Photo 81330191 © Minree - Dreamstime.com
Chia seeds are heating up on the “superfood” front due to their impressive nutrition profile. The seed known as the quirky sprout of Chia Pet fame has officially made a comeback, showing up in everything from beverages and snack foods to desserts and nutrition bars. Are chia seeds healthy? They are indeed, and for a number of reasons, which we’ll discuss below.
First, let’s give you the scoop on chia seeds and where they come from. You may think chia seeds are the latest superfood trend in the United States, but they were actually an important dietary staple of the Mayans, Aztecs, Incans, and Native Americans. Native to Central and South America and the Southwestern U.S., this edible seed comes from the desert plant salvia hispanica.
The chia seed’s rich history dates back 3,000 years, when it became known as “running food” by the Aztecs and Mayans, who depended on this portable, nutrient-dense staple to support their athletic performance. Throughout history, Chia has been hailed for its many traditional uses for food, medicine, and religious offerings.
Are Chia Seeds Healthy? Consider These Nutritional Benefits
The tiny chia seed makes up for its diminutive stature with sizeable nutrition. Chia provides a healthy dose of protein—4 grams—in a one-ounce serving (about two tablespoons). It also offers omega-3 fatty acids in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). In fact, when you feed chia to chickens and cattle, the chickens’ eggs and the meat from the cattle will be higher in omega-3s, as the animals convert the ALA into omega-3s in their tissues.
Chia seeds are also rich in other heart-healthy unsaturated fats as well as key minerals, among them calcium, phosphorus, manganese, and iron. And chia seeds provide more fiber—11 grams per serving—than any other type of seed.
This tiny seed is even rich in antioxidant activity, which is linked with its rich red-brown color.
Chia Seed Research
Look to science in addressing the question “Are chia seeds healthy?” Research has shown proven health benefits related to chia.
In one study, the practice of including chia seeds in participants’ diets for 12 weeks was linked with lower levels of systolic blood pressure, inflammatory markers, and A1c (a measure of blood glucose) in people with type 2 diabetes.
That said, don’t believe all of the hype you may read on chia. There are claims out there that chia does everything from curing cancer to promoting magical weight loss. While chia seeds are a healthful food, the research on its benefits is still in its infancy.
The Bottom Line on Chia Seeds
Including nutrient-rich chia seeds in your diet is a healthy habit, and the seeds’ mild, nut-like flavor mixes well with a variety of foods and beverages. Creative uses include the following:
- Mix chia seeds with lemon or lime juice and water to make a beverage called chia fresca.
- Add seeds to cereals, yogurt, smoothies, salads, casseroles, grain dishes, veggie burgers, and baked goods.
- When combined with water, chia seeds have the unique ability to form a gel that can help bind ingredients together, so chia can be used as a replacement for eggs in many recipes, such as cookies, breads, muffins, pancakes, puddings, and cakes. A general rule of thumb is to mix one tablespoon of chia seeds with three tablespoons of water and substitute it for one egg in a recipe.