With so many new recipes, new chefs and new cooking shows coming up, people are discovering more and more about the nutritional value of different foods.
As people have become conscious of their diets and began sticking to their exercise routines, the importance and desire to stay fit has begun to show its effect on what people eat.
You must have heard about and seen beverages and foods stocked in your nearest supermarket with tiny, intact seeds in them. And, the packaging reads “chia seeds”.
If you do not know what the whole thing is about, this article is for you! Yes, we are going to discuss chia seeds!
Please feel free to use the Table of Contents below to jump to the relevant section
Table of Contents
- What are Chia Seeds?
- 5 Lesser Known But Proven Reasons To Include Chia In Diet
- How to include chia in diet?
- Precautions and Dosage
What are Chia Seeds?
Chia seeds are native to Mexico and Guatemala. They are unprocessed, edible seeds that are derived from a plant with the scientific nameSalvia hispanica.
They do not possess a flavor of their own, however, they can be added to any food in order to give it a crunchy texture.
Chia seeds have a very high fiber content and nutritional value. They can be blackish brown to white in colour.
They belong to the flowers of the family Lamiaceae, which happens to be the mint family.
Chia seeds help in maintaining a good level of lipids in the body because of the content of phenols, as well as the presence of omega-3s (which are fatty acids) in them.
They help in controlling diabetes, as the fiber content is high, and also protect the liver and the heart from activities such as oxidation (where the cells lose their electrons to various radicals which are unstable and hence deteriorate).
They also help in the prevention of cancer, anxiety and depression.
Chia, means “oily”, and it is an annual herb. It had originated in Mexico and was cultivated by the Aztecs (American Indians).
It has been found to grow in parts of Central and South America.
The edible part is the seed, which provides a rich source of vegetable omega-3 fatty acid. Omega-3s from the chia seeds are a source of ALAs (alpha linoleic acid) that are converted, in our body itself, into docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) – (Do not worry! ALAs, EPAs and DHAs are just names of a few fatty acids!).
A 100g of chia seeds contains 17.830g of omega-3 fatty acids. A 100g of chia seeds consists of a whopping 34g of fiber.
Fiber has the ability accommodate a large chunk of space in the stomach that makes a person feel full. It also makes bowel movements easier. Chia seeds are also full of proteins.
It is widely known that an egg can provide round about 6g of protein, chia seeds have about 4.4g of protein.
5 Lesser Known But Proven Reasons To Include Chia In Diet
Chia seeds have been found to be tremendously beneficial in many situations and by any means; be it their nutritional value or their ability to fix a bodily issue. Here are a few ways in which these facts can be proven
1. Chia seeds improve glucose tolerance and benefit in diabetes and obesity
Glucose tolerance, as the term itself suggests, is the “tolerance” of glucose by our body, that is, whether it is readily and easily absorbed by the cells of our body from the blood or not.
If blood sugar levels are high, it may result in conditions such as “diabetes” which can further yield damage to the heart or liver, or obesity.
In an animal model, the effect of chia seeds and chia oil (derived from the chia seeds) on glucose tolerance was observed.
Dietary chia seeds and chia oil were introduced to obese rats suffering from glucose intolerance. Chia was included in their diet for varying periods of time.
Chia seeds and chia oil enhanced the glucose tolerance and insulin tolerance of the cells.
They also enhanced the functioning of those enzymes that were responsible for the scavenging of the free radicals capable of harming the cells of the liver.
2. Chia seeds protect heart health
Chia seeds play a major role in the protection of heart and liver majorly by the redistribution of lipids.
A study published in “The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry” in 2012 reported that when diet-induced obese rats were given dietary chia, they responded with an improved sensitivity to insulin, less fat around the organs (visceral fat), prevented the accumulation of fat in the liver and also the inflammation in the cells of the liver and heart.
This happened because of a fatty acid present in chia seeds, called “α-linolenic acid”.
The influence of chia seeds and chia flour was also observed in an animal model. Rats were introduced to dietary chia in the form of seeds and flour (which is made out of chia seeds and has a good quantity of proteins and fiber).
These rats showed lower levels of glucose, fats and bad cholesterol (LDL: low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and VLDL: very low-density lipoprotein cholesterol) and higher levels of good cholesterol (HDL: high-density lipoprotein cholesterol) in their body.
High-density lipoproteins are of a bigger size and easily removable from the blood vessels (arteries) where plaque formation takes place.
Whereas low-density lipoproteins are harder to get rid of because of their small size and tendency to get trapped in the walls of the blood vessels.
The introduction of chia also prevented fatty liver, improved digestion and also enhanced the function of the intestines.
In an investigation on an animal model of obesity, it was observed that dietary chia for a period of 24 weeks showed a noticeable improvement in various areas.
The lean mass of their body increased, fat got redistributed from their abdominal area, and chronic inflammation of the heart and liver reduced.
Lipotoxicity is a condition where lipids begin to accumulate in a non-adipose tissue (a non-fat tissue) and obstruct the function of its cells leading to cell death.
In a study published in “Journal of clinical medicine” in 2016, it was reported that chia seeds helped in the reduction of lipotoxicity in the heart.
They also helped in regulating oxidation of glucose in the muscles of the heart and also improved blood pressure.
What does this mean?
Chia seeds help in protection of the liver and the heart. They increase HDL levels and reduce the LDL and VLDL levels and prevent fat deposition in the liver. Chia seeds improvise lipid metabolism and prevent the toxic effects of lipid accumulation in non-lipid tissues.
3. Chia seeds improve metabolic health and fight insulin resistance
Insulin resistance is the phenomenon where the cells of the body do not respond to the hormone called “insulin”, and hence do not let glucose enter them.
Hypertriacylglycerolaemia is the phenomenon where “triglycerides” which are a type of fat, accumulate in the blood and they raise the chances of stroke and heart diseases.
However, in such cases as well, chia seeds have proven to be helpful.
Dietary chia seeds are found to offset metabolic disturbances caused by a sugar-rich diet.
It was observed that the abnormal lipid concentration (Hypertriacylglycerolaemia) and insulin resistance that had come up because of the sucrose rich diet was normalized.
In a study published in “Prostaglandins, leukotrienes, and essential fatty acids” in 2013 reported that dietary chia seeds showed an improvement in the enzymes that help in the breaking and distribution of lipids, lipid-breakdown mechanisms of insulin and reduced the growth of fat cells (in size as well as volume).
What does this mean?
Chia seeds help in improvement of disorders linked to lipid (fat) metabolism and prevent insulin resistance that eventually leads to heart diseases.
4. Chia seeds boost antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity
Many times, due to a high concentration of free radicals (due to inflammation or reactions by the immune system), oxidation of the lipids of cell membranes takes place.
This occurs because the free radicals rob the membranes of their electrons in order to stabilize themselves. However, this phenomenon can be prevented with the help of chia seeds.
In an animal study, the effect of dietary chia seeds on antioxidant defenses in diet-induced obesity was investigated.
The group with the dietary chia showed a significant improvement in the activity of antioxidant enzymes (which prevent oxidative damage), a decrease in the free radicals that lead to oxidation and also in interleukin-6 and tumor necrosis factor-α (that contribute to inflammation).
The abnormally high lipids in the body also returned to normal and the cells gained back the lost sensitivity to insulin.
While fat has gained a “bad reputation” due to the diseases that it results in upon accumulation in the body, such as atherosclerosis, obesity, and stroke, there are some fats that are essential for our body.
Examples of these are Alpha-linolenic acid and omega-3 fatty acids, which are present in abundance in chia seeds.
In a study, it was reported that vegetable oils that are rich in Alpha-linolenic acids increase the levels of omega-3 fatty acids in the liver.
An example of these vegetable oils was chia oil, which when fed as the lipid source led to an increase in the antioxidant activity of enzymes.
What does this mean?
Chia seeds and chia oil helped conquer situations where inflammation and oxidation lead to damage of the cells of the body, as they contain an essential fatty acid called “Alpha-linolenic acid.”
5. Chia seeds can prevent cancer
It is hard to believe, but yes, chia seeds do happen to help prevent one of the most feared and most researched diseases- cancer.
There is a lot of ongoing research on the various treatments of cancer, who could imagine that chia seeds could be a reliable option?! The proof of these statements is right here.
In a study, a diet rich in chia seeds (having a high content of alpha-linolenic acid) was found to inhibit mammary tumor growth.
After this, observations showed that the weight of a tumor had reduced, and the infiltration of the cells of the immune system was also enhanced in that area.
There were also apoptotic bodies found (which are the remains of the DNA of the cells that undergo cell death) which implies the breakage of a malignant tumor and the cells in it.
In an animal model, the effect of chia oil on the tumor in the mammary gland was analyzed. It showed that due to high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, chia oil helped in the reduction of cell division in a tumor and also the distribution of cancer cells to other parts of the body.
What does this mean?
Chia seeds and chia oil help in the prevention of spreading and proliferation of breast cancer because of the high content of alpha-linolenic acid and omega-3 fatty acids.
How to include chia in diet?
With so many benefits of chia seed, chia oil, and chia flour, the question arises that how can we incorporate it in our diets? There are many ways in which it can be done and has already been done! Take a look!
1. Chia flour reduces hypertension and helps in weight loss
So, can chia flour help in many ways when included in the diet. It was found that chia flour, when incorporated into the diets of hypertensive patients, clearly helped them out. They were assigned a diet with chia flour for a period of 12 weeks.
Whether they were on medication for their abnormal blood pressure or not, an improvement was observed.
Chia flour not only helped normalize the blood pressure, but it also reduced the peroxidation of lipids that may have lead to cell damage.
A study claimed that when chia flour was assigned to overweight or obese individuals for a period of 4 weeks, where they had to consume 35 g of chia flour per day, a significant reduction was seen in their weight and waist circumference.
An improvement was also observed in the levels of cholesterol. There was an increase in the high-density lipoprotein cholesterol and a reduction in very low-density lipoprotein cholesterol.
2. Chia gel as an egg replacer reduces calories of your food item
For all those who have gone vegan, baking cakes can sometimes become a bit tough, as most cake recipes contain eggs. People have found different substitutes for this.
But, who knew that chia could be a possible replacer?
Chia gel can be used for this purpose. For a replacement of eggs in cakes, one can take 2 tablespoons of chia seeds along with a cup of filtered water.
Leave it aside for 15 minutes while shaking it intermittently. Once formed, one can refrigerate it if it has to be stored.
In a study, chia gel was used instead of eggs and the differences were observed. In cakes where chia gel replaced the eggs and oil by 25%, there was no change in color, texture, and taste.
Where chia gel replaced 50% of eggs and oil, it had fewer calories and lesser fat content. Chia gel was hence an acceptable substitute.
3. Chia seeds in juices serve as energy drinks
Since athletes are given a diet rich in carbohydrates few days before their performance, chia seeds were experimented upon for solving the same purpose, that is, their functionality as an energy source.
6 athletes were chosen for this experiment where half of them were given “Gatorade”, which is an energy drink that served as a source of carbohydrate, whereas the remaining were given 50% chia and 50% Gatorade.
here was no difference in the one-hour run that the athletes performed after this intake. Performance of both the groups was the same, suggesting that chia seeds serve as the source of “omega-3s” which are the energy source. Hence, large amounts of sugar intake can be avoided by using chia seeds.
4. Ground chia seeds improve the nutritional content of your food item
Chia flour was added to frankfurters. This helped in increasing the fiber content, minerals such as calcium, manganese, potassium, and magnesium. It decreased the fat content too.
These frankfurters were then stored in chia oil and were found to be suitable for consumption.
In a study checking the efficacy of chia flour on iron deficiency, it proved to be very helpful. It helped in raising the content of iron in the body. This was very beneficial as compared to the efficacy of white wheat flour. The concentration of haemoglobin also rose.
Chia seeds were finely ground and added to oat bran, whole oat, and nutrim cookie batter. It was used (20%) for replacing wheat flour. The diameter of the cookies decreased and the height increased, however, the nutritional and physical qualities improved.
Chia can be helpful for the health of women. Formulations of bread were developed and chia seeds and folic acid were added to them.
When added to the diets of women, it was observed that bread with chia in them improved the protein content, omega-3 fatty acids as well as fiber content. Folic acid was also actively used up by the body and finds its use in the development of red blood cells and heart protection.
5. Chia seeds can help in making gluten-free food items
In a study, chia flour was incorporated into bread to see its benefits.
It raised the amounts of proteins, alpha-linolenic acid, and dietary fibers. It was lower in carbohydrate content and also improved the antioxidant effect of the bread.
It resulted in a gluten-free bread, full of nutritional benefits.
Everyone loves Italian! And at the sound of “Italian”, it is “pasta” that comes to our mind! Yes, pasta has earned a better reputation, health-wise, because of the addition of chia!
Chia seeds can also be added to rice flour in order to produce a gluten-free pasta. Along with this, chia was found to improve the protein content, fiber content and the phenolic content (which imparts antioxidant properties to the food). It also could be used as a thickening agent.
Precautions and Dosage
While chia seeds have been shown to have great benefits, one must first test for any allergic reactions, and not start off with a full-fledged routine inclusive of chia seeds.
There is no specific recommended dosage of chia seeds, however, one can sprinkle some over yoghurt, or add a teaspoon or so to shakes and smoothies. Chia gel can also be added to beverages to make them healthier.
It is best to consume soaked chia seeds as they can swell in the throat (if eaten dry) and cause suffocation.
Chia seeds have been found to have a number of benefits, such as improvement in glucose tolerance, abnormal cholesterol levels, blood pressure, lipid toxicity and progressing cancer.
It can be included easily in foods such as frankfurters and cakes or used as flour or oil and even gel.
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