Are chia seeds good for you? The scientific health benefits behind the tiny seeds

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  • They’re sprinkled on top of salads, drinks and desserts – but are chia seeds good for you? We’ve asked the experts.

    It’s one of the trendiest superfoods on the scene, sold as a fat-burning food that promises a plethora of good body benefits. But most might be surprised to learn that chia seeds have been around for millions of years. Having been a reliable food source for the ancient Aztecs and Mayans back in 3500 BC. Originating from Mexico and Central America, the tiny black seeds come from the Salvia Hispanica plant, a member of the mint family. And newer generations have been keen to incorporate them into their diet in an effort to lose weight fast and improve gut health.

    ‘These seeds are great for your brain, weight management and are high in protein, omega-3 and healthy fibre – all in a big spoonful,” says nutritionist Ellie Busby. She gives us the lowdown on the large benefits these little seeds carry.

    Are chia seeds good for you?

    Yes, both science and experts agree that chia seeds are good for you. With these small black seeds boasting many benefits to the body:

    • Good source of protein and fibre
    • A plant based protein
    • Packed with Omega 3
    • Good for heart, brain and mental health

    “Chia seeds are a high-protein food and are almost a complete protein – meaning they contain all the essential amino acids,” nutritionist Ellie Busby tells us, founder of the plant based nutrition plan Vojo.

    Being plant-based and so high in protein makes chia seeds a great option if you’re vegan or vegetarian. And their high-fibre content is also essential for healthy digestion.

    a close up of chia seeds which are good for you on a wooden spoon

    Credit: Getty

    “They are high in omega-3 too (but easier to digest than flaxseeds), which makes them one of the top foods to eat for boosting brain power and fighting symptoms of depression,” she adds.

    In fact one Pakistan study shows that 65% of the oil found in chia seeds are omega-3. And this is what makes them both a good anti-inflammatory and healthy heart food. Which Ellie says helps “reduce your risk of diseases including dementia, high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease.”

    It’s no wonder these little seeds have proven so popular of late, especially when analysing their nutritional breakdown.  According to the Nutritional Science Research Institute, 100g of chia seeds contains 20g of protein, 32g of fat and 41g of fibre. As well as calcium, iron and other important nutrients.

    When this combination of fibre, fat and protein is absorbed it promotes a slow release of energy. Which in turn helps keep your blood sugar levels stable too.

    Do chia seeds make you gain weight?

    No, chia seeds alone are unlikely to make you gain weight.

    Nutritionist Ellie explains that whilst they have a high fat content they’re not something to avoid if wanting to lose weight. And weight gain is unlikely “if you eat them in the right portion sizes.”

    “Chia seeds are higher in fat – which is higher in calories than carbohydrates for example,” she tells us. “But most studies show that low-fat diets do not work for sustainable weight loss.”

    In fact research has shown these tiny black seeds may actually aid weight loss. As one Toronto based study into diabetic patients found subjects who ate chia seeds lost more weight than those who didn’t.

    “On top of that, they are also high in fibre and swell up when mixed with liquid so can keep you fuller and satisfied for longer than other foods,” Ellie adds. “For instance, when I eat normal porridge I’m hungry in 1 or 2 hours. When I have 1.5 tbsp of soaked chia seeds in my porridge I don’t even think about food for more than 6 hours.”

    Science supports her statement too. With one 2017 study crediting the fibre and low-carb content of chia seeds as helping people feeling fuller for longer. This same study linked chia seeds with weight loss too. As the research group of overweight adults who ate 30g of them daily for six months lost more weight around their middles and body compared to their counterparts.

    How much chia seeds should you eat a day?

    You should aim to eat around 1.5 tablespoons of chia seeds a day.

    Nutritionist Ellie suggests this dosage as it helps you to reach “your recommended daily dose of omega 3” and the subsequent body benefits of these fatty acids.

    The good news is that they’re are really easy to incorporate into your diet too. Often transforming otherwise flavourless dishes.

    “They can turn liquids into thicker substances – think chia pudding or adding into your oatmeal,” says dietitian Claire Muszalski of MyProtein.

    a close up of chia pudding on a white table

    Credit: Getty

    Chia seeds serving suggestions:

    • Chia pudding: No doubt you’ve heard of the classic chia pudding. When the seeds are left to soak in water overnight, they absorb the liquid to form a gel. This is commonly known as a ‘chia pudding’. You can add flavour to it by using fruit juice or milk to soak instead of water. Or you can also add spices like ginger and cinnamon, or even a little cacao or honey to sweeten it.
    • Porridge: Adding these seeds to your diet can be as simple as sprinkling them on to your breakfast cereal. Take for example our delicious overnight oats recipe with chocolate and peanut butter.
    • Soups and stews: Soaked chia seeds can be used to thicken soups and stews – all you have to do is soak them for a few hours or overnight, and add them to your dishes as a thickening agent.
    • Baking: Ground chia seeds can be used as a replacement for eggs in egg-free baking. You can buy them already ground or you can grind them at home using a coffee grinder. Use 1 tbsp of the ground seeds and 3 tbsp of water to replace one large egg.  But bear in mind all recipes are different so it might take a bit of experimenting to find the right ratio. Deliciously Ella is one such fan of chia seeds in baking and has added them to her tasty orange and cardamom cookies recipe.
    • In water: Known as agua fresca de chia. The seed water is simply the seeds stirred with water, lime juice and sugar to make a cold drink.
    • Toasted chia seeds: Adding chia seeds to salads, dishes with couscous or even your morning porridge might be the easiest way to incorporate chia seeds in your diet. But you may want to toast them before you do, as this brings out the flavour and texture. To toast, toss them in the pan or baking tray at low temperature. Just make sure you don’t burn them as this would ruin their nutritional value. On a high heat this should only take a minute or two.

    Are chia seeds good for everyone?

    The health benefits of chia seeds make them generally acceptable for everyone.

    However too much of a good thing can cause problems for those with digestive conditions like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Diverticulitis and Crohns disease. This is due to the seeds’ high-fibre content. Which may irritate the stomach, especially if you’re eating them without being pre-soaked.

    As is often the case with diets, consult with your doctor if you are concerned about your consumption.

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