7 Health Benefits of Chia Seeds : Exclusive Renegade Health Article

Monday Jul 30 | BY |
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They make great “pets,” but they’re even better as part of your diet.

They became popular as “chia pets” in the 1980s, those green-furred animals that are still found in thousands of homes today. But chia seeds, which sprout within a couple weeks on pets like this pig, are put to far better use (depending on your priorities!) as part of a healthy diet.

Chia is the Mayan word for strength, and chia seeds were an important energy source for many ancient cultures, including the Mayans and Incans. The Aztecs also used chia mixed in water for a beverage, ground it into flour, and pressed it for oil, while warriors were said to use it as a high energy supplement while on conquests.

The seeds still are a major dietary staple in South and Central America today, as they are good sources of fiber and protein, and have an extremely high concentration of essential fatty acids—even more omega-3s than salmon. They also contain potassium, calcium, iron, phosphorus, and manganese, while being low in cholesterol and sodium, and have a high contration of antioxidants.

With all these nutrients and more, chia seeds have become one of today’s superfoods, with benefits to the body and brain. Athlete Christopher McDougall, who wrote Born to Run, noted that Tarahumara Indians in Mexico ate chia seeds while on their desert runs, making the seeds popular with marathoners. Chia seeds can be eaten raw, or added to drinks and foods. When soaked in water, they form a gel that can be used in baking, and they also thicken smoothies and oatmeal, while being a crunchy addition to yogurt.

Here’s a glimpse of seven health benefits associated with the seeds.

1. Control blood sugar. The unique combination of soluble and insoluble fiber helps to slow the body’s conversion of food into sugar. Preliminary research shows that chia seeds could help people with diabetes control their blood sugar levels and protect their hearts. Animal studies show that chia-rich diets lower LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels, while increasing HDL cholesterol. The white-seeded variant of chia, called “Salba” also helped control blood sugar, in addition to maintaining blood pressure and C-reactive protein.

2. Protect the heart. Animal studies have indicated chia’s potential to help preserve heart health. An animal study published in February 2012 found that chia seeds, as a source of the essential fatty acid “a-linolenic acid (ALA),” when fed to rats on a high-carb, high-fat diet, reduced cardiac and liver inflammation and improved insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance.

3. Manage cholesterol. Early animal studies have also indicated that adding chia to the diet may help to normalize blood fats and cholesterol levels. In one study published in 2009, researchers fed rats a high-sugar diet for three months, then substituted chia seed for the source of fat in the diet from month 3-5 in half the animals. The dietary chia seeds prevented the onset of high lipids and fats in the blood, and helped to reduce abdominal fat.

4. Protect against cancer.
Though few studies have been done, early animal research has suggested that chia may have a protective benefit against cancer. Research from Argentina, for example, showed that chia seeds inhibited growth and metastasis of tumors in rats.

5. Enhance energy. Because they are so nutrient-dense for their size, chia seeds make great energy foods for long runs, hikes, and other endurance efforts. The high protein content, along with the slow-burning combination of fibers, keeps you going for hours. In fact, according to a Bloomberg article, chia seeds have become the “stimulant of choice” among Wall Street investors and traders because they’re healthier than coffee, cheaper and more legal than cocaine, and less juvenile than the 5-hour energy drink.

6. Regulate the digestive system. Chia has a reputation for helping to maintain and restore intstinal health, though so far it doesn’t appear that there are any scientific studies on the subject. Most likely, it is because of the unique fiber content in the seeds that people are experiencing this benefit. In today’s world of over-processed foods and white flour, rich sources of soluble and insoluble fiber are difficult to find. Chia seeds help to promote regularity, and is easily digested. It digests slowly, and helps keep the colon hydrated. Many patients swear by it for preventing diverticulitis (inflammation of the colon).

7. Boost brain power. Essential fatty acids are known to help maintain the funciton of brain cell membranes and neurotransmitters. Omega-3 fatty acids, in particular, contain docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which is used exclusively by the brain and nervous system. They also contain eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), which has shown in studies to help relieve low-grade inflammation associated with clinical depression. Chia seeds are a powerhouse source of essential fatty acids—a natural brain food.

Do you use chia seeds in your diet? How do you prepare them? Have you noticed a difference in your health since using them?

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Photo courtesy a_sorense via Flickr.com.

Sources
Melissa Romero, “The Powerful Health Benefits of Chia Seeds,” Washingtonian, February 27, 2012, http://www.washingtonian.com/blogs/wellbeing/healthy-eating/the-powerful-health-benefits-of-chia-seeds.php.

P.J. Skerrett, “A Chia Pet for Diabetes?” Harvard Health Publications, December 17, 2010, http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/a-chia-pet-for-diabetes-20101217923.

Poudyal H., et al., “Lipid redistribution by a-linolenic acid-rich chia seeds inhibits stearoyl-CoA desaturase-1 and induces cardiac and hepatic protection in diet-induced obese rats,” J Nutr Biochem 2012 Feb;23(2):153-62, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21429727.

Chicco AG, et al., “Dietary chia seed (Salvia hispanica L.) rich in alpha-linolenic acid improves adiposity and normalizes hypertriacylglycerolaemia and insulin resistence in dyslipaemic rats,” Br J Nutr 2009 Jan;101(1):41-50, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18492301.

Espada CE, et al., “Effect of Chia oil (Salvia Hispanica) rich in omega-3 fatty acids on the eicosanoid release, apoptosis and T-lymphocyte tumor infiltration in a murine mammary gland adenocarcinoma,” Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids 2007 Jul; 77(1):21-8, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17618100.

David Sax, “Chia Seeds, Wall Steet’s Stimulant of Choice,” Bloomberg, May 24, 2012, http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2012-05-24/chia-seeds-wall-streets-stimulant-of-choice/.

Kevin Gianni

Kevin Gianni is a health author, activist and blogger. He started seriously researching personal and preventative natural health therapies in 2002 when he was struck with the reality that cancer ran deep in his family and if he didn’t change the way he was living — he might go down that same path. Since then, he’s written and edited 6 books on the subject of natural health, diet and fitness. During this time, he’s constantly been humbled by what experts claim they know and what actually is true. This has led him to experiment with many diets and protocols — including vegan, raw food, fasting, medical treatments and more — to find out what is myth and what really works in the real world.

Kevin has also traveled around the world searching for the best protocols, foods, medicines and clinics around and bringing them to the readers of his blog RenegadeHealth.com — which is one of the most widely read natural health blogs in the world with hundreds of thousands of visitors a month from over 150 countries around the world.

37 COMMENTS ON THIS POST

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  1. Celine says:

    I put a full tablespoon of Chia seeds in my porridge every morning! It’s delicious and powerful!

  2. Emma says:

    I put a spoonful in our green smoothie each morning, wonderful extra boost.

  3. Jeanine says:

    Great article Kevin. I like the summary of ways that chia supports us. I also LOVE the idea of a chia-kevin! Fun.

  4. Ronn says:

    At my house we make Chia Fresca every morning to sip on throughout the day. Into a 16oz bottle of purified water, we add the juice of half a lemon or lime, a little stevia and two tablespoons of chia seeds. Shake the bottle vigorously for a few minutes (almost as good as using the infamous Shake Weight!) till the seeds are gelatinous and pretty much staying in suspension (it’s fascinating to watch them swirl around in the bottle; reminds me of those old Lava Lamps, lol).

    You can even add a bit of cayenne to the mix if you want.

    We use chia seeds in all kinds of raw recipes. They’re an exceptional source of Omega 3 fatty acids, as everyone here probably knows. 🙂

  5. Chris says:

    I make a batch of chia gel every 10 days or so and add 3 TBLS to each of our smoothies every day. We love it!

  6. sharon says:

    Every morning a Tablespoon of Chia in Longevity Tea makes a gel which I combine with fruit, granola, and all my powdered supplements. Because I can buy it locally, I just got some Chia Oil which will replace my Sacha Inchi Oil. I’m wondering how they compare nutritionally.

  7. Katheen says:

    I mix it into vegan mac and cheese. Delicious!

  8. Jane says:

    I have 2 tablespoons of chia blended in my green smoothie every morning.
    I always tell people who feel hungry after drinking a green smoothie to add chia as I think it makes it more filling. Plus any left over the next day you add more, plus more fruit and make a green pudding!

  9. Kathryn says:

    I put 2 tbls chia in a glass jar with coconut water, raw apple cider vinegar and lemon juice with a Vega Hydrator Elecrolyte packet leave over night and drink throughout the day!! Lots of energy!! Rehydrate!!

  10. Karen Beattie says:

    BACK IN THE DAY I USED TO MAKE CORN BREAD WITH CHIA AND SUNFLOWER MEAL; NOT RAW THOUGH!

  11. Lorien says:

    before bed each night I put 4 TBLS chia, a handful of goji berries, 1/2 cup of a frozen berry and a dash of cinnimin, clove & ginger in a bowl with a cup of water. In the morning I add 2 TBLS of coconut oil warmed so it’s liquid and a small ripe banana and mash it all up together. Very yummie.

    First thing every morning I take the dogs out for an hour walk. As soon as I get home I mix this up, make myself a cup of coffee and sit and watch the Dog Whisperer. It’s my favorite meal of the day……..

  12. Debbie says:

    We educate all our clients at the Colon Care Center of Oklahoma about the importance of eating chia everyday. A true Super Food that helps the colon come back into balance in a healthy and whole food way. We offer samples of Chia Chi Pudding to our clients to encourage them to be creative, finding numerous ways to consume this Little Super Seed. Just googling Chia Seed Recipes will offer more ways to use chia than hours in the day to consume it.
    Peace for All

  13. Marge says:

    I make chia pudding. In a bowl I put 3 Tbsp. of chia seeds, add some raisens and a few chopped nuts, some vanilla, a dash of maple syrup and then add almond milk. Let set in the fridge till thick and enjoy.

  14. Heidi says:

    I make a chia-bananna smoothie several times a week. 1 bananna, 1 cup yogurt, 2-3 tablespoons chia, 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast, 1 tablespoon flax seeds.
    It is heavenly!!

  15. rick says:

    I Love to make Chia chocolate Smoothie! Ok It’s not an everyday smoothie, more like a once in a while treat, and earlier today I treated myself and ohhhhh Yeah It is so Amazingly Good! 2 Cups of water blended with heaping tbspn Chia seeds, half a small avocado, big handful organic basil,2 bananas, 7-10 dates, half tbspn coconut oil, pinch of cloves, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, Anise and Ice. WoW this tastes wayyyyy better than any Chocolate Shake I ever had made with dairy ice cream, and a gazillion times healthier

  16. rick says:

    whoops, I forgot that in order to have a chocolate smoothie, you do need coco powder…. I added a good Tblspn of organic coco powder, not raw, but it was fair trade organic and a better price than the raw cacao

  17. Janis says:

    I like to mix plain low-fat yogurt, with unsweetened applesauce, chia seeds, walnuts and cinnamon. Yum.

  18. Edna says:

    I make Chia gel and add to whatever!
    A question though, I heard the seeds in the Chia Pet were not the quality of what we buy for food. Is that true?

  19. Lance says:

    I put Chia Seeds in my smoothie which I usually drink twice a day. It doesn’t really affect the taste at all but it does add a little texture. I looked all over and found the best quality/value online here: http://amzn.to/QgC6Mi

    I can’t say I’ve noticed any health benefits, but I know they’re great to eat so I do eat them every day!

  20. Kimberly says:

    Such a Great article. Thanks sooo much!

  21. Jane says:

    I drink kukicha twig tea with homemade chia milk every morning, with a little reishi mushroom powder and a few drops of stevia. It’s addictive!
    I also enjoy a little chia seed oil on salads or popcorn.

  22. Stacey says:

    How should one prepare chia to combat colitis/digestive problems and help improve regularity?
    Should it be dry/ground or soaked?

    It seems that if eaten dry (not pre-soaking for 1/2 hr) this would absorb nasty things from the gut and pass them through. But if soaked before consuming…uh…hydration?
    Which way is best for this particular issue?

  23. Mary says:

    Correction for ya:
    The johnny-come-latelys didn’t learn about the Chia Pet until mid 1980s. Those of us who have been around longer than that, exchanged Chia Pets at Christmas in 1977!!! But we didn’t eat the seeds. That was then, and now is Wow! In smoothies, on salads, the imagination goes wild. I like the black ones.

  24. carolyn says:

    I have my chia and flax mid-morning, ground up and gelled in 16oz water for about 20 min. Then i make 2 qts of fruit smoothie with it.. Yum! It lasts till mid-afternoon or i finish it in the evening , after supper.

    I’m wondering whether it helps to grind the chia before gelling it.. to help the nutrients be more available? We grind our flax first.. why not chia?

  25. Rebecca Cody says:

    Darn! My food co-op has been out of chia seeds for several weeks now. Is there a chia shortage?

    My husband gave chia heads as a joke gift at the rehearsal dinners when his daughters married – three chia heads are in some closets somewhere…

  26. LynnCS says:

    Yes, for all the reasons you wrote about. 2 rounded tablespoons of Chia is the first thing I put in my vitamix in the am with a glass of water. As I prepare the ingredients for the smoothie, I turn on the vitamix on low to stir them and 5 min later again. Then I start loading the vitamix with greens, apple, lemon, a peeled orange and a big chunk of ginger. Sometimes I have some blueberries, fresh pineapple or some other great ingredient that sounds good. The main thing, is the Chia seed. Glad to have a good review and reminder of how good these little gems are.

    Thanks, again for all you give us, Kevin

  27. Rebecca Cody says:

    Oh, I meant to ask, is it just advertising hype or do the white seeds have greater nutritional value?

  28. Morgan says:

    LOVE CHIA SEEDS. Put them in my smoothies and make raw puddings with them all the time.

    My favorite pudding is as follows:

    2 Cups of chia seeds, mix them in 4-5 cups coconut water and let soak for at least 30 minutes. Blend 4 or 5 bananas in blender with water. Add with chia seeds/coconut water. Then add 2 cups of light coconut milk. At this point, add cinnamon, nutmeg, licorice extract, vanilla extract, and whatever spices you wish to desire. Mint, cloves and cardamom are also nice. Mix everything together and it should have a thick pudding texture. Great with fresh berries.

  29. My son is a high school football player, and he uses them for energy. In fact he just got through football camp, where they were only allowed 5 hours of sleep per night while training around 15 hours/day, using them. Most of the kids got home and just crashed, but he just slept a few hours longer than usual. He comes off the field after normal practices with energy, instead of dragging.

    I use them in cooking to make puddings and jellies without using additional carbs. I will sometimes grab a glass of water with a few tablespoonsful in it as a quick snack.

  30. suz says:

    Used to buy chia seeds to sprinkle on salad at the local health food store, then learned that they came from China. I’d like to find a more local source in Santa Barbara. Does anyone know?

  31. Michele says:

    They really seem to help my hair. Keep it from drying and falling out in times of too much stress.

  32. pe says:

    I looked for Mayan words meaning strength and found none like chia, but it’s still true that it’s a Nahuatl word meaning oily.
    Oily to bed, oily to rise, flax is still a bit better. Surprise!
    As for the lighter seeds– white chia or golden flax– such crazes are just racism/classism diverted. If anything, the darker food should be better, but it seems they’re much of a muchness… except price.

  33. angie says:

    I get mine from z-natural foods.

  34. Monica says:

    Thanks a lot for this article! I love chia seeds and enjoy reading about its benefits, otherwise I forgot why I was having them (I mean, no taste, no smell,… 🙂
    The thing is, I sometimes wonder if just letting them soak is enough to make all their nutrients available. I think the seeds aren’t always digested and I’m concerned about how much of its potential nutritional value is really absorbed by our organism.
    Any ideas on this?

  35. Kiva says:

    I really like them once they’ve been soaked for a while. Makes a great topping!

  36. Katriana says:

    I AM PUTTING CHIA MEAL ON MY CEREAL IN THE MORNING AND FLAXSMEAL TOO ON MY CEREAL, FLAXMEAL I HAVE USED FOR YEARS. I JUST STARTED THE CHIA MEAL ON MY CEREAL THIS WEEK. YOU ONLY NEED 2-3 TABLESPOONS OF EACH EVERY DAY.THEY HAVE MANY HEALTH BENEFITS.

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