Chia seeds are native to southern and central Mexico and Guatemala and were cultivated by the Aztecs who considered it a superfood. Aztec warriors were said to have sustained themselves for an entire day on a single tablespoon of chia seeds. Chia seeds disappeared from the region after the Spanish conquest because the Spaniards banned foods that were linked to Aztec tradition. Today, chia seeds have seen a dramatic resurgence as a superfood and are popular among health-conscious consumers.
Chia seeds are an excellent source of fiber and antioxidants, a good source of calcium, a good source of plant-based protein and an excellent source of the plant-derived omega 3 fatty acids (alpha-linolenic acid) ALA similar to walnuts and flax. As with any nut or seed, they are low in saturated fat and contain no cholesterol, but like all nuts and seeds they are more calorie dense, 139 calories per ounce, so it is important to watch serving sizes and consume in moderation.
The most popular health benefit of chia seeds is the fact that they are effective in boosting weight loss efforts, probably because chia seeds are rich in soluble fiber and protein and that their carbohydrates are slowly digested. They reduce food cravings by preventing some of the food that you eat from getting absorbed into your system. This blockage of calorie absorption makes them a great diet helper. These factors combine to help to curb appetite and increase fat burning.
The seeds of the Chia are super energy givers and can help people through the 3 pm slump and through endurance workouts or other tasks. One tablespoon of chia seeds allowed Aztec Warriors to continue fighting for an entire day.
Amazingly, the oil in chia seeds is higher in omega-3 fatty acids than any other food. Omega-3s are essential to the human body and help to prevent many diseases, including heart disease, cancer, cognitive decline, chronic inflammation, and autoimmune disease.
Thanks to their high omega-3 content, chia seeds are the perfect brain food. Because the brain needs good healthy fats to function and grow optimally, many people have found that adding chia seeds to their diet improved memory, concentration, and other cognitive abilities.
Chia seeds are very high in antioxidants; in fact, they actually have more antioxidants than blueberries, which is also good for an anti-aging and healthy brain. Eating chia seeds on a regular basis may help to prevent certain health conditions such as stroke, heart disease, and cancer.
Chia seeds are a great ingredient for diabetics to use because they help to maintain lower blood sugar levels. It is necessary for diabetics to actively maintain their glucose levels and chia seeds assist in this process. The seeds slow down how fast bodies convert carbohydrates into simple sugars, a great benefit for people with diabetes.
The high fiber and antioxidants in chia seeds help with detoxification. When a fiber is consumed, the body is effectively able to remove waste and toxins from the body. Additionally, antioxidants help with toxin and waste removal as they work to eliminate free radicals.
Eating chia seeds on a regular basis can reduce the inflammation within the body because chia seeds contain essential fatty acids. High levels of inflammation are associated with many health conditions such as arthritis, heart disease, and chronic pain.
When chia seeds are combined with a liquid like water, milk, juice or yogurt, they form a gel due to the soluble fiber that they contain. You will be able to see them more prevalent in health foods stores and supermarkets sold as fruity drink concoctions. This may have some benefit in terms of weight loss by helping you feel fuller longer and also by delaying the increase in blood sugar of foods that you consume which contain chia seeds, but note the sugar contents and serving size. Each bottle may contain up to 60 grams of sugar!
As with almost all foods, to get the most health benefits, chia seeds are best consumed in their whole state rather than consuming them as an oil or supplement (grinding them is ok too since it retains all the components of the seed). If you want to give them a try as part of your healthy eating regimen, they work well as a yogurt or oatmeal topping, tossed into a smoothie, or used as a binder and healthy fat in baked goods (particularly vegan or gluten-free baking).