Chia seeds (or Salvia Hispanica L.) were once considered a child's toy, but are now celebrated as tiny miracle workers with a chemical composition powerful enough to influence body weight, stave off heart disease, and maintain healthy levels of cholesterol, triglycerides, and more. What exactly are chia seeds, and why are they suddenly enjoying a surge in popularity? First, let's take a look at the origin of these small powerhouse seeds.
What Are Chia Seeds and Where Do They Come From?
Chia seeds are small seeds that are not unlike poppy seeds in their shape and texture. Unlike poppy seeds, however, chia packs in many grams of protein and grams of fiber, making it a small but mighty addition to various drinks and food items from almond milk and coconut milk to oatmeal, smoothies, and soups.
Chia seeds are the seeds of a plant in the mint family, native to South American countries. Although there are different chemical compositions that come from chia seeds--chia oil, for instance--when someone uses chia seeds, they are likely using a small, round ball that looks similar to other seeds, such as poppy seeds, or even the seeds sown to grow broccoli, kale, and other cruciferous vegetables and herbs. Although chia seeds come from an herbaceous plant, the seeds themselves are not considered seeds, and are venerated for their numerous health benefits--health benefits that have been enjoyed by different cultures around the world and were perhaps most intensely celebrated by Mesoamerican cultures.
Individuals whose formative years were in the 1990s may remember chia seeds as the small seeds used to grow "hair" on various small animals and busts. Despite their heyday as a novelty item, Salvia Hispanica L. actually extend back to long-past cultures in South America, who considered chia seeds an invaluable staple for both food and medicine. Different South American cultures have been shown to have used chia seeds for several important areas, ranging from the aforementioned health and food to more specific and nuanced rituals and ceremonies. Chia seeds were originally cultivated as a crop much the same way that beans and corn were, and under the right conditions, chia was able to be produced on a sizable scale.
Chia seeds were considered a staple food of the Aztec people. While they may not have had the precise chemical composition of Chia seeds that we known and understand today, like other cultures during their time, the Aztec people recognized the power of these seeds, and used them in traditional pharmaceutical applications, in ritual and ceremony, and as a staple in food items, using them as functional foods and celebrating their nutritional properties.
Chia seeds became a health food as increasing studies found the many benefits found in the seeds. Considered an oily seed (or an "oilseed"), chia seeds have a surprisingly large number of nutrients within them, ranging from linoleic acid to protein, with vitamins and minerals interspersed between. With over 10 grams of fiber in a single ounce, the health benefits of Salvia Hispanica L. in human consumption speak for themselves. The many different ways that chia seeds serve as functional foods demonstrates the immense value these seeds have as inclusions in a modern diet focused not only on taste and presentation but also on the nutritional properties of food.
Are Chia Seeds Gluten-Free?
Gluten-free is a common identifier splashed across health food packaging, and it can confuse individuals seeking health and trying to identify what food items should and should not be avoided. Are chia seeds gluten free? First, we'll determine what exactly gluten is, and whether or not it is found in chia seeds.
Gluten is a type of protein most commonly found in wheat, though there are varying amounts of it in other grains, as well. Gluten has gotten a bad rap because there are those who have allergies to gluten, or sensitivities to it, and feel some relief from gastrointestinal discomfort or pain when removing gluten from their diet. The gluten in grains is, in part, what gives breads, cookies, and other pastries their smooth, cohesive texture. Gluten-free items often are more crumbly or rough in texture, as they do not have the gluten to bind the ingredients together.
Gluten is found in grains, specifically, and chia seeds are a seed. While Salvia Hispanica L. may be processed in the same place as gluten-containing products, chia seeds as a rule do not contain gluten. Chia seeds can be an excellent source of fiber, like grains, but do not typically exacerbate chronic diseases as a result of their consumption, and can even help limit the reach of these illnesses.
Gluten-free diets can be difficult to follow, and removing gluten and gluten-containing products can deplete your diet of essential amino acids, common and traditional foods, and staples of standard diets. From chia seed pudding to replace traditional gluten-containing thickeners, to adding chia seeds to increase the fiber and protein content of non-gluten foods, chia seeds can be a wonderful addition to a gluten-free diet, with plenty of antioxidant activity and plenty of grams of fat per day to target a host of health issues and offer general health support. Chia seeds can also help bind pastries together when gluten is absent, resulting in richer treats, while improving linoleic acid intake.
How Many Chia Seeds Should I Eat Per Day?
There is no current recommendation as to how many chia seeds you should eat each day; chia seeds are not a regulated supplement or medicine, and there is no established RDA for the food item. That being said, these dark seeds can be consumed according to their content of linolenic acid in order to take advantage of their fatty acid profile and increase health.
Although there are no known risks for consuming Salvia Hispanica L., and no recommended amounts to consume each day, there are some considerations to take into account if you have existing health issues, like risk factors in type 2 diabetes, or you are concerned about the effect of the components in food items with chia seeds; namely, the ability of chia to absorb large amounts of liquid. Chia should never be consumed dry, as it can present the risk of choking. Add seeds to existing foods, stir, and consume only after the dark seeds have been fully incorporated.
Many people seeking weight loss, or looking to improve bone health, systolic and diastolic blood pressure levels, blood sugar levels, cholesterol levels, and cardiovascular health are desperate for foods, actions, and medications to increase their health and target pressing health concerns. Chia seeds' biological activities can play a role in improving some of these areas, but it is important to consult with your healthcare provider before making any large-scale changes to your diet. A chia seed allergy may not be a common source of concern, but suddenly and dramatically increasing your fiber content, fat content, and more can actually negatively impact your health. Determine where you are in your health journey and how Salvia Hispanica L. may be able to aid in that journey before leaping in feet first and suddenly consuming large amounts of the seeds everyday.
Can Chia Seeds Be Eaten Raw or Do They Need to Be Cooked?
If you are unfamiliar with Salvia Hispanica L., you may not be sure how exactly to include the biological activities of these seeds in your diet. Fortunately, chia seeds are simple enough to eat and don't require a lot of foresight or special skills with little to not adverse effects. Why? Chia seeds are versatile, excellent consumed raw, and can be added to a wide variety of foods and snacks--as well as special dietary needs, including those focusing on the level of cholesterol in an individual's labs, or individuals whose content of protein is being closely monitored.
Chia seeds are small, largely tasteless, and gel-like when exposed to liquid. Consequently, they are highly versatile, and can be included in all types of diets and can be adjusted to suit numerous preferences and needs. Whether your diet records show a focus on high-energy diets, isocaloric diets, or even gluten free diets following the appearance of celiac disease, chia seeds can be a beneficial addition to your diet.
Chia seeds are actually best when consumed raw (though you can still reap benefits when they are exposed to heat). The benefits of chia seeds are vast, and they have been linked to improvements in blood pressure, excess weight, heart disease and its related conditions (think high cholesterol), and have even been tied to decreases in disease risk factors, including weight gain and its related issues.
Incorporating raw chia seeds into meals and snacks need not be difficult. Harvard Health offers some simple suggestions, including creating chia seed "eggs" to be used in baking (not unlike the flax seed eggs made popular in vegan baking), creating chia pudding to replace traditional yogurts and puddings, adding gelled seeds to smoothies and soups, and even chia-derived microgreens.
Nutritional Benefits of Chia Seeds
Rich in Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are active compounds that are necessary to maintain health. In human studies, including adequate omega-3 fatty acids resulted in improved cholesterol levels, which is tied to decreases in heart disease risk factors. Chia seeds are oilseeds, which means that they are actually rich sources of oil. The oil found within and around chia seeds is the source of omega-3 fatty acids, with beneficial Afatty acid content--and without the additional requirement of oil extraction. The extraction conditions necessary here are as simple as placing the seeds in your food, and consuming them.
The primary way in which this composition of oils maintains heart health is through diminishing blood pressure, triglyceride levels, and cholesterol levels, all of which can encourage cardiovascular disease and damage.
High in Fiber
The nutritional properties of dietary fiber is a tragically overlooked contributor to human health. These edible seeds do not only positively impact coronary heart disease risk factors through their fatty acid benefits; they contribute positively through their fiber content, as well. Fiber is essential to successfully and consistently pass waste and maintain gastrointestinal health and integrity, and can help reduce the likelihood of aggravating chronic diseases of the gut. Patients with Type 2 diabetes can also enjoy the nutritional properties of these seeds, as they do not cause blood sugar spikes or drops.
A single tablespoon of chia seeds possesses 5 grams of fiber--1/5 of the recommended 25 grams per day. With such a high amount of fiber in a single tablespoon, chia seeds can be seen as an incredible plant source of fiber, and an essential addition to a balanced diet. Fiber helps maintain digestive health by feeding healthy bacteria in the gut, encouraging the passage of waste regularly and at an ideal consistency, and promoting regularity. It has also been found to reduce the likelihood of developing colorectal cancer.
Good Source of Protein
Most of us know that protein is essential for a balanced diet, but many people do not get diverse sources of protein in their diet, and may not be consuming enough healthy protein. Protein is an essential building block in the body, and is necessary to carry out countless functions, including maintaining stable blood sugar. Without adequate protein, brain health, muscle strength and durability, and even satiety all suffer, which can lead to weight gain (or even low body weight), unhealthy dietary patterns, damage to the health of adults with Type 2 diabetes, and more.
Chia seeds offer just under 5 grams of protein in a single ounce, allowing you to take in one of the most vital components in food quickly and easily. Although there is no distinct daily allowance developed for chia seeds, adding them to even one meal can boost your protein intake and improve your dietary patterns to include enough protein.
Chia seeds can be particularly useful if part of your healthy lifestyle involves muscle building through exercises like weight lifting. Adding Salvia Hispanica L. can boost your protein intake through protein smoothies, as a snack after working out, or even through chia seed drinks.
Rich in Antioxidants
Antioxidants have been identified as an integral part of a healthy lifestyle, because they are valuable constituents found in food that counteract free radicals in the body. Free radicals are unpaired electrons that essentially go around in the body, wreaking havoc on numerous systems, from causing digestive issues to causing advanced signs of aging. Antioxidants are commonly found in rich, bitter, or colorful foods, and can be consumed via high-quality chocolate, wine, fermented foods, and more.
Chia seeds have more than five different types of antioxidants, including rosmarinic acid and chlorogenic acid, some of which have been linked to anti-aging and anti-carcinogenic effects, as well as those that have been tied to improvements to cardiac health and liver health. The nutritional properties and polyphenolic compounds of chia seeds are substantial, perhaps never more so than when evaluating the potential improvements to digestive issues, blood pressure levels, and overall health.
Beauty Benefits of Chia Seeds
Improves Skin Health
As briefly discussed above, chia seeds have a strong fatty acid profile and possess antioxidant properties, such as quercetin, ferulic acid, and rosmarinic acid. Both of these have the potential to create anti-aging effects on skin. From the Alpha-linolenic fatty acids helping improve skin health and texture, to the antioxidants easing the appearance of aging like fine lines and wrinkles, chia seeds can help improve your appearance. Fiber can also contribute to improvements in skin health, through eliminating toxins and unhealthy components in your body through your waste, as well as through preventing or relieving constipation, reducing bloating and water retention, and more.
Although consuming Salvia Hispanic L. is a simple way to receive the benefits of the high fiber seeds, you can also apply them topically. The oil content seeds possess can help moisturize skin and maintain a glowing appearance to facial skin, and can provide a base from which to build a hydrating and nourishing mask.
Promotes Hair Growth
Continuing to discuss health concerns and how chia seeds help these concerns, this revolutionary ingredient may also contribute to healthy hair and improved hair growth. The fatty acids found in chia seeds are typically considered the most significant contributor to healthy hair and continued hair growth, the antioxidant compounds of chia seeds certainly contribute, too. Having plenty of dietary fat and protein is far more important than maintaining a calorie-restricted diet when you are seeking hair growth, and chia seeds' major compounds may aid in hair growth.
Chia seeds' chemical compounds can be utilized internally, by adding chia seeds to your diet, but hair health concerns can also be addressed externally, by topically applying hair masks with a base of chia seed gel or chia seed oil.
Inflammation in the body can do many things that mimic or cause disease and disorder. From causing the appearance of celiac disease, to acting as the source of joint pain and a decrease in mobility, inflammation is a serious cause for concern in many (regardless of age), and improving inflammation levels in the body can help stabilize biochemical compounds and chemical processes without adverse effects. Chia seeds mitigate inflammation primarily because of the cardio-protective effects of the protein and fat content and the presence of antioxidants in the body. The biological activities of those antioxidants can help target inflammation and improve joint pain, clear up skin, and improve general health and wellness.
Chia seeds can be added to an anti-inflammatory diet in many ways, including being added to soups and smoothies. It can also be used to replace traditional dairy and sugar-heavy puddings and yogurt. It can also be applied to your skin in a type of complementary consumption, in order to truly offer your body the best of both worlds.
Hydrates the Body
Chia seeds have been identified as an excellent ingredient for food as an egg replacement precisely because they create a rich, egg-white-like consistency when they are immersed in liquid. This same quality that makes them an excellent egg replacer can positively impact hydration, by helping the body retain moisture being taken in. This is true of general consumption, but is also true because of the way that Salvia Hispanica interacts with the body in the form of fiber. Fiber also maintains hydration and GI health by making sure bowel movements are appropriately sized and textured, and the high levels of fiber in chia seeds' chemical composition make it a powerhouse of fiber production.
Chia seeds can be consumed in food, but the chemical compositions responsible for improving LDL cholesterol, boosting heart health, reducing inflammation, and more are possible to glean whether you put chia seeds in an existing dish (like oatmeal), or consume them in the form of a drink at home.
Chia seeds can be used as part of a high energy diet, an isocaloric diet, a gluten free diet, and more. They are a versatile seed with numerous biochemical compounds that positively affect a wide array of health issues, from diastolic blood pressure to blood glucose samples, to cardiovascular health, and more. Chia seeds may seem like a small addition to a diet, but consuming chia seeds themselves and even using a high-quality chia seed oil in health and beauty routines can make an impact on your health. Whether you add a few tablespoons of the seeds to function as an improver in blood pressure management, or you take in our green barley and chia seed packets, chia seeds have a high content of linolenic acid, and the seed mucilage can be used in foods, and topically on the body. Current studies and detailed studies all agree: chia seeds are promising as their high content of protein, fiber, and antioxidants outshine similar food items like ground flax, without changing the flavor of preferred foods and drinks.