What are Chia Seeds?

And are chia seeds a superfood?

A new health craze may be on the horizon, used by runners and other athletes all over the world, with many doctors and other health professionals advocating its usage. Chia seeds are packed with important vitamins, minerals, and other ingredients, and offer a range of health benefits, with little or no chance of side effects. All things considered, this will end up a whole lot more useful than the last chia-related craze back in the 90s.

Chia seeds come from the Salvia hispanica plant, a member of the mint family, which was cultivated back in Aztec times. It was all but forgot after the post-Colombian epoch, but is returning in a big way.

Christopher McDougall, author of Born to Run, and partly responsible for the resurgent interest in the plant, claims that “In terms of nutritional content, a tablespoon of chia is like a smoothie made from salmon, spinach and human growth hormone.” Sounds pretty impressive.

So, are chia seeds good for you? Are they really the superfood that its advocate claim it to be? Read on and find out.

Chia Seeds Nutritional Value

Vitamins and minerals found in chia seeds

Chia seeds do in fact boast a rather impressive profile as far as nutritional content goes; they are high in omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, protein, unsaturated fats, plus include things like phosphorus, manganese, calcium, potassium, and sodium. With high levels of fiber and antioxidants, it’s no wonder they’ve become increasingly popular, especially with plenty of athletic endorsements spreading awareness of the seeds.

Compared to flax seeds, alongside which they are often discussed, chia seeds contain more fiber and omega-3 fatty acids, more calcium, but less iron. This may imply they are comparable, rather than superior to flax, but a couple other factors work in their favor, though these claimed health benefits are still rather preliminary.

Health Benefits of Chia Seeds

What are chia seeds good for?

Some of the most widely popularized health benefits of chia seeds are that the nutritional content is beneficial for diabetics, athletes, and those attempting to lose weight. Studies, however, are rather preliminary, indicating that any alleged claims should be taken with a grain of salt...metaphorically.

Chia Seeds(92834)Credit: Magister MathematicaeThe claims center around, among other things, the gel exterior that forms when chia seeds are mixed with water. Because of the increased bulk, they become less filling; because of the simulated water absorption, athletes use them to hydrate. Both claims are perfectly reasonable, and studies have also shown that fatty foods in general tend to reduce appetite, leaving people feeling more full than other foods, who then consume less. The same is true of drinking a large glass of water before a meal.

Advocates also claim the seeds can reduce blood pressure, and that the unsaturated fats are also good for lowering cholesterol, and the seeds contain plenty of those.

Chia seed advocates also claim benefits for diabetics, claiming the seeds stabilize blood sugar levels and insulin resistance. The study to support this claim, however, was performed on rats. That’s not to say it won’t work in humans (rats are quite similar to humans, which is why lots of studies are performed on them), but it goes to show that more studies need to be conducted. In other words, there’s plenty to recommend the tiny seeds, and they’re certainly packed with nutrients, but just be careful with using any single product as a weight-loss or health-improving miracle superfood.

The BBC has a great article regarding the emerging popularity of chia seeds, as they are just getting into the broader market in the UK as of 2012, discussing the competing viewpoints of chia seeds among nutritional scientists and athletes.

Chia Seeds Side Effects

Potential risks of chia seeds

Salvia hispanicaCredit: PancratThere isn’t much to dissuade people away from consuming chia seeds, aside from potential allergic reactions, and claims that the reduced blood pressure can be problematic for those with low blood pressure to begin with.

Other warnings include the high levels of alpha-linolenic acid, which may increase the risk of prostate cancer if consumed in large quantities, but recommendations simply point toward moderation, rather than elimination.

Again, more study is needed, but without any really significant warning signs, it looks like chia seeds are a great addition to a healthy diet.

Where to Buy Chia Seeds

How to prepare chia seeds

Although not exactly readily available on every street corner, chia seeds are available online, with Amazon even getting in on the action. They’re not particularly expensive, costing about as much as flax seeds.

Since chia seeds by themselves are not particularly flavorful, popular recipes include using them in pudding, bread, or other concoctions by grinding them up and mixing them into other foods, though some of the runners that consume chia seeds do so by the spoonful.

So the prospects are looking good, so pick some up today and enjoy the health benefits of chia seeds, but always make sure to include them as part of a balanced diet, not a once-a-day vitamin that cancels out bagfuls of candy you also love.