Top 5 health benefits of chia seeds
What are chia seeds and are they worth the hype? Registered nutritionist Jo Lewin highlights their nutritional benefits and reveals the evidence behind the health claims
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What are chia seeds?
Chia seeds are the tiny black seeds from the Salvia hispanica plant. A member of the mint family, the plant originates from Central and South America. As an ingredient, the seeds are incredibly versatile. Of particular note is their ability to absorb liquid and form a gel, this means they can be used to thicken sauces, used as an egg replacement and make a sugar-free jam.
Chia seed benefits may include:
1. Rich source of bone-healthy calcium
2. Help to lower blood pressure
3. Useful for balancing blood sugar levels
4. Healthy choice for those with diabetes
5. Packed with fibre
Nutritional profile of chia seeds
A handful of chia seeds (25g) contains approximately:
- 122 kcal/508KJ
- 4.1g protein
- 2g carbohydrates
- 8.6g fibre
- 7g fat
- 158mg calcium
- 84mg magnesium
- 93mg iron
- 15mg zinc
- 68mg manganese
What are the 5 top health benefits of chia seeds?
1. May promote bone health
Chia seeds are a rich source of minerals, which are known to be beneficial for bone health, including calcium, magnesium and phosphorus. A 25g portion of chia seeds contains approximately 158mg of calcium which makes a significant contribution when compared to the equivalent amount of milk.
2. May be good for your heart and lower blood pressure
Including chia seeds in your diet appears to have cardio-protective benefits, this may be thanks to their poly-unsaturated fat content, high fibre levels and anti-inflammatory properties. Chia seeds and chia flour have also been found to lower blood pressure in those with hypertension, the effects were relevant for both medicated and non-medicated participants. However, it’s worth remembering that any dietary change needs to be accompanied by lifestyle and exercise modifications to have any appreciable benefit on heart health.
3. May improve blood sugar management
Studies examining the effect of chia seeds on blood sugar control in animals showed an improvement in insulin resistance. This was echoed by similar clinical studies examining the effects of bread made using chia seeds, on reducing blood sugar response in humans.
4. May reduce the risk of diabetes
The nutritional make-up of chia seeds, being rich in poly-unsaturated omega-3 fatty acids, protein and fibre, makes them especially suited for helping to stabilise blood-sugar levels. Some research has suggested that chia seeds may be beneficial for overweight and obese patients with type 2 diabetes. However, there is no conclusive evidence to suggest chia seeds can directly reduce the risk of diabetes.
5. May improve digestive health
A handful of chia seeds (25g) supplies almost 9g fibre which makes a healthy contribution towards the daily recommended intake of 30g. Adequate fibre in the diet is important for digestive health and for maintaining a healthy gut microbiome. A diet rich in fibre lowers the risk of a number of diseases and also reduces all-cause mortality.
Are chia seeds safe for everyone?
On the whole chia seeds are well-tolerated, however, consuming too many in one sitting may cause abdominal discomfort, constipation and bloating. For this reason, it is important to drink adequate amounts of water, especially if the seeds have not been pre-soaked. Those with inflammatory bowel disease such as ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease or diverticulitis may need to regulate their fibre intake and limit their consumption of high fibre foods such as chia seeds.
If you are on medication for high blood pressure or diabetes you may need to moderate your intake of chia seeds because they may enhance the activity of your medication. Refer to your GP or dietitian for guidance.
Although nut and seed allergy are well-documented, allergy to chia seeds is rare.
Overall, are chia seeds good for you?
Yes, chia seeds can be considered a healthy choice. They're rich in plant-based protein, impressively high in fibre and contain good amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. Interestingly, a handful of chia seeds contributes approximately 158mg of calcium to your diet. All of this means chia seeds could be helpful for strengthening bones, improving gut health and balancing blood sugar.
If you are considering any major dietary changes, please consult your GP or registered dietitian to ensure you do so without risk to your health.
Chia seed recipes
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