Chia seeds - The superfood rich in vital substances
Information, effect, dosage & side effects
Despite their tiny size, chia seeds are among the most nutritious, healthiest foods in the world. They are packed with omega-3 fatty acids, minerals, vitamins, antioxidants, protein, and fibre. They stabilise blood sugar and can help you lose weight because they bind a lot of water, are filling and dampen the desire for sweets.
Chia seeds are the small seeds of the chia plant, Salvia Hispanica, which is related to mint. Chia seeds are small, flat and oval with a shiny, smooth surface. Their color varies from white to brown to black.
The plant is native to South America. The cultivation mainly takes place in Guatemala, other South American countries and of course in Central Mexico, where they are an integral part of the local cuisine.
Chia seeds were an important food for the Aztecs and Mayas. They appreciated it for their long-lasting feeling of satiety - in fact "Chia" means "strength" in the Maya language.
The potential of chia seeds as a modern superfood was only recently recognised. In recent years, they have grown immensely popular and are now consumed by health-conscious people around the world because they are easy to integrate into a healthy diet.
Studies have shown that they can reduce the risk factors for heart disease and diabetes and promote gastrointestinal health.
Chia seeds are
- a natural food
- a superfood rich in vital substances
- an excellent vegetable protein source
- a valuable source of ALA , omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids
- rich in trace elements, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals
- rich in valuable fiber
Chia seeds - Rich in low calorie nutrientsThe size is deceptive - these tiny seeds are real nutrient bombs.
Chia seeds nutritional values: 15g = 2 heaped tablespoons of chia contain an average of:
- Calories: 73
- Carbohydrates: 6,3g
- of which fibre: 5.2g
- Protein: 2,5 g
- Fat: 4.6g (thereof 2.6g omega-3 fatty acids)
- Calcium: 12% of the recommended daily amount
- Manganese: 33% of the recommended daily amount
- Magnesium: 13% of the recommended daily amount
- Phosphorus: 18% of the recommended daily amount
- also zinc, vitamin B3, potassium, vitamin B1 and vitamin B2 (Source: USDA National Nutrient Database)
This is particularly impressive when you consider that 15g of chia seeds only contain 73 calories and 6.3g of carbohydrates. If you exclude the fiber that does not remain in the body as usable calories, chia seeds contain only 53 calories per serving. This makes them - calorie by calorie - the best source in the world for various important nutrients.
On top of that, chia seeds are a complete, gluten-free food that is often grown organically and without genetic engineering.
Chia seeds - Rich in omega-3 fatty acids
Chia seeds are unique thanks to their high content of healthy omega-3 fatty acids. In fact, chia seeds - gram by gram - contain more omega 3 fatty acids than salmon.
About 75% of the fats contained in chia seeds consist of the omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), while about 20% consist of omega 6 fatty acids. However, one has to bear in mind that the omega-3 fatty acids contained are mainly ALA, which first have to be converted into the "active" forms EPA and DHA so that the body can use them.
Unfortunately, the human body can hardly convert ALA into these active forms. Therefore, omega-3 fatty acids of plant based origin are mostly inferior to animal sources such as fish.
Studies have shown that chia seeds (especially when ground) can increase blood levels of ALA and EPA, but not DHA. To supply the body and the brain with the extremely important DHA, you should either eat fish regularly, consume omega 3 fish oil or take DHA capsules as a vegan or vegetarian.
Chia seeds - An excellent source of minerals
Chia seeds contain many minerals in large quantities but few vitamins. The most common minerals are:
- Calcium: This mineral has the largest share in the human body and is important for bones, muscles, and nerves.
- Magnesium: Magnesium, which is often insufficiently contained in the Western diet, plays a role in many processes in the body, including for maintaining healthy bones, relaxing muscles and blood vessels and for a balanced psyche.
- Phosphorus: Promotes bone and tissue health as well as a healthy acid-base balance.
- Potassium: Is important for the transmission of stimuli between nerves and muscles, for maintaining healthy blood pressure and for carbohydrate utilisation and protein synthesis.
- Manganese: Whole grain cereals and seeds are rich in manganese, which is important for metabolism, growth, and development.
- Copper: A mineral important for heart health, which is often missing in the diet.
- Selenium: An important antioxidant mineral that plays a role in many processes in the body.
- Iron: As a component of hemoglobin in red blood cells, iron plays a role in the oxygen transport in the body.
Chia seeds are rich in calcium for building bones
Chia seeds are rich in various nutrients that maintain bone health. These include calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and protein.
The calcium content is particularly impressive: 2 tablespoons of chia seeds already contain 18% of the recommended daily amount. This is more calcium than in most dairy products - measured gram by gram. That is why chia seeds are an ideal source of calcium for people who do not consume dairy products.
Chia seeds are full of antioxidants
Another area in which chia seeds shine is their high level of antioxidants. These inhibit the formation of free radicals, which damage cell molecules and can accelerate the aging process and reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as coronary heart diseases.
Chia seeds contain antioxidants such as:
- Chlorogenic acid: An antioxidant that can lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
- Caffeic acid: This substance is found in many plant foods and supports the fight against inflammation in the body.
- Quercetin: A valuable antioxidant that can lower the risk of coronary artery diseases, osteoporosis, and certain types of cancer.
- Kaempferol: An antioxidant that can prevent arteriosclerosis and oxidative cell damage and reduce the risk of cancer and other chronic diseases.
The antioxidants contained in the chia seeds allow a shelf life of up to five years when stored dry, as they protect the sensitive fats in the seeds from oxidation. Even after this time, the seeds have lost none of their taste or nutritional content.
Chia seeds - An excellent source of fibre
A look at the nutrient profile of chia seeds shows that 15g (one serving) contains only 6.3g of carbohydrates. 5.2g of these are fibre that the body cannot digest. Dietary fibre does not raise blood sugar levels, does not require insulin to be used and therefore does not count as carbohydrates in the traditional sense.
The actual carbohydrate content is 1.1g per serving, which is very little. Therefore, chia seeds are ideal for a low-carbohydrate diet.
Chia seeds contain 34% fibre, making them one of the best sources of fibre in the world. 2 tablespoons (about 15g) of chia seeds contain 5.2g of fibre, which is a large proportion of the recommended daily intake for women (25g) and men (38g).
Dietary fibre also has a positive impact on health. Insoluble fibre is associated with a reduced risk of diabetes. Some insoluble fibre can also be fermented in the intestine like soluble fibre, which promotes the formation of short-chain fatty acids and intestinal health. Dietary fibre also nourishes the positive intestinal bacteria, which are crucial for a healthy intestine.
Thanks to the many fibres, chia seeds can absorb up to 12 times their weight in water, which means that they develop a gel-like consistency and expand in the stomach. This helps to increase satiety, slow food intake and helps to automatically burn fewer calories. In this way, chia seeds can curb the appetite and contribute to weight loss.
The large amount of fibre also promotes the elimination of bile acid, so that a replication of bile acid is necessary. Cholesterol is required for this, which results in a drop in cholesterol levels. The fibre also slows down the breakdown of carbohydrates, which keeps blood sugar levels more stable.
Chia seeds also have the property of binding toxins and acids in the body and promoting their excretion.
Chia seeds provide high quality protein
Chia seeds are high in protein and contain more protein than most other plant foods. Their protein content is 20%, which is very high compared to most plant-based foods. Chia seeds also contain many essential fatty acids that support the body in utilising the protein.
Protein has many positive health effects. A high proportion in the food curbs the appetite and provides an increased feeling of satiety after eating and thus reduces the food intake. Protein has been shown to reduce cravings by 60% and nighttime cravings by 50%, according to studies.
Chia seeds are an excellent source of protein, especially for people who eat little or no meat. Their protein content corresponds to that of other seeds, but is higher than that of most grains.
Chia seeds contain high quality protein with all essential amino acids and are therefore a good plant based protein source. However, they are not the only source of protein.
Chia seeds are also gluten-free, which is why they are an ideal variant for people with a wheat intolerance.
Chia seeds are beneficial in type 2 diabetes
Chia seeds have shown the most impressive effects to date in a study with type 2 diabetics. In this study, 20 diabetes patients received either 37g chia seeds or 37g wheat bran over a 12-week period.
The patients who received chia seeds showed some significant improvements. Blood pressure dropped by 3 - 6 mm/Hg and an inflammatory marker called hs-CRP decreased by 40%. A risk factor called vWF also decreased by 21%. There was also a slight decrease in blood sugar levels, although this was not statistically significant.
Since chia seeds are high in fibre, it seems plausible that they can reduce blood sugar levels after meals, but this has yet to be confirmed in studies.
Chia seeds increase performance
According to a legend, Aztecs and Mayans used chia seeds to improve their performance. A recent study confirms this statement.
In this study, 6 participants drank either an isotonic drink such as Gatorade or a mixture consisting of half the isotonic drink and chia seeds. They then ran on the treadmill for an hour and then covered a distance of 10 km. There were no differences between the two groups.
Replacing half of Gatorade with chia seeds did not decrease the athletes' performance. Accordingly, chia seeds can be useful for increasing endurance performance.
So, this study showed that an artificially made isotonic sports drink can be replaced with nutrient-rich natural chia seeds without losing performance.
Chia seed recipes
Chia seeds can be easily integrated into the diet and increase the nutritional value immensely. The seeds themselves are relatively tasteless, so you can add them to almost anything. They also do not have to be ground like flax seeds, which simplifies their preparation.
Now there are many chia seed recipes for baked goods, casseroles, for mixing into smoothies and dressings, as well as for chia pudding. You can also easily sprinkle them over muesli or stir them into yoghurt.
Chia seeds are gluten-free and can therefore be consumed even if you are gluten intolerant. When baking bread, part of the flour can also be replaced with grated chia seeds. Grating the chia seeds is e.g. possible with the help of a coffee grinder. Chia seeds can be an important part of many vegan recipes due to their high protein content.
Chia gel - The basis for many delicious chia recipes
To make the chia gel, mix 1 part chia seeds with 6 times the amount of water and let the mixture stand for at least 30 minutes so that the chia seeds can absorb liquid. Stir well after a few minutes to avoid the chia seeds from clumping.
The chia gel can be eaten pure and also serves as the basis for the production of numerous chia recipes. Since chia seeds are almost tasteless, they can be added to many dishes as desired.
Instead of water, you can also use soy, oat, skimmed or rice milk or keep the chia gel in stock, because it lasts for up to 4 days in the fridge.
Chia pudding with Hawaii pineapple sauce
- 150ml chia gel
- 1 small cup of natural yogurt
- Half a ripe Hawaii pineapple
- Chocolate grater
Cut the pineapple into small pieces and mix briefly in a blender to create a puree. Put the chia gel in a bowl and stir in the natural yogurt. Empty the mixture with pineapple puree over it. Sprinkle with chocolate shavings and serve.
Chia seeds health effects
Chia seeds are becoming increasingly popular due to their high nutritional value and positive health effects. The main positive effects of chia seeds are:
Increases omega-3 fatty acids in the blood
Chia seeds are an excellent source of the omega-3 fatty acid ALA and extremely important for the body and brain. However, ALA needs to be converted into active Omega 3 forms like EPA before the body can use them. Studies in humans and animals have shown that chia seeds can increase blood levels of ALA by 138% and EPA by 39%.
- Study: Chia seeds increase ALA and EPA levels in the blood of postmenopausal women
Eating ALA-rich chia seeds can increase blood levels of long-chain omega-3 fatty acid EPA by 30% in postmenopausal women, according to a study by the Appalachian State University and the University of North Carolina.
According to Plant Foods for Human Nutrition, 25g of ground chia seeds per day over a seven-week period increased the levels of ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) by 138% and 30%.
However, there were significant fluctuations among the study participants. The study does not support previous results on converting ALA to EPA, research says.
“The health effects of elevated ALA levels in the blood plasma from ground chia seeds and other plant sources are still controversial. However, two randomised studies (10 and 12 weeks) found no changes in disease risk factors such as blood lipids, blood pressure, inflammation, oxidative stress and arteriosclerosis”, concluded the study.
Several epidemiological studies indicate the cardio-protective effects of high ALA intake over a long period of time. An additional effect of ALA with polyunsaturated fatty acids from fish and fish oil was observed.
- Problems with the conversion
ALA-Omega-3 is an essential fatty acid that the body cannot form itself and must therefore be ingested through food. Good sources of ALA are: Flax seeds, soybeans, walnuts, chia seeds and olive oil. The U.S Institute of Medicine recommends an ALA consumption of 1.6g per day for men and 1.1g per day for women.
Health benefits of consuming ALA include positive effects on blood circulation, protection of the nervous system, anti-inflammatory effects, and protection against autoimmune diseases.
However, EPA and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) received more attention in studies and among consumers. The conversion of ALA to EPA has been the focus of numerous studies. Many have found that this conversion is very minor. According to an article in Nutrition Reviews (Vol. 66, pp. 326-332), between 8 and 20% of ALA in humans are converted to EPA, and between 0.5% and 9% of ALA in DHA.
Gender also plays an important role. Women of childbearing age had a 2.5-fold higher conversion of ALA to EPA than healthy men. This transformation obviously contributes to the body's reserve of EPA and DHA, which play an important role in, among other things, maintaining healthy blood circulation.
- Study details
The research team in North Carolina recruited 10 postmenopausal women with an average age of 55.6 years and ordered the consumption of 25g ground chia seeds per day over a period of seven weeks.
No significant increase in DPA (docosapentaenoic acid) was found while ALA and EPA levels rose. There was a slight decrease in the level of DHA in the blood, the researchers said.
EPA levels in blood plasma increased to 30% above the base value in the present study but the individual values fluctuated and varied both prior to the study and in response to chia seeds being taken. The increase in the EPA level in the blood plasma in the study participants after administration of ALA from chia seeds (4.1 g/day) over 7 weeks is comparable to other similar studies.
Regulates blood sugar levels
A healthy blood sugar level is of great importance for health. And chia seeds have been shown to regulate blood sugar levels.
Animal studies have shown that chia seeds reduce insulin resistance and improve blood sugar levels - two important risk factors for metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes and coronary artery disease.
It was also shown that bread made from chia seeds leads to a lower rise in blood sugar, similar to traditionally baked bread.
Reduces blood pressure
Hypertension is a major risk factor for chronic diseases such as coronary artery disease. Chia seeds and flour have been shown to lower blood pressure in people with hypertension.
Increases fibre intake
Most people do not eat enough fibre. According to studies, high fiber consumption promotes intestinal health and lowers the risk of numerous diseases.
One serving of chia seeds (2 tablespoons/15g) contains 5.2g of fibre, which is 14% of the recommended amount for men and 21% of the recommended amount for women.
Thanks to the exceptional ability of chia seeds to absorb water, they increase the volume of the pulp in the digestive tract, which leads to an increased feeling of satiety and reduced food intake.
Chia seeds are particularly high in insoluble fibre, which studies have shown can lower the risk of diabetes, increase stool mass, and reduce constipation.
Do chia seeds have any side effects?
Chia seeds seem easy to digest. They can be eaten whole or ground. Flatulence can occur in people who are not used to consuming a lot of fibre.
Likewise, it is generally advisable to drink plenty of water when consuming chia seeds, especially if they have not been soaked prior to consumption. For easier use, the chia seeds should be left to soak in water for at least 30 minutes or overnight.
If you take chia seeds in dry form and do not drink enough, the chia seeds absorb 10 - 12 times their weight in liquid in the intestine, which can lead to constipation.
Chia seed dosage - How much is healthy?
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) approved chia seeds as a novel food in January 2013. However, the dosage is limited.
Baked goods, breakfast cereals and nut mixes should only contain up to 10% chia seeds. Furthermore, EFSA recommends not consuming more than 15 grams of unprocessed chia seeds per day, which corresponds to about 2 tablespoons of dry chia seeds. However, this recommendation is not based on any scientific basis.
But it does not hurt to eat a little more chia seeds. Provided that you drink sufficient amounts of liquid at the same time.