Chia Seeds Benefits: The Tiny Seed that Packs a Punch
When it comes to superfoods, chia seeds are essentially in a class of their own. They are often referred to as “functional food,” which implies benefits beyond nutrition. This is due to their ability to improve gut health and lower cholesterol. Yet you may also find chia seeds alongside more indulgent foods, such as pastries.
Chia seeds are derived from the plant Salvia hispanica and were widely popular in Mexico and Guatemala. Records dating as far back as 3500 BC indicate that chia seeds functioned as offerings to the gods during religious ceremonies. Today, they are a crucial component of a market estimated to exceed $2 billion by the end of 2022.
If you want to learn more about chia seeds, you have come to the right place. Let’s dive into the history and benefits of chia seeds.
Table of contents:
- What Are Chia Seeds?
- A Brief History of Chia Seeds
- How are Chia Seeds Harvested?
- What Do Chia Seeds Offer (Taste-Wise) in Juices/Smoothies?
- Chia Seeds Benefits: Common Uses
- Chia Seeds Benefits
What Are Chia Seeds?
As mentioned, chia seeds come from the Salvia hispanica plant, which is a member of the mint family. This plant is believed to have originated in Central America, where it was consumed by the Aztecs.
Today, chia seeds are recognized as a source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to prevent heart disease and strokes and are thought to be beneficial against a variety of other ailments, including:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Eye problems
- Brain issues
- Symptoms of ADHD in children
- Bone and joint concerns
Aside from omega-3 fatty acids, chia seeds also contain about 10 grams of dietary fiber per ounce, as well as protein and several minerals.
Additionally, current research suggests chia seeds’ benefits are vast and could prove effective in the fight against high cholesterol and high blood pressure. However, more research is needed for confirmation.
Size and Texture
Chia seeds are recognizable due to their small size and unique texture. They are small oval-shaped seeds with gray and black coloring alongside white spots.
On average, chia seeds have a diameter of approximately 2 millimeters. However, they are hygroscopic, meaning they can absorb moisture from the air. Consequently, they can absorb up to 12 times their weight. When soaked in liquid, they develop a coating that gives them a distinctive gel-like texture.
A Brief History of Chia Seeds
Chia seeds were an essential component of the Aztec diet. The Aztecs used them as early as 3500 BC. Years later, between 1500 and 900 BC, they were grown by the Teotihuacan and Toltec peoples in Mexico.
Rather than simply eating the seeds whole, these early proponents of chia seeds used them in a variety of different ways, including:
- As a component of medicine
- Ground into flour
- Pressed for oil
- Used in drinks
One of the properties that made chia seeds so useful in these early days was their ability to be stored for long periods. This made them ideal for nomadic lifestyles and long journeys.
Use by the Aztecs
For the Aztecs, chia seeds’ benefits extended past the seed itself. That’s because they imbued them with sacred religious properties. For this reason, the seeds were a staple of their sacrifices and other religious ceremonies.
Use by the Mayans
The Mayans also believed one of the chia seeds’ benefits was the bestowment of supernatural properties. This is likely why the Mayan word “chia” translates to “strength.” They believed the seeds supplied Mayan warriors with special energy. This conviction is still prevalent in Mexico today.
Use in Present-Day Mexico
In present-day Mexico, the Tarahumara tribe uses chia seeds as a component in beverages. This tribe, famous for their runners, uses chia seeds in a concoction called Iskiate, which they believe increases their stamina and makes it easier for their runners to push themselves.
Conquistadors Banned Chia Seeds
Like many native traditions, chia seeds were banned by the Spanish conquistadors during their bloody crusades. These invaders felt threatened by the seed’s use in religious ceremonies and banned it as a means of imparting their view of reality onto the indigenous people they were attempting to colonize.
Fortunately, people throughout Mexico defied this ban, which has resulted in chia seeds’ continued prevalence today. Consequently, chia is grown in several Latin American countries, including:
Chia seeds are also popular ingredients in Paraguay, where the residents use them in drinks and other dishes.
Other Commercial Exporters
Today, China is the number one exporter of chia seeds globally. In 2020, it is estimated that the country exported approximately $112.4 million worth of chia seeds.
How Are Chia Seeds Harvested?
When harvesting chia seeds, most experts recommend letting the flower head dry out. This makes the stalk much easier to extract.
Once the flowers start to dry, the petals will usually fall off, making the stalk easier to cut. Ideally, the best time to harvest the seeds is at this point, just after the petals have fallen off. Keep in mind that this must be done expediently before the flower starts to brown.
At the optimal time, the stalk is cut from the plant and hung out to dry on a rack. Occasionally, they are also stored in paper bags. The length of time required for them to dry varies depending on the climate. However, you will need to wait until they are completely dry before attempting to separate them.
Once they are dry, they are ready to be separated. Then the seeds are stored in a dry, dark place. It is important that the space they are stored in is relatively dry and free from humidity. For this reason, many growers opt to store them in mason jars. Once they are stored, they can be used or sewn for the upcoming season.
What Do Chia Seeds Offer (Taste-Wise) in Juices/Smoothies?
Chia seeds have a subtle nutty flavor that makes them ideal for sweeter dishes. Because of their mild taste, some people compare dry chia seeds to alfalfa sprouts or poppy seeds. However, their texture becomes much more gelatinous when they are soaked in liquid. In this state, they are as soft as tapioca.
When used in juices or smoothies, chia seeds will absorb the surrounding liquid and become soft. Their texture makes them a perfect addition to a pulpier smoothie, where they provide a mildly nutty flavor.
Chia Seeds Benefits: Common Uses
Chia seeds can be used in a wide variety of different foods. Here are some of the most popular and intriguing dishes you can include them in:
- Pudding (especially with coconut or almond milk)
Additionally, chia seeds’ benefits extend to gut health. This is because they contain a great deal of fiber. Next time you are feeling constipated, take a tablespoon of chia seeds and put them in a glass of water. The chia seeds will absorb the water and become gelatinous, making them easier to gulp down with the surrounding liquid.
Chia Seeds Benefits
Despite their small size, chia seeds are packed with a high concentration of nutrients. With a single chia seed, you get all of the following:
- Omega-3 fatty acid
Chia seeds are also a remarkably versatile ingredient and work well in a variety of dishes. After learning more about the health benefits they provide, you might want to include them in almost everything you cook.
It turns out the Aztecs were on to something. Modern science has concurred that chia seeds are highly nutritious. A single ounce of chia seeds contains less than 140 calories, just under 5 grams of protein, and approximately 9 grams of fat.
Chia seeds also contain the following:
- Alpha-linolenic acid
Considering you get all of the above in just a tablespoon or two, it’s difficult to imagine why more people don’t incorporate chia seeds into their regular diet.
Due to their high concentration of antioxidants, chia seeds can help destroy free radicals in the human body. These nasty molecules can build up over time and damage cell compounds. Eventually, this damage can contribute to cancer and other aging diseases.
The antioxidants found in chia seeds include:
- Caffeic acid
- Chlorogenic acid
These antioxidants imbue chia seeds with many of their anti-inflammatory properties. However, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Weight Loss Potential
Since chia seeds contain healthy doses of fiber and protein, they are purported to be beneficial for weight loss. Just one ounce of chia seeds contains almost 10 grams of dietary fiber. While further study is needed to determine the extent of the benefits, if any, some studies suggest that a diet high in fiber can help with weight control.
Chia seeds are also thought to promote a feeling of fullness, which leads to individuals consuming less food over the course of the day. However, it should be stated that the results of studies concerning these properties have been mixed. As with their weight loss potential, further study is needed to determine the extent of their benefits.
Potential Lower Risk of Heart Disease
The combination of fiber and omega-3 acids means that chia seeds could potentially reduce the risk of contracting heart disease. That’s because they contain soluble fiber, which is known to lower LDL cholesterol levels in the human body.
While studies conducted on human subjects with hypertension have shown that chia seed supplements have successfully reduced blood pressure, more research is required before a definitive claim can be made.
Potentially Lower Blood Sugar
Since chia seeds are so high in fiber, it is thought that they could play a role in lowering blood sugar levels. A few studies conducted almost a decade ago concluded that bread containing chia seeds helped lower blood sugar levels in individuals after eating.
However, despite the promising results, more research is needed to determine how beneficial chia seeds actually are in reducing blood sugar levels in healthy human subjects.
Potential Bone Health Improvement
Another one of the chia seeds benefits is that they contain calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus. All three of these nutrients are crucial for bone health. Additionally, some studies have shown that the ALA contained in chia seeds might benefit bone density.
Unfortunately, many of the studies in this area have been conducted on animals, so more research is needed on viable human subjects to determine the extent of the impact chia seeds can have on bone health.
Chia seeds are small and mild, which means they can be incorporated into just about any dish or snack. These surprisingly versatile seeds don’t need to be ground or cooked for adequate preparation. Just soak them or throw them in raw, and you’re good to go.
Since chia seeds are great for absorbing fat and water, they can be used as a substitute for eggs. They are also incredibly handy for adding a little thickness to sauces.
However, if you use them in a sauce or as an egg substitute, make sure your diet is high in fiber; otherwise, you could experience bloating or diarrhea if you consume too much.
For a healthy dose of chia seeds, you shouldn’t consume more than 1.5 tablespoons in a single sitting. Additionally, it is a good idea to limit your intake to two 1.5-tablespoon servings per day.
Stay Healthy with Clean Juice
If you are looking for an easy way to stay healthy, Clean Juice has got you covered. We provide an array of healthy foods to help you achieve your dietary goals. From salads to acai bowls to an assortment of delicious sandwiches and smoothies, our menu contains an incredible variety of delicious and healthy foods.
We have many Superfood Add-ons to choose from, including the powerful chia seed, that you can add to your smoothies, juices, or acai bowls. We recommend adding chia seeds to The Youthful One or The So Basic One!
But don’t just take our word for it; contact us or stop by one of our locations today and see for yourself.
Disclaimer: The information presented here is for educational purposes only and is in no way intended as a substitute for medical counseling. Consult your doctor before using any health treatment, including natural remedies, and tell your doctor if you have a serious medical condition or are taking any medications.
If you’re unsure whether chia seeds would be a healthy addition to your wellness routine, ask your doctor if any of your health details might make chia seeds unsafe for you.