We use Chia Seeds in several of our smoothies, but what are they and why are they so good for you? In this blog we will answer these questions and much more.
What are Chia Seeds and where do they come from?
Chia seeds are tiny black seeds coming from the Salvia hispanica plant, a member of the mint family which comes from Central and South America. Legend has it that the ancient Aztecs and Mayans used chia seeds as a source of energy.
The ancient civilizations believed that the chia seed provided supernatural powers. In Mayan, “chia” means “strength.” This probably has to do with the large amounts of energy provided by chia seeds. Ancient warriors attributed their stamina to this tiny seed. This still holds true for certain groups of people today. The Mexican Tarahumara tribe is famous for their runners. These runners drink a mixture of chia seeds, lemon, and water called Iskiate. After drinking this, they are said to be able to run hundreds of miles. Something with that kind of track record deserves our attention.
Like many of the ancient grains, chia was lost for a while. The Spanish, when they came conquering, banned chia because of its religious uses. It survived in certain regions of Mexico and has resurfaced for our modern-day use (Lucky us!). Some scientists, nutritionists, and farmers teamed up to cultivate chia commercially in Argentina. Today, chia is grown in several Latin American countries, but its main producer is fast becoming Australia. Unlike our recent ancestors, we have easy access to chia.
Nutritional benefits of chia seeds
For such a small seed, chia seeds contain some important nutrients.
Chia seeds are rich in fibre – which helps with satiety, the feeling of fullness. A 25g portion of chia seeds contains approximately 9g of fibre. The daily recommended amount of fibre is 30g, so including a 25g portion of chia seeds each day could be a useful contribution. Fibre is important for a healthy digestive system and many of us do not reach the recommended target.
Omega-3 fatty acids are known for their anti-inflammatory effects, as well as enhancing brain and potentially heart health. Chia seeds contain omega-3 in the plant form: alpha linolenic acid (ALA) making them a valuable source for vegans and vegetarians.
Chia seeds are relatively high in protein – so are a useful source of plant protein and provide a range of amino acids, particularly for vegetarian and vegan diets.
The combination of fat, protein and fibre means the seeds are digested relatively slowly, providing long, slow release of energy to keep blood-sugar levels stable.
Seeds are rich in minerals such as calcium and magnesium and trace elements such as manganese, which helps make enzymes.
Do chia seeds help you lose weight?
There is no significant evidence to back up the claim that eating chia seeds will lead to weight loss. The fibre content of chia seeds, and their ability to hold onto water, might contribute to satiety and consequently eating less. However if you are looking for weight loss, specifically eating chia seeds is not likely to have a significant effect.
Do chia seeds promote better bone health?
The benefits of chia seeds is attributed to the calcium content and other trace minerals known for their role in bone health. A 25g portion of chia contains 157mg of calcium, which is a significant source of calcium, more than that in 100ml of milk.
Do chia seeds reduce the risk of diabetes and heart disease?
Chia seeds do contain fibre, protein and unsaturated fats – all of which are known to support a healthy heart and stable blood-sugar levels. Some research has suggested that chia seeds may be beneficial for overweight and obese patients with type 2 diabetes. However there is no conclusive evidence to suggest chia seeds can directly reduce the risk of heart disease or diabetes. As part of a balanced diet, chia seeds may contribute to overall health. Other lifestyle factors such as regular exercise are more likely to have an effect.
Buying Chia Seeds
As well as being added to several of our smoothies (Green Giant, Cacao Dream and Green Warrior), you can purchase Chia Seeds from our Colomberie Health Shop. We stock Chia Seeds in 500g bags from the Just Natural Organic range. This is the same source as we use as a juice/smoothie supplement.
Just Natural do a range of seeds, grains and nuts in their Organic and Wholesome range. See this article for more information.
Chia seeds contain 138 calories per ounce (28 grams).
By weight, they are 6% water, 46% carbohydrates (of which 83% is fibre), 34% fat, and 19% protein.
The nutrients in 100 grams of chia seeds are:
Protein: 16.5 grams
Carbs: 42.1 grams
Sugar: 0 grams
Fibre: 34.4 grams
Fat: 30.7 grams
Saturated: 3.33 grams
Monounsaturated: 2.31 grams
Polyunsaturated: 23.67 grams
Omega-3: 17.83 grams
Omega-6: 5.84 grams
Trans: 0.14 grams
Notably, chia seeds are also free of gluten.
Carbs and Fibre
More than 80% of the carb content of chia seeds is in the form of fibre.
When chia seeds are placed in water or other liquids, their fibres absorb up to 10–12 times their own weight — and the seeds turn into a gel-like mass.
One of the unique characteristics of chia seeds is their high content of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
About 75% of the fats in chia seeds consist of the omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), while about 20% consist of omega-6 fatty acids.
In fact, chia seeds are the best known plant-based source of omega-3 fatty acids — even better than flax seeds.
Chia seeds contain 19% protein — similar to other seeds but more than most cereals and grains.
High protein intake is associated with increased fullness after meals and reduced food intake.
Notably, these seeds offer all nine essential amino acids and are thus a high-quality plant-based protein. However, they are not recommended as the sole protein source for children.
Vitamins and Minerals
Chia seeds provide high amounts of many minerals but are a poor source of vitamins.
The most abundant minerals are:
Manganese. Whole grains and seeds are rich in manganese, which is essential for metabolism, growth, and development.
Phosphorus. Usually found in protein-rich foods, phosphorus contributes to bone health and tissue maintenance.
Copper. A mineral often lacking in the modern diet, copper is important for heart health.
Selenium: An important antioxidant, selenium is involved in many processes in your body.
Iron. As a component of hemoglobin in red blood cells, iron is involved in the transport of oxygen throughout the body. It may be poorly absorbed from chia seeds due to their phytic acid content.
Magnesium. Often lacking in the Western diet, magnesium plays important roles in many bodily processes.
Calcium. The most abundant mineral in your body, calcium is essential for bones, muscles, and nerves.
The absorption of some minerals, such as iron and zinc, may be reduced because of the phytic acid content of chia seeds.
Chia seeds are an excellent source of many essential minerals but a poor source of vitamins. They are high in manganese, phosphorus, copper, selenium, iron, magnesium, and calcium.