The superfood spotlight has shined brightly on chia seeds for some time now. Find out why they’re considered a superfood and what the chia benefits are.
What Are Superfoods?
But first, what are superfoods?
The origins of the term “superfood” dates as far back as the early 20th century, when it was used as a marketing strategy. Today, it’s part of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, which defines it as “a food (such as salmon, broccoli, or blueberries) that is rich in compounds (such as antioxidants, fiber, or fatty acids) considered beneficial to a person’s health.
While it’s fun to imagine that superfoods can magically address our concerns, the reality is that there is no scientific basis for classifying food as a superfood. The Harvard T.H. Chance School of Public Health says, “a food is promoted to superfood status when it offers high levels of desirable nutrients, is linked to the prevention of a disease, or is believed to offer several simultaneous health benefits beyond its nutritional value,” but keep in mind that those superfood lists you see online technically aren’t official.
While superfoods aren’t miraculous, they still pack a powerful nutrient punch, so marketing ploy or not, you’ll still reap plenty of benefits from including them in your diet.
The Benefits of Chia Seeds
Chia seeds have actually been around for thousands of years, used by the Mayans and Aztecs in food and medicine. But it experienced a resurgence in popularity in recent years when people started gaining an interest in so-called superfoods.
Chia seeds come from a flowering mint plant native to Central America. Their color can range from white to gray to brown, and the tiny seeds enlarge and have a gluey consistency once it comes into contact with water. What’s impressive is the chia seed nutrition content, because it packs a lot of nutrients in a small package:
Chia seeds have plenty of fiber. Nearly all of the carbohydrates in chia seeds is fiber, which the body doesn’t absorb. One tablespoon of chia seeds has 5 grams of fiber (versus .2 grams in the same amount of brown rice), which makes up about 20% of the recommended daily intake. Fiber is very good for your digestive system. And because chia seeds absorb water, they can expand in your stomach, possibly making you feel fuller.
Chia seeds contain bone-strengthening minerals. Chia seeds contain many bone-strengthening minerals like calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and protein in high concentrations. One tablespoon of chia seeds contains more calcium than a glass of milk! Chia seeds are thus a great option for those who don’t like or can’t consume dairy products.
Chia seeds are a complete protein. Unlike most plant proteins, chia seeds have all the essential amino acids, making them a source of complete protein. Of course you can’t make a meal out of chia seeds but you can add it to a smoothie or make a soy milk chia seed pudding for some extra protein.
Chia seeds have heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Gram for gram, chia seeds amazingly have more omega-3 fatty acids than salmon. Omega-3 fatty acids can help protect you against heart disease.
If you’re wondering how to eat chia seeds, there are a number of ways: Sprinkle it onto salads and cereal, mix them into sauces or bread batter, or use it as an egg replacement. However, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, there has been a reported case of someone who ate dry chia seeds and followed it up with water, which cause the seeds to expand and then block the esophagus. Make sure not to eat dry chia seeds and to be careful if you have digestive issues (like difficulty swallowing).
Load Up Your “Super Plate”
There is no magic bullet when it comes to nutrition, so chia seeds should be a part of a balanced diet made up of a variety of foods. As the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health says, focus more on having a “super plate” than superfoods. Below are some of the foods that offer the highest nutrient bang for your buck:
Dark, leafy greens. Kale is just one of the dark, leafy greens that you should include in your diet. Spinach, mustard greens (a.k.a. mustasa), and cabbage are also filled with Vitamins A, C, and K.
Fish. Salmon, tuna steaks, mackerel, anchovies, and sardines are a great source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids.
Whole grains. Get plenty of fiber, vitamins, and minerals from whole grains like brown rice, oats, and quinoa. Or you can try some of these ancient grains.
Berries. Berries aren’t as ubiquitous as tropical fruits in this country so you might have to go for the frozen kind. Not to worry—frozen berries still retain their vitamin, fiber, and antioxidant content. A note: Dried berries may seem like a healthy snack, but limit your intake as they may come with plenty of added sugars.
Nuts. Almonds, walnuts, pecans, and so on contain minerals, protein, and heart-friendly good fats. Eat a handful as a snack or sprinkle them onto your granola or salads.
Beans. Kidney beans, black beans, peas, and the like give you the protein without much fat. At them to soups or salads, or make some hummus using garbanzo beans (chickpeas).
Harvard Health Publishing also recommends olive oil, cruciferous vegetables (like broccoli), yogurt, and tomatoes.
You can buy chia seeds as well as the other foods to make a super plate at Healthy Options.
Products You Might Be Interested In
Bob's Red Mill Chia Seeds
Chia seeds are tiny powerhouses packed full of omega-3 fatty acids, protein and fiber. Chia seeds also contain antioxidants, so-called “healthy fats” and essential fatty acids, including omega-3 fatty acids in the form of alpha-linolenic acid, and omega-6 fatty acids in the form of linoleic acid, which could help control blood sugar and also aid in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins.
Healthy Options Whole Chia Seeds
Packed with healthy omega-3 fatty acids, these little seeds also contain protein, fiber, antioxidants, and minerals like calcium, magnesium, and iron.
Nutiva Organic Chia Seeds
These small, crunchy, gluten-free seeds are a rich source of protein, beneficial antioxidants, Omega-3 and fiber. A 3 tbsp. serving of chia has 15x more magnesium than broccoli, 30% more antioxidants than blueberries and 2x more potassium than bananas.