Old but Gold: Chia Seeds

Updated: May 6, 2020


"Chia" is the ancient Mayan word for "strength", and chia seeds were an important food for the Aztecs and Mayans back in the days. During battles and long distance runs, the warriors and runners would eat them as fuel for endurance and energy. Today, chia seeds are introduced as a superfood for its nutrient-dense properties. Despite the hype in the past few years, not many know about its full benefits and how to consume it optimally. Hence, this calls for a quick introduction on my blog.


Albeit ordinary looking, chia seeds are packed with a fantastic amount of omega-3 fatty acids, dietary fibre, antioxidants, iron, calcium, protein and other minerals. You can easily count the health benefits of chia seeds with two hands.


Personally, I love chia seeds because it is an effortless way to bump up the nutritional value of my food and beverages significantly. Impressively, just two tablespoons of chia seeds offer 42% of the DRI for dietary fibre, 18% of the DRI for calcium and 4.4g of protein. This is crucial as our typical Singaporean fare (which is usually high in fat, refined carbohydrates and animal protein) makes it difficult for us to meet the DRI for dietary fibre. A low fibre diet is associated with various health problems such as poor bowel movements, constipation, skin issues (e.g. acne), chronic inflammation and even cancer.


I hope this post will encourage you to incorporate chia seeds into your diet for better long-term health. But before jumping on this superfood bandwagon, let's understand how it works and how to consume it safely.


In this post:

  • What Is It?

  • Benefits of Chia Seeds

  • Notable Nutritional Data

  • Side Effects of Chia Seeds

  • Chia Seeds: Not For Everyone

  • How I Use Chia Seeds

  • Dry, Soaked or Ground Chia Seeds?

  • Bottomline: With Thoughts On Detox/Weight Loss Products


What Is It? 
Picture credits to Dr. Axe

Native to South America, chia seeds are the tiny black seeds from the plant Salvia Hispanica.

It is hydrophilic and capable of absorbing water up to at least 10 times its weight (Some websites claim that they absorb water up to 27 times its weight but I prefer to stick with the conservative figure). Chia seeds develop a gelatinous coating after they are soaked and some people believe this helps the seeds to move through the digestive tract better.


Being rich in antioxidants such as quercetin, chia seeds helps to boost endurance, fight fatigue and oxidative stress. Besides quercetin, there are other antioxidants like myricetin, kaempferol, caffeic acid, chlorogenic acid and lipid antioxidants. Antioxidants are intimately involved in the prevention of cellular damage. They fight the production of free radicals, which can damage molecules in cells, contribute to aging and diseases like cancer. Free radicals are natural byproducts of metabolism. Having a high antioxidant diet helps in various areas such as fending off infections, speeding up skin repair system and boosting cardiovascular health.


At the same time, chia seeds are considered as one of the best plant-based sources of Omega-3 fatty acids too. Omega-3 fatty acids help to improve your heart health, lower "bad" cholesterol and inhibit inflammation.


Most importantly, chia seeds are almost tasteless and so versatile that you can add them to literally anything! A friend once told me that his mother adds them to her bakings and even his morning coffee. If you are a picky eater who hates your vegetables, eating chia seeds is a great way to get some dietary fiber into your diet.


Benefits of Chia Seeds

  • Slows digestion and keeps you feeling fuller longer - As chia seeds expand and fill the stomach, they keep you feeling full longer, help to reduce appetite, food intake and unnecessary snacking.

  • Prevents blood sugar spikes - Slower digestion and absorption of food due to higher fibre intake means more stable sugar levels. Sugar level spike symptoms include a headache, fatigue, and concentration troubles.

  • Longer body hydration - Consuming soaked chia seeds prolongs hydration and retain electrolytes especially during exercise or exposure to heat.

  • Hydrates your colon - When chia seeds are soaked, you can imagine them as an "intestinal broom" sweeping through the digestive track, hydrating your colon and eliminating built-up waste that causes many health problems.

  • Works as pre-biotic in the digestive system: Feeds the beneficial bacteria in the gut and improves gut health.

  • Stronger bones: Chia seeds contain both calcium and boron. Boron helps to metabolize calcium, magnesium, manganese, and phosphorus for healthy growth of muscles and bones.

  • Aids acid reflux: Dry chia seeds are thought to ease acid reflux as it is likely to absorb the acid in the stomach. However, dry chia seeds should only be taken in small quantity. Read more in the side effects section below.

  • Great food for pregnancy: Omega-3 fatty acids for baby's brain development, slow digestion keeps expectant mothers' blood sugar levels stable, the number of minerals in chia seeds help to replenish lost nutrients and improve proper skeletal development.

  • Decrease blood cholesterol and triglycerides - Detailed explanation here

  • Reduce inflammation with the help of its Omega-3 content - Detailed explanation here


Notable Nutrition Data


Photo by: Dr. Axe

One Ounce / 28 grams / 2 tablespoon provides: 137 calories

  • Carbohydrates: 12.3 g

  • Protein: 4.4 g 

  • Fat: 9g, of which 5 g are Omega-3s (4915 mg), Omega-6 (1620mg)  

  • Fiber: 10.6 g, 42% of RDI

  • Manganese: 0.6 mg, 30% of RDI

  • Phosphorus: 265 mg, 27% of RDI

  • Calcium: 177 mg, 18% of RDI

  • Zinc: 1 mg, 7% of RDI

  • Copper: 0.1 mg, 3% of RDI

  • Potassium: 44.8mg, 1% of RDI

Besides, they provide a decent amount of other nutrients such as zinc, vitamin B1 (Thiamine), B2, B3 (Niacin), iron, iodine and more. Don't forget that they are abundant with antioxidants too!


Side Effects of Chia Seeds

If you are tempted to toss chia seeds into all your food and drinks, always remember that moderation is the key. Chia seeds can be too much of a good thing if consumed without care.


Gastrointestinal Issues: When there is an excessive fiber intake, digestive problems like abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea, bloating and gas may occur. This can also happen when a high fiber intake is paired with inadequate hydration as water is essential to help fiber pass through the digestive system. When you take too much dry chia seeds and drink too little water, the chia seeds absorb the water and acids in your digestive system which can cause severe stomachaches and constipation. You can read about this woman's experience here.  Therefore, it is important to drink enough amount of water or soak your chia seeds before consumption.


Medication Interaction: Since studies have shown that chia seeds are capable of lowering blood sugar level and blood pressure, people on medications for high blood pressure or diabetes should moderate their servings to prevent medication interactions. As insulin medication dosage is personalized and carefully prescribed to prevent dips and spikes in blood sugar, it is important to check with your doctor on the recommended serving of chia seeds. 

Although chia seeds' capability to lower blood pressure is desirable, people on high blood pressure medication should note there are chances of chia seeds amplifying the effect of blood pressure medication and that could lead to hypotension or low blood pressure. 


Chia Seeds: Not For Everyone

People who have inflammatory bowel diseases like ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease should monitor their fiber intake and limit chia seeds during flare-ups. On the other hand, people with a history of swallowing problems or have a constricted esophagus should avoid eating chia seeds dry. You can read this article about how a man ended up in the emergency room with chia seeds lodged in his esophagus after swallowing dry chia seeds with water.


How I Use Chia Seeds


Most of the time, I'll add 2 tablespoons of chia seeds to my one-litre water bottle. I'll only ingest the seeds when they have formed a gelatinous coating. Alternatively, I add it to my overnight oats and let it expand over the night. I hardly add them to my juices as I tend to consume them quickly (to minimize oxidation) and chia seeds take some time to expand fully.


Dry, Soaked or Ground Chia Seeds?

So far, I have not tried taking dry chia seeds as I prefer the goopy version. Besides, soaked chia seeds have never given me any digestive issue so I'm sticking with that! It is said that hydrated chia seeds are more bio-available for our bodies too. Although there are articles that recommend taking ground chia seeds to allow more ALA (alpha lipoic acid, the plant form of omega-3 fatty acids) to reach the bloodstream, there is limited scientific research to which method is the best when it comes to nutrient absorption. So, go ahead and give them all a try to find out what works best for you!


Bottomline

Chia seeds may be slightly pricey but it is worth it for all that nutrients you can get out of a small quantity. It is important to introduce them slowly into your diet and not rely on it like a miracle food. I can't stress enough about the importance of having sufficient daily intake of dietary fiber. Therefore, do consider incorporating chia seeds into your diet if you dislike your greens or find it is difficult to eat enough of them every day.


Recently, I've been seeing a pricey detox and weight-loss product, Slimmy Detox popping up on my social media feed. I wouldn't suggest people to rely on specious detox and weight-loss products which are either just high in dietary fiber content or have laxative-like effects. Instead, I would fully recommend people to lead a less sedentary lifestyle and increase their vegetables, fruits and water intake. I believe most health and wellness professionals would suggest the same instead of just consuming products like such.

Using already skinny people to promote weight loss products..? Mhmm. I could tell you two ways to lose some weight immediately in my next post too.


Using skinny Instagrammers to advertise for detox and weight loss products... Mhmm... I'll leave to you to think about it. But I'll share two tips on shedding some immediate weight on my next wellness post!
If you really want a flatter tummy or abs, you've got to exercise, eat cleaner and better, increase your water, fibre and lean protein intake! You wouldn't like it but the truth is there is no shortcut to good health and physique.

It is concerning because it seems like many people are buying this expensive product ($75.90/box/30 sachets) that sells based on anonymous users' progress photos, testimonials, and blatantly sponsored reviews. The product feels elusive to me as there is limited information provided by the distributors - no ingredient list or nutrition chart on the product listings. Also, I'm still waiting for them to reply me via Facebook with the product's nutritional chart since 20 April. It worries me because it shows that both sellers and buyers have no concern or awareness about possible food-drug interaction. Just look at chia seeds... despite being a natural superfood, it has its side effects and disadvantages too! I am not totally against such products but I genuinely hope people will pay more attention to what goes into such products and opt for a healthier, holistic and sustainable approach.


Have a great week, everyone!


With love and honesty,

Cindy



References

1. Chia seeds nutritional info: http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/nut-and-seed-products/3061/2

2. Chia seeds side effect: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/chia-seeds-side-effects and https://www.doctorshealthpress.com/food-and-nutrition-articles/avoid-side-effects-of-chia-seeds/

3. Chia seeds 101: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/foods/chia-seeds#section1

4. Soaking chia seeds:

https://organicvegansuperfoods.com/how-and-why-you-should-soak-chia-seeds-before-eating-them/

5. Are chia seeds antioxidants: http://www.chiaseedproducts.com/are-chia-seeds-antioxidants/

6. Top 10 antioxidant food: https://draxe.com/top-10-high-antioxidant-foods/

7. 9 Chia seeds benefits: https://draxe.com/chia-seeds-benefits-side-effects/

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