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Chia seeds: friend or faux pas?

In recent years, chia seeds have gained popularity as a “superfood,” but you may ask yourself why they’re so special. While we know that a healthy lifestyle includes movement and a diet rich in whole foods, its these so-called “superfoods” which make us wonder whether we’re doing enough with our nutrition; are they so great or worth the pretty penny that sometimes come along with the hype?


SO first of all, what is a ”superfood”? Well this is more of a marketing term than a nutritional one and has no clinical definition. Companies use the term in order to sell you their product, which may or may not give you all of the benefits they claim. Anyone who has nutritional expertise will tell you, there’s no one magic food, just foods that have more or less nutritional value. Any healthy dietary pattern relies on a variety of nutritious foods — after all, variety is the spice of life!


Nutrient Dense

Two tablespoons of chia seeds (1 ounce or 28 grams) contain about 140 calories, 4 grams of protein, 11 grams of dietary fiber, 7 grams of unsaturated fat, 18% RDA for calcium, and trace minerals including zinc and copper. Additionally these seeds are a complete protein, which means they containing all nine essential amino acids. (2)

  • Dietary Fiber: The Institute of Medicine, recommends daily fiber consumption (38 grams/day for Men and 25 grams/day for Women). At 11 grams per 2 tablespoon, they’re an excellent choice for meeting your needs. (3)

  • Complete Protein: They’re one of the few plants that contain all 9 of the essential amino acids which we cannot produce in our body and therefore need to get them via food

  • Omega-3 fatty acids: They are the richest plant source of omega-3 fatty acids

Health Benefits

Omega-3 fatty acids have shown to support heart health (lowering “bad” cholesterol, regulating heart rhythms and blood pressure, preventing blood clots, decreasing overall inflammation).


You may have noticed chia seeds get a gummy or gel-like texture when exposed to moisture. The substance responsible for their fun consistency, mucilage, and soluble fiber make up their high levels of dietary fiber. These fibers may help to lower LDL cholesterol and slow down digestion. This is good news when it comes to blood sugar control, preventing after-meal spikes and keeping you full for longer (2).


Their high levels of calcium help to promote bone health. Inadequate calcium in the diet over time can lead to osteopenia — or the first phase of bone loss — and eventually osteoporosis which puts you at a greater risk of bone fractures and overall reduced quality of life (1). Symptoms of hypocalcemia (inadequate calcium intake):

  • Muscle cramps or weakness

  • Numbness or tingling in fingers

  • Abnormal heart rate

  • Poor appetite

Eating Chia Seeds

Unlike flax seeds, chia seeds have a soft surface and are easily digested as they’re exposed to moisture. They can be eaten ground or whole; dry or soaked — though if eaten dry, it may be beneficial to eat them ground (2).


Ways to incorporate chia seeds into your diet:

For more recipes and tips follow @alexasunrestrictedeats on Instagram.



References:

  1. Harvard T.H. Chan: School of Public Health. (2020, October 19). Calcium. The Nutrition Source. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/calcium/.

  2. Harvard T.H. Chan: School of Public Health. (2021, March 4). Chia Seeds. The Nutrition Source. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/food-features/chia-seeds/.

  3. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2021, January 6). How to add more fiber to your diet. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/fiber/art-20043983.


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