By: Ginger C. Cochran, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (MS, RDN, CDE, ACSM-CEP)
The chia craze has taken the world by storm for good reason. These tiny but mighty versatile seeds deserve all the hype as a “superfood.” Chia seeds (also known as salvia hispanica) were first discovered many moons ago (Approximately 3,500 BC) by the Mayans and Aztecs, in what is modern day Central America and Mexico, where they were used for medicinal purposes and to make their warriors strong. In, Mayan, chia means “strength.” Today almost every health expert can agree chia seeds are a “superfood” that can benefit almost everyone if incorporated into their diet.
Here are 6 reasons our friend chia gets to be listed as a superfood:
Chia seeds have a whopping 10 g of fiber in just 1 ounce. The average American consumes only 13g of fiber per day, while the Institute of Medicine’s recommendation is to consume 25-38g, Lower levels of fiber lead to increased risk for a variety of health conditions (cancer, diabetes, and heart disease to name a few). Just imagine what would happen if everyone incorporated just 1 ounce of chia seeds into their daily diet.
Not only are chia seeds high in fiber, but most of the fiber is what’s called soluble fiber. Soluble fiber forms into a gel in the digestive system that expands and makes you feel full. This makes it an excellent addition for those managing their body weight or looking for a healthy snack to curb some hunger pangs. The chia gel also acts like a magnet in the digestive system, trapping cholesterol, calories, and fats and pushing them through the digestive system, thereby decreasing their absorption and “cleaning out your pipes” (a.k.a. intestinal tract). This gives chia seeds a gold star in helping us manage blood cholesterol and weight, balance blood sugar, and promote a healthy gut.
Chia seeds contain phytonutrients*, anti-oxidants*, and 5 grams of omega-3 fats per serving which acts like a calming cucumber to our entire body inside and out due to its anti-inflammatory effects. Many diseases are said to come out of an inflammatory state (cancer, GI disorders, diabetes, heart disease, and more). Chia seeds’ unique combination of phytonutrients, anti-oxidants, and omega-3 fat work synergistically to make it a particularly powerful anti-inflammatory. Things that can cause inflammation can be our environment, stress, refined and sugary foods, lack of sleep, and genetics. We can reduce the effects of inflammation by including anti-inflammatory foods, like chia, with every meal. Including anti-inflammatory foods every time you eat promotes their continuous circulation and benefits in the body. For those with arthritis, incorporation of anti-inflammatory foods like chia seeds can reduce pain and promote quality of life.
Chia seeds are packed with 10g of total fat, including mostly healthy fats, like polyunsaturated and omega-3 fats. These fats not only have anti-inflammatory benefits, as stated above, but are incorporated into every single one of your approximately 37 trillion* cells in the body, thus helping your body function at its best. For example, your brain is made of 60% fat; giving your body foods high in healthy fats ensures your body has the ingredients it needs to continuously build and repair and keeping you strong, healthy, and functioning at your peak capacity.
These healthy fats are known to help improve blood cholesterol levels and helping prevent the number one killer for men and women, heart disease. Healthy fats also play a role in balancing blood sugar levels after a snack or meal, helping sustain the body’s energy.
Strengthening and Dairy Free Calcium Source
One ounce of chia seeds contains 17% of your daily recommendation of calcium making it an excellent dairy-free source of calcium. Calcium is an essential mineral we need for a variety of functions in the body, including bone building, maximizing strength, and helping blood clot when you injure yourself. It is also involved in nerve function and muscle contraction. It’s no wonder the Aztecs and Mayans found chia seeds vital in their diet to maintain strength and endurance.
Chia seeds have as much iron in 1 ounce (2.2 mg) as 3 ounces of red meat (2.2 mg). Iron deficiency is the most common nutrient deficiency in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which makes chia seeds a very healthy option for boosting those iron stores. Iron transports oxygen to every cell in the body. A delay in delivery (of what? Iron or oxygen?) can cause serious fatigue, which affects quality and function in life. Severe iron depletion in pregnancy can contribute to a baby being born smaller than usual or prematurely.
Chia seeds have the full package of benefits: sustaining energy, managing weight, promoting health, and fighting disease. Chia seeds are even an excellent source of plant-based protein with 4 g of protein per ounce. These mighty seeds can be used in many ways, from thickening agents in soups and stews, or as an egg substitute in baking. You can find them in pudding, smoothies, baked goods, crackers, and of course as the #1 ingredient in Health Warrior Chia Bars. In fact chia was the inspiration for Health Warrior and the Chia Bar, their first product. Co-founders Dan, Nick and Shane learned about it in the non-fiction best-seller Born to Run where author Christopher McDougall raved, “If you had to pick just one desert-island food, you couldn’t do much better than chia, at least if you were interested in building muscle, lowering cholesterol, and reducing your risk of heart disease; after a few months on the chia diet, you could probably swim home.”