Chia seeds are commonly known for sprouting to provide the "hair" or "fur" on potted Chia Pets. However, this tiny seed from the herb plant Salvia hispanica is actually a Superfood with many health benefits.
1. Improve Serum Cholesterol and Heart Health
Chia seeds are high in omega-3 fatty acids and ALA, as well as fiber, amino acids, antioxidants, minerals and other nutrients. The essential fatty acids increase HDL (good cholesterol) while decreasing LDL (bad cholesterol) and triglycerides. Improved serum cholesterol also improves heart health since bad cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease. Chia seeds are high in both soluble and insoluble fiber, which soluble fiber has been shown to help lower cholesterol. When mixed with water, the soluble fiber in chia seeds forms a gel. This gel can be used as a thickener in cooking and as an alternative to fats in baking. Use it in place of half the oil, butter, margarine or shortening in a recipe to reduce harmful fat levels in the diet and increase fiber and Omega-3s.
2. Boost Energy Levels
Chia seeds were consumed by the ancient Aztecs, who called it the "running food" due to the energy boost and hydrophilic properties that help to regulate electrolytes. The complex carbohydrates found in chia break down slowly to maintain energy levels for improved stamina and endurance. Omega-3s boost mental energy and mood levels as well.
3. Improve Diabetes Symptoms
The glycemic index of chia seeds is very low, so blood sugar levels don't spike and crash as with refined carbohydrates. Since blood sugar levels remain more stable, cravings for high sugar foods are reduced as well. The protein, fiber and complex carbohydrates in chia seeds slow digestion and regulate blood sugar levels, so you feel full longer. Chia sprouts can be used in place of alfalfa sprouts on sandwiches, salads and other meals to provide fiber and nutrition.
4. Weight Loss
Chia seeds contain both soluble and insoluble fiber. The soluble fiber in chia absorbs water and expands to form a gel that fills you up faster, so you consume fewer calories. Fiber and protein slow the digestive process so hunger isn't triggered as quickly as with sugars, starches and other simple carbohydrates. The insoluble fiber, which does not digest, aids in preventing constipation and digestive disorders by "sweeping" the colon.
5. Reduce Inflammation
The high levels of essential fatty acids in chia have anti-inflammatory properties on the body by aiding in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and reducing C-reactive protein, an inflammation marker. Omega-3s reduce joint stiffness and pain. Studies have shown that reduced inflammation lowers the risk for heart disease, arthritis and certain types of cancer.
Chia seeds are diverse and can be eaten raw, roasted, ground or mixed with water. Chia gel can mixed with lemon and sweetener to make "chia fresca," which is a popular drink in Mexico. By incorporating chia seeds into your diet on a regular basis, you can reap the health benefits.