The health benefits of chia seeds weren’t widely recognized until recently. But now, chia seeds have been popularized as a superfood that should definitely be a daily part of every healthy diet, especially for menopausal women.
It wasn't long ago that the mention of chia conjured the image of a potted plant. Almost everyone had heard of chia thanks to the popularity of Chia Pets, those fuzzy clay animals and people that sprout bright green fur and hair. The health benefits of chia seeds were less well known.
Heart disease is the number one killer of women. Canadian scientists were intrigued by chia seeds because they are rich in fiber, alpha-linolenic acid and minerals, and wanted to explore their heart health benefits.
In a 12-week study of the health effects of chia for diabetes, researchers at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto fed 21 patients about 37 grams of either chia seeds or wheat bran. The researchers used a new white strain of chia seeds that they had specially developed and named "Salba®," in order to control the nutritional content of the seeds.
At the end of the study they found that eating the chia seeds had reduced systolic blood pressure, C-reactive protein and vonWillebrand factor (all risk factors for heart disease).
Chia was also found to double blood levels of alpha-linolenic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), both essential omega 3 fatty acids with proven heart health benefits.
Chia seeds also support bone health. One tablespoon contains 60 mg of calcium which is great but, even better, it provides the trace mineral boron, a catalyst for the absorption and utilization of calcium by the body.
Humans have used chia for nourishment for over 5,000 years. In the ancient Aztec culture, chia seeds were a dietary staple as well as a valuable currency. It is believed that Aztec warriors carried chia seeds for energy and endurance with as little as a teaspoon sufficient to fuel them for the day.
The most unique quality that you'll notice about chia seeds is a natural gel forming property which allows them to absorb up to 12 times their volume in water. Mix a spoonful of chia seeds in a glass of water and in about 30 minutes, the glass will contain a very thick gelatin. This gel-forming reaction is due to the soluble fiber in chia which has one gram per tablespoon in addition to four grams of insoluble fiber.
What does this mean for you? The soluble fiber in chia seeds slows the digestion of carbohydrates and their breakdown into sugars, keeping blood sugar stable and helping to control or prevent diabetes.
In addition, the expansion of the seeds contributes to a feeling of fullness which keeps appetite down and aids in controlling weight. The seeds also create bulk and improve elimination, keeping you regular. And because they absorb liquid chia seeds help keep you hydrated and balance electrolytes.
Although smaller than poppy seeds, chia seeds are the richest vegetable source for heart healthy essential omega 3 fatty acids, containing almost twice as much as fish.
Add a tablespoon of chia seeds to your smoothie but drink it right away before the gel-producing qualities kick in. Sprinkle them on yogurt, cereal, oatmeal or salads.
Chia is gluten-free and can be added to pancakes, muffins, breads or other baked goods. In fact, you can substitute chia gel for eggs and oil in cake recipes.
When buying chia seeds make sure you get the organic version.
Chia seeds should be a staple in your diet and don't worry – you won't develop curly green hair... probably.