You’ve probably seen or heard of those popular pets that morph from chia seeds, but there’s much more to chia than those iconic chia creations. Those novel pets certainly aren’t a pet peeve, but not giving chia the attention it deserves nutritionally is.
For example, a study published in the journal Nutrition Research concludes that chia provides the richest plant source of omega-3 fatty acids—to the tune of 5 grams per two tablespoons. Omega-3s, of course, support healthy inflammation levels as well as cardiovascular and brain health, among other benefits. In fact, the omega-3 fatty acid found in chia is known as alpha-linolenic fatty acid or ALA—an essential fatty acid that people must consume in their diets because the body cannot make it.
Likewise, the body is able to convert ALA to EPA and DHA, two other important omega-3 fatty acids—and since chia’s plant-based, it offers a good source of omega-3s for vegans and vegetarians.
But that’s not all. Chia also contains natural antioxidants and phytonutrients, has no cholesterol, is low in saturated fat, has no toxic or “anti-nutritional” factors, and is sustainable and environmentally friendly. Additionally, chia’s a good source of folic acid and niacin as well as the following minerals: iron, potassium, calcium, phosphorous, zinc, manganese, molybdenum and magnesium.
Add that to the fact that chia provides soluble and insoluble dietary fiber to support digestive and blood sugar health, and is a good source of high quality protein—a whopping 20 percent, which exceeds the protein content of most other grains and seeds— and you have some significant nutritional factors.
Another interesting fact about chia is that chia seeds are hydrophilic—that is, they readily absorb water—holding about 10 times their weight in water. For athletes and others, this can translate into staying better hydrated during exercise or at times when the body needs to maintain hydration. This hydrophilic action also occurs in the stomach after chia seeds are ingested—even if chia seeds are eaten raw. Some people think that this chia seed “gel” resulting from the chia and water mixture can coat the stomach, which restricts the absorption of calories, and, hence, can assist in a healthy weight.
Dr. Wayne Coates, professor emeritus, ultra-runner and author of Chia: The Complete Guide to the Ultimate Superfood, says that chia has long been known as a runner’s food. Coates explains that the Tarahumara Indians of the Copper Canyon in Mexico have “been known as the ‘running Indians,’ and have used chia for years.” He adds, “The Aztec warriors used to carry it on their campaigns, and chia is what they ate; it gave them sustained energy.” Coates says that, among other things, chia slows down digestion so an energy boost can kick in later.
Here’s the bottom line: What the Aztecs knew centuries ago is now apparent in mainstream America—that chia seeds hold a powerhouse of nutrients for health. The truth is that chia is one of the best functional foods—foods providing one or more health-promoting components—in the marketplace today.
Chia often shares the spotlight with flax, which has similar nutritional qualities and health benefits as chia does. Unlike flax, however, chia seeds have a long shelf life and can be ground and stored without needing refrigeration or fear of it spoiling.
By itself, chia has a bland taste, but it’s easily added to juice, smoothies, salads, yogurt, muffins, breads and other homemade baked goods, and much more—so be sure to check out the versatility and health benefits of chia.
There’s more to it than just novelty pets.