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The term “superfood” has been bandied about in recent years to describe anything from coconut oil, to turmeric, to cocoa. Chia seeds – often associated with the fur-growing “Chia Pet” products sold on TV– are definitely worthy of the trendy “superfood” label.
Rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants, this “super” seed packs a nutritional wallop. Chia seeds are a “whole grain” food, are usually grown organically and are naturally gluten-free. With 500 percent more calcium than milk and with about the same amount of omega-3s as wild salmon, chia seeds also can have an appetite-suppressing quality that can help you lose weight.
Chia (Salvia Hispanica) is a species of flowering plant that is native to central and southern Mexico and Guatemala and is part of the mint family. Historians believe it once was as important as maize as a food crop, and it was a staple of the ancient Aztec and Mayan diets. In fact, the word “chia” is the Mayan term for “strength.”
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How do the tiny black seeds aid in weight loss? Chia is high in soluble fiber which helps you feel fuller faster, which helps reduce the absorption of fat. (1) According to a study published in 2009 in LWT– Food Science and Technology, chia seeds can absorb as much as 12 times their weight in water. Chia seeds basically expand in your stomach, forming a gel-like substance. You will feel fuller longer and, therefore, you will be likely to consume fewer calories.
The high-fiber content in chia also helps feed the “good” bacteria in your digestive tract, keeping you healthier and feeling better. According to a study published in the medical journal Lancet in 2003, this probiotic effect can have a role in the prevention or treatment of certain diseases. (2)
Chia seeds may also help you lose weight because of their high protein content. The seeds are about 14 percent protein, and studies have shown that a high-protein diet can contribute to weight loss by reducing appetite and food cravings. (3)
Here are some other health benefits of adding chia seeds to your diet:
Sleep better. Like turkey, chia seeds contain tryptophan, the sleep-inducing amino acid which raises your body’s melatonin and serotonin levels and helps promote sleep. Just two ounces of chia seeds can help you sleep better.
Maintain healthy fats. Chia seeds are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, which scientists have found help with cognitive brain function and with heart health. (4) Just an ounce of chia can boost your intake of these essential healthy fats which are also found in avocados, olive oil, coconut oil, certain nuts and fatty fish.
Boost metabolism. The consumption of chia seeds can help increase your metabolism, generating more energy for exercise, which can in turn contribute to weight loss. In a 2011 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, chia seeds were show to be a nutritional and low-sugar way for athletes to load up on carbs for endurance events. (5)
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Build strong bones. Chia seeds are high in calcium, phosphorus and magnesium. With 18 percent of the daily Required Daily Allowance (RDA) of calcium in just one ounce, chia seeds can be a valuable source of this important nutrient for non-dairy consumers.
Contain antioxidants. Like dark berries, chia seeds are a rich source of antioxidants, which fight the production of damaging free radicals, which can contribute to aging and certain life-threatening diseases. (6)
Lower “bad” cholesterol. A study published in April 2014 in The FASEB Journal found that a diet with chia seeds, oats, nopal and soy protein helped to decrease LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and triglycerides, to raise HDL (“good”) cholesterol and to lower inflammation levels in study participants. (7)
Aid diabetic patients. A study published in Diabetes Care, a journal of the American Diabetes Association, found that a diet containing chia seeds can be helpful to the health of people with type 2 diabetes. In the study, 20 diabetic patients who received 37 grams of chia seeds each week for 12 weeks realized improvements in several important health markers, including blood pressure reduction. (8)
It is easy to incorporate chia seeds into your diet. They have a mild, nutty taste and since the seeds do not need to be ground, they are easy to add to almost anything. You can eat them raw or you can add them to baked goods. You also can sprinkle them on top of cereal, oatmeal, yogurt or vegetable and rice dishes. You also can mix them into your favorite smoothie recipe. Because they absorb water and fat, you can even use them to thicken your sauces or gravies.
One ounce (about two tablespoons) of chia seeds contains 139 calories, four grams of protein, nine grams of fat, 12 grams of carbohydrates and 11 grams of fiber, plus additional vitamins and minerals. If you have allergies to sesame seeds or mustard seeds or are on blood thinners or blood pressure medication, check with your doctor before consuming chia. Otherwise, enjoy the health and nutritional benefits of this tiny superfood.
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