The Mayans and the Aztecs relied on chia seeds for centuries; these tiny seeds are rich in nutrients and antioxidants. For a while in the United States, the main use of chia seeds was to grow chia plants on terra cotta animals (remember chia pets?); in recent years, people have rediscovered the health benefits of chia seeds. They can be sprinkled over salads and smoothies, baked into bread as an egg replacer, or eaten raw.
1. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Chia seeds are one of the richest plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids; their lipids (fats) are sixty percent composed of omega-3s. Chia seeds are especially high in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation in the body, increase brain function and memory retention, and lower “bad” cholesterol levels (more on this last benefit later on).
Certain plants have higher fiber content than others; chia seeds are an excellent source, with ten grams in two tablespoons (a third of the daily recommended amount). Fiber calms inflammation, repairs damage to cell walls, lowers cholesterol, and regulates bowel function.
3. Easy to digest
Flaxseeds are about as healthy as chia seeds (they’ve got in omega-3 fatty acids, fiber and minerals too); but flaxseeds have to be ground down to release their nutrients, and to work as an egg replacer—chia seeds do not. You can eat a handful of chia seeds raw with a bowl of oatmeal in the morning for a very nutritious, filling breakfast.
Trace minerals are hard to find in Western diets, but they are critical for maintaining a healthy body. Two tablespoons of chia seeds hold 18% of the recommended daily dose of calcium, 35% of phosphorus, 24% of magnesium and around 50% of manganese. These minerals prevent hypertension, keep weight steady and healthy, and aid in both energy metabolism and DNA synthesis.
A lot of snack foods offer empty calories with little energy behind them; chia seeds have few calories, but they’re dense with fiber and minerals, so they take a long time to break down in the GI tract (particularly when mixed with water and turned into a gel), prolonging the feeling of satiety. A handful of chia seeds in the afternoon will keep you satisfied until dinner. To make a chia gel (which can be used as an egg replacer in baking), mix one tablespoon of chia seeds with three tablespoons of water, and let the mix sit for fifteen minutes to thicken.
Chia seeds are packed with antioxidants; these plant compounds protect the body from free radicals, aging, and cancer threats. Chia seeds also have a long shelf life; they’ll go two years without refrigeration. Better still, chia seeds have no gluten or grains—they’re a vegan and gluten-free food.
7. Increases “good” cholesterol
When used as a dietary fat source, chia seeds lower triglycerides and LDL cholesterol levels (the “bad” kind), while increasing HDL cholesterol (the “good” kind)—this information comes from a study published in the “British Journal of Nutrition. Beyond this benefit, the ALA in chia seeds prevents high triglyceride levels and decreases obesity.
8. Blood sugar regulation
The fiber in chia seeds makes them a strong blood sugar regulator; they stabilize insulin levels, reduce insulin resistance, and lower abnormally high levels of insulin in the blood. In other words, they break down so slowly that their release into the bloodstream helps instead of hurts (processed sugar products hurt—they drop like a bomb into the bloodstream). For this reason, chia is currently being studied as a possible treatment for type-2 diabetes.
Another mineral that’s kind of absent from modern diets, phosphorous supports healthy bones and teeth. Chia seeds are rich in phosphorous—27% of the daily dose can be had in two tablespoon. The body also needs phosphorus to utilize protein in cell and tissue growth and repair.
10. Plant protein
Finally, chia seeds are a fine source of protein for vegetarians (for anyone; unlike all animal protein sources, chia seeds have no cholesterol). A 28-gram serving of chia seeds contains 4.4 grams of protein, about 10% of the recommended daily amount.
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