to bloating and abdominal pain from trapped wind. Eat them in moderation, and always drink sufficient fluids.