April 3, 2024

Chia Seeds in the Spotlight: Hype or Healthy Choice?


Avanthika Nityanand

M.Sc Human Genetics, B.Sc Plant Biology & Plant Biotechnology

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Chia Seeds in the Spotlight: Hype or Healthy Choice?
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Chia seeds are small but pack a nutritional punch that belies their size. Originating from the desert plant Salvia hispanica, native to Mexico, these seeds were a staple in the diets of ancient civilizations like the Aztecs and Mayans.

The word "chia" is even derived from the Mayan language, meaning "strength," highlighting the energy-boosting benefits the seeds were believed to provide.

These versatile seeds have gained immense popularity worldwide, not just for their nutritional benefits but also for their ability to be incorporated into various dishes.

Chia seeds are unique in their ability to absorb up to 12 times their weight in water, forming a gel-like consistency that can be used to thicken sauces, make puddings, or as an egg substitute in vegan recipes. [ref]

With their subtle, nutty flavor, chia seeds are an unobtrusive addition to any diet, whether sprinkled on salads, blended into smoothies, or mixed into baked goods.

Their rise in popularity is not unfounded; the myriad health benefits they offer make chia seeds a superfood worth incorporating into your daily diet.

What Are Chia Seeds Called in Hindi?

In Hindi, chia seeds are known as "chia ke beej." While chia seeds are not traditionally used in Indian cuisine and may not have a long-standing history in the region, their health benefits have increased popularity and incorporation into the Indian diet in recent years.

Recognizing the global interest in these seeds, many health-conscious individuals in India have started to include chia seeds in their diets for their nutritional benefits.

Nutritional Profile of Chia Seeds

Chia seeds are renowned for their rich nutritional content, making them an excellent addition to a balanced diet.

Just two tablespoons (approximately 28 grams) of chia seeds contain:

  • Calories: 137 kcal
  • Protein: 4.4 grams
  • Fat: 8.6 grams (including a balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids)
  • Fiber: 10.6 grams
  • Calcium: 18% of the RDI (Recommended Daily Intake)
  • Manganese: 30% of the RDI
  • Magnesium: 30% of the RDI
  • Phosphorus: 27% of the RDI

They also contain significant amounts of zinc, vitamin B3 (niacin), potassium, vitamin B1 (thiamine), and vitamin B2. The omega-3 fatty acids in chia seeds, mainly alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), contribute to the anti-inflammatory and heart health benefits.

The fiber content, both soluble and insoluble, aids digestion and promotes a feeling of fullness, aiding in weight management.

What are the Health Benefits of Chia Seeds?

The nutritional components of chia seeds contribute to a range of health benefits:

  1. Heart Health: The omega-3 fatty acids can reduce inflammation and lower the risk factors for heart disease.
  2. Bone Health: Chia seeds are rich in calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus, essential minerals for bone health.
  3. Blood Sugar Regulation: The fiber in chia seeds can help regulate blood sugar levels by slowing down the rate at which complex carbohydrates are digested and absorbed into the bloodstream.
  4. Digestive Health: The high fiber content aids bowel regularity and healthy stool formation.
  5. Weight Management: The protein and fiber in chia seeds can help those trying to lose weight by reducing appetite and increasing the feeling of fullness.
  6. Anti-inflammatory Properties: Omega-3s, antioxidants, and fiber reduce inflammation in the body, which is linked to a lower risk of chronic diseases.

Do Chia Seeds Help in Weight Loss?

Chia seeds can be a valuable addition to a weight-loss diet. Their high fiber and protein content can help reduce appetite and extend the feeling of fullness after meals, potentially leading to reduced calorie intake.

In a 2017 double-blind, controlled trial, 77 participants followed a calorie-restricted diet for 6 months, with one group incorporating 30 g/1000 kcal/day of chia seeds and the other a control oat bran. The chia group experienced significantly greater weight loss and waist circumference reduction than the control group. Additionally, Salba-chia intake was associated with a significant decrease in C-reactive protein and an increase in plasma adiponectin, indicating improvements in obesity-related risk factors and glycemic control. The study concludes that chia could be a beneficial dietary supplement for weight management and risk factor improvement in diabetes. [ref]

Incorporating chia seeds can be a simple yet effective strategy for those looking to lose weight. Consuming 1.5 to 2 tablespoons of chia seeds daily, mixed into yogurt, smoothies, or salads, can provide this benefit.

How Much Chia Seeds Can You Eat Per Day?

For general health benefits, consuming 1 to 2 tablespoons (15 to 30 grams) of chia seeds daily is considered safe and effective. This amount ensures you receive their health benefits without overconsumption.

It's also crucial to increase water intake when adding chia seeds to your diet, as their high fiber content requires adequate hydration to be properly digested.

Potential Side Effects and Considerations

While chia seeds are safe for most people, they can cause adverse effects in some cases:

  • Digestive Issues: Due to their high fiber content, consuming too many chia seeds without sufficient water can lead to bloating, gas, and constipation.
  • Allergic Reactions: Though rare, some individuals may experience allergic reactions to chia seeds.
Image showing high protein, high fibre raw chia seeds

How to Use Chia Seeds?

Soaking chia seeds is a popular way to consume them, as it allows the seeds to absorb water and expand, making them easier to digest.

To soak chia seeds, mix them in a 1:10 ratio of seeds to water and let them sit for about 30 minutes to become gel-like. This soaked mixture can be added to smoothies, porridges, or yogurts.

Incorporating chia seeds into your diet is straightforward. They can be sprinkled over salads, added to baked goods, or blended into smoothies. Their mild flavor makes them versatile in both sweet and savory dishes.

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