Chia Seeds – Are They a Beneficial Whole Food?

Chia Seeds - Are They a Beneficial Whole Food?

Chia is a flowering plant, also known as Salvia hispanica, which originates in Mexico and Guatemala. It is part of the mint family. Historically it was grown as an important food crop. Today the chia plant is grown commercially for its seeds. There seems to be a lot of hubbub these days about chia seeds. Are chia seeds a whole food?  Are they really beneficial for us?  How much nutrition do they contain?  I did some research – here’s the scoop:

Chia seeds seem to be somewhat unique in the fact that they absorb water and become a thick gelatin consistency. This gelatin consistency is being studied for its beneficial effects on keeping blood sugar balanced by slowing down the conversion of starches into blood sugar, which is particularly beneficial for diabetics.  Note that because chia seeds absorb water, it is always best to drink plenty of water when you eat them.

There are a number of health benefits to eating chia seeds. My research showed that two of these benefits are controversial, and one comes with a caution.

  • A whole food: Chia seeds are a considered a whole food because they contain important components: protein, fiber, good fats and good carbohydrates, as well as vitamins and minerals.
  • Cell protection: The antioxidants in chia seeds protect our cells from the damage of free radicals.
  • Easily absorbed: Chia seeds can be broken down and utilized by the body as seeds, unlike some other seeds such as flax seeds (which need to be ground or milled for the body to utilize them).
  • Blood sugar balancing: As noted above, studies have shown that chia seeds have a stabilizing effect on blood sugar, which is helpful for diabetics. Research in this area is ongoing.
  • Digestion: Chia seeds are helpful for the digestive system, particularly the colon, because of the amount of fiber they contain.
  • Weight loss: Some informational sources claim that chia seeds help reduce weight by causing a person to feel full for longer, thus reducing their appetite – so they tend to eat less.  Other sources state there is a lack of evidence supporting this benefit.
  • Heart health:  Some sources indicate that chia seeds are beneficial for cardiovascular health by increasing healthy cholesterol and decreasing trigylcerides.  Not all informational sources agree on this point – some indicate that more research is needed in this area.
  • Blood pressure:  Research has shown that consuming chia seeds can lower blood pressure.  Note: this could be beneficial if high blood pressure is an issue, but it could also be detrimental for people who have low blood pressure to begin with – so caution is advised here.

Here is a profile of the nutrients contained in chia seeds:

  • Calcium, which is necessary for our bones, and teeth.
  • Phosphorus, which helps form bones and teeth and is a component of almost every cell in our body.
  • Manganese, which is needed for healthy bones and skin.
  • Omega 3 fatty acids; 1 oz or 2 Tbsp = 9 grams of fat. Healthy fats are necessary for the brain and nervous system.
  • Antioxidants, which help build the immune system and neutralize free radicals
  • Fiber; 1 oz or 2 Tbsp chia seeds = 11 g fiber. Fiber is beneficial for digestion and elimination
  • A plant source of complete protein; 1 oz or 2 Tbsp chia seeds = 4 g protein. Protein is necessary for proper growth and development, body tissues, bone structure, enzymes and hormones.
  • Tryptophan, which can improve mood, as well as regulate appetite and sleep.

Yes, chia seeds really are a beneficial whole food.  Not only is the list of health benefits quite impressive, but chia seeds are also convenient and versatile. Because they can be consumed either whole or milled, and they have a neutral flavor (very slight nutty flavor) they can be used in a number of ways.  Chia seeds can be sprinkled on salads, sprinkled on yogurt, blended into a smoothie, eaten in cereals, baked into muffins, used in energy bars, or eaten as a gelatin (when soaked in water).

Are you interested in learning more about which foods that can increase energy and build your health?  I can help – contact me..  I’d be happy to assist you in building your energy and health using whole foods and good nutrition!

 

Informational Resources:

Huffington Post – 10 Benefits of Chia Seeds  

WebMD –the Truth about Chia   

Dr. Andrew Weil – Chia Seeds 

DrOz.com – Lindsey Duncan ND

 

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