The Chia seeds are rich in omega-3 fats, fiber, protein, vitamins, minerals and various antioxidants.
In this age of commercialisation, the food industry has revamped certain foods with health benefits over and above their usual nutritional benefits and named them under an umbrella term, superfoods. They are basically foods which are nutrient-dense and can keep one going for a long time with a small serving. Rice, Ghee etc. are some examples of such superfoods. One of such superfoods is Chia Seeds.
Chia (Salvia hispanica L) plants were originally grown in Mexico and other South American countries. Aztec warriors used to consume Chia seeds, and it is said that a small amount of it could sustain them for 24 hours! The seeds are rich in omega-3 fats, fiber, protein, vitamins, minerals and various antioxidants.
Chia has a number of health benefits. A few of the key ones are listed below:
- Digestive health and Nutritional value
Chia is rich in key nutrients which are absolutely necessary to the human body. They have to be taken externally because many of these cannot be synthesized by the body in vivo. It has large amounts of dietary fiber, 34.4g per 100g to be specific which almost touches the ceiling level of recommended dietary fiber per day (35g) by the American Dietetic Association. Thus it easily fulfills the daily dietary fiber requirements of the body. Because of its large quantities of fiber, it can absorb up to 10X its own weight in water. Due to this immense absorbing power, one feels full for a long time after having a meal of Chia. Thus it curbs hunger and the tendency to look for frequent meals which in turn might help to reduce weight in non-obese people. The fiber also helps regulate bowels and helps relieve constipation.
Among other important nutrients, are Calcium, Phosphorus, Copper, Zinc, Vitamins like Vitamin A and a powerhouse of protein. Calcium helps in building strong bones and along with Phosphorus and Zinc, helps keep our teeth healthy and strong. Calcium is the building block for both teeth and bones while Zinc helps prevent tartar by keeping plaque from mineralizing on our teeth and it is also harmful to bacterial metabolism and health so it has an antibacterial effect which also keeps bad breath away. Phosphorus and Vitamin A are required in the overall oral health. The huge protein content, along with the tiny amount of saturated (3.3g per 100g) and trans-fat, helps build leaner and stronger muscles. Thus it is very helpful to both young and old people.
- Diabetic Control
The high fiber content also ensures that we consume less food throughout the day (less frequent meals), as one serving of Chia keeps a person full for almost the entire day. As less food is consumed, there is less intake of carbohydrates. Thus blood sugar levels are naturally kept in check. Scientists have also found that Chia not only prevents insulin resistance (The sole reason of type 2 diabetes mellitus, which is the most common form of diabetes in adults) but also reverses the same. Thus in layman’s terms, it prevents type 2 diabetes as well as reverses it and should completely cure it! Chia can, therefore, provide an answer to this chronic disease.
The lower intake of sugars also means that it prevents obesity as the excess of carbohydrates are the prime reason for developing obesity. Thus it can be a boon to millions of diabetic patients around the world.
- Cardiovascular Health
Fatty acids like omega-3 and omega-6 are essential to the body and have to be acquired from external sources as the body cannot synthesize them. Thus Chia provides both these essential fatty acids without much of saturated or trans fat. As the latter ones are excluded, it is very healthy for the body and heart. Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids promote the formation of HDL (often termed as ‘Good Cholesterol’). HDL or High-Density Lipoprotein helps in the reduction of blood cholesterol levels as it directs cholesterol from lipid laden tissues and atherosclerotic plugs to the liver to be excreted out in the form of bile. Thus it checks adiposity.
Omega-3 is also known to reduce blood pressure and C-reactive protein (which indicates inflammation), thus inflammation is also reduced. Thus the chances of coronary artery diseases, which are now thought of to be principally caused by inflammation and not by blocking of the artery by lipids as was thought of earlier, is greatly reduced.
- Control of Ageing
There is still a dispute among scientists on the probable mechanism of ageing in humans. The theory accepted by the majority of scientists is that aerobic respiration (breathing in oxygen and releasing carbon dioxide) yields by products like superoxide radicals which possess high oxidizing power. Thus it has the power of oxidizing the cellular contents and thus degrade the cell, which, when happens on a large scale, manifests itself as the signs of ageing. Thus it is thought that phenolic compounds, which can degrade such harmful radicals, should reverse the process of ageing. So foods with high phenolic content are usually known to be ‘antioxidants’.
Chia has high levels of phenolic compounds and thus can counteract the damaging radical activity, which helps to slow ageing. Phenolics also help in accelerating the skin repair system. Thus it not only slows down ageing, but also reverses it to some extent. This is a major bonus for people around the world because everybody loves to stay forever young and never grow old!
- Cancer Care
As with any new food discovered, there is always a claim that it helps to prevent cancer, as this statement is enough to boost sales of the particular food item. But on close inspection, Chia seeds do indeed seem to provide us with an answer to this deadly disease. It not only prevents cancerous cells from developing but also helps cure them. Chia seeds contain omega-3 fatty acids, which is structurally alpha-linolenic acid, which is seen to limit the growth of breast and cervical cancer cells in the laboratory. What is more encouraging is that it has also been found that it caused cell death of cancerous cells without affecting the normal healthy cells, even in the vicinity. This is great news, especially for all the women around the world as breast cancer is the most common form of cancer among women all over the world. Now it has to be seen whether it can have similar effects on other forms of cancer.
Side Effects of Chia Seeds
As there are always two sides of the same coin, we now take a look at the cons of consuming Chia seeds:
- As with all foods termed as superfoods, they are always supposed to be consumed in small quantities and can have the reverse effects.
- Due to the high fiber content in Chia seeds, when consumed in excess, can be a cause of stomach gas or bloating. It can also hinder the absorption of other nutrients of the food eaten. It can also lead to constipation of normal healthy humans, as too much of fiber will inhibit the movement of faeces in the large intestine. As fiber imbibes a large amount of water, eating excess Chia seeds and not consuming a lot of water will suck up all the water in the stomach, which might lead to dehydration as not enough water is available for the body to uptake. Also, if eaten dry, it might choke a person as it will instantly imbibe all the available water in our mouth and alimentary canal and get stuck there. Thus Chia seeds, though very helpful when eaten in their recommended amounts, can have devastating effects on humans when consumed in excess.
- Also, scientists have found that consuming Chia seeds has no effect on obese people.
Chia seeds does tick a lot of boxes and provide a lot of answers to deadly diseases like diabetes, obesity, breast and cervical cancer etc. It also provides a healthy supplement for pregnant women. The omega-3 present is essential for the baby’s brain development. Also, pregnancy is very taxing on the body. The essential minerals, antioxidants present in the seeds does help in filling up the debt. Thus it provides pregnant women with the perfect alternative to other supplements which come with their harsh side effects. However, it must not be taken as a replacement to a balanced diet. To achieve a healthy body and mind, superfoods like the Chia seeds should be regularly included in the balanced diet, in their recommended amounts, to achieve all round development of the body and mind and thus combat nutritional deficiencies which usually affect the children all around the world.
Guest Post By
Dept. of Biotechnology (2nd year)
St. Xavier’s College
 J.Lunn. 2006. Superfoods. Nutrition Bulletin, British Nutrition Foundation. DOI – 10.1111/j.1467-3010.2006.00578.x
 According to the American Cancer Society.