Chia seeds have long been thought of as a superfood, but now they're being labelled a 'miracle' food, thanks to their rumoured weight-loss benefits.So just what is it about these tiny black seeds that makes them so special? And do they live up to the hype?
What’s it all about?
You’ve probably heard of chia seeds, but you may not have tried them yet. Found in South America, chia seeds have actually been around for hundreds of years, thanks to the Aztecs and Mayans who used them as a staple food. ‘Chia’ is the ancient Mayan word for strength, and chia seeds were also known as ‘Indian Running Food’ because of the sustained energy they gave runners and warriors. Which bodes well if you’ve got a busy day ahead of you.
What are the health benefits?
A tablespoon of chia seeds contains more calcium than a glass of milk, more Omega 3 than salmon and more anti-oxidants than blueberries. Chia seeds also contain lots of fibre, protein and micronutrients. And, as well as boosting energy, the nutrients have been proven to help heart health and joint function, encourage a healthy digestive system. Anything that encourages regular gut function is always good news. Nutritionist Vicki Edgson says, 'Chia naturally contains 37% fibre; diets high in fibre have been shown to reduce the risk and occurrence of colon cancer.'
That sounds amazing – what about hair, skin and nails?
Your skin will thank you as the vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants found in these tiny chia seeds, are great for skin regeneration. Edgson says: 'Chia contains a high source of Omega 6 LA, antioxidants (gram for gram Chia provides four times the antioxidant power of fresh blueberries) and protein which are all important for healthy skin. Studies have shown a diet containing antioxidants can slow the process of ageing in the body. Hair and nails are mostly made of protein and as the human body uses protein to build and repair tissues we need relatively large amounts. As protein is not stored in the body it is important to include it in the diet and chia is a great natural source of protein containing 20% in each serving.'
What’s the catch?
Although they’re packed with high amounts of Omega 3 fatty acid ALA, chia seeds don’t contain the fatty acid DHA, which your body needs for good brain function. In theory, your body can convert ALA to DHA, but in reality it isn’t always that straightforward (it varies from person to person as to how efficient this conversion is).
Bottom line? If you’re veggie or vegan, don’t rely solely on chia seeds for your Omega 3 supply. You may want to take a DHA supplement. And if you’re not veggie, then still have at least one serving of oily fish a week.
Can chia seeds really help with weight loss?
Well – yes and no. Because the seeds swell when in contact with water, they may give you the feeling of being full and keep you going for longer as they release energy slower. But studies have shown that – in the long run – chia seeds have made little difference to weight loss. So…a superfood, yes, but a ‘miracle’ food? No.
How much chia should you eat to get the full benefits?
A tablespoon of chia seeds every day is recommended, but no more than that because they’re very high in fibre and could cause stomach upset for more sensitive people.
How can chia seeds be eaten?
You can sprinkle them onto most foods, but as they are dry, they work best on ‘wet’ foods like cereal, porridge, yoghurt, or blended into smoothies.
For Overnight Oats, soak some oats in almond milk, sprinkle with chia seeds and cinnamon and leave in fridge overnight. Perfect for a quick brekkie.
If you fancy a smoothie, try our Green Chia Morning Smoothie
1 Alphonso mango, scooped from skin
2 shots Chia Seed, soaked in 200ml water for at least 15 mins
1.5ml scoop Spirulina powder
100ml almond milk
Blend all ingredients in a strong blender until smooth. This can be made into a pudding by serving into ramekins, and stored in fridge until set, as the Chia will expand, and semi-solidify the other ingredients.
A range of Chia products are available at The Chia Co.
Have you tried Chia, or are you tempted to give it a go? Let us know in the comment box below.