When you hear the word chia, the first thing that might come to mind are those clay figurines that sprout grass “hair” when watered.
But nowadays chia has come to represent something entirely different. These tiny seeds and their oil extract pack a big punch when it comes to health and nutrition.
Kristi Acuña, owner of the Holistic Nutrition Center, explains that chia seeds provide three important nutrients: fiber, protein and omega 3s.
“Chia seeds help to improve your digestion and can be a great additive to your diet to help lower your cholesterol. These little seeds have a big presence in the body to help reduce inflammatory areas, which helps to protect the heart,” she says, also citing important diabetes-related perks.
“In fact there was a study done with rats that were fed chia seeds and it showed that they improved their insulin levels and helped reduce blood sugar problems.”
They have been dubbed “superstars” among nutritionists, says Marina Yanay-Triner, owner of Soul in the Raw . “They have a great omega-3 to 6 ration (5:9), which is crucial, especially for plant-based eaters,” she says.
Furthermore, chia seeds are antioxidant powerhouses. “Chia-seed antioxidants help prevent free radical damage in the human body, which is responsible for disease and fast aging.”
Chia seeds are available as grayish black or white seeds. Some chia promoters claim there is no difference between the two, but Karen Brennan, MSW, NC, owner of Tru Foods Nutrition Services, disagrees. “According to traditional Chinese medicine, black foods are high in minerals and are considered to be beneficial for the kidneys and bladder,” she says.
Chia seeds also come in supplement form as an extract for easy daily consumption. While you don’t get the fiber from eating the actual seed, they still provide the anti-inflammatory and omega-3 benefits of the original. You can even use the oil in skincare to provide extra moisture and promote skin elasticity.
Part of your daily intake
Now that you know the benefits, how do you fit chia seeds into your daily food intake?
Acuña says, “Great ways to incorporate chia seeds are to add them to your yogurt, protein shake or even make your own chia seeds pudding.”
In spite of their overall health benefits, chia seeds are contraindicated in certain situations. “When people are on medications, such as blood sugar regulators or diabetic meds, eating too many chia seeds can over-stimulate the drug you are taking to control your blood sugars,” says Acuña. “If you are taking blood thinners, be aware that chia seeds have omega oils in them and can be a blood thinner as well. Be mindful of not overeating them.”
Yanay-Triner cautions against cooking with chia seeds. “Their fats are prone to oxidation due to heat damage. And make sure to store the seeds in the fridge or freezer to keep them fresh,” she says. “Be sure to grind chia seeds in a coffee grinder right before using them, rather than keeping them ground in your fridge.”
If adding them to your daily diet is not feasible or you don’t care for the taste or texture, taking a supplement with chia seed oil extract is a great way to get the benefits without having to eat the actual seeds.
You’ve got nothing to lose and plenty to gain by adding chia seeds to your diet or supplement routine.