Chia Seeds – A Nutrition Powerhouse?

Welcome to another superfoods article, this time looking at the tiny little seed known as chia. You have probably seen recipes for chia seed pudding, jams and all sorts of things. This is a versatile and delicious food. But should we be calling it a superfood and what are the benefits of this seed?

What are they?

Chia seeds come from the plant Salvia Hispanica – a type of mint – and were a major food crop in Mexico. They were believed to be cultivated for food as early as 3500BC(1)

Fun fact: Chia can hold up to 12 times its weight in water! It is a hydrophilic food(i.e it absorbs water very easily)

Nutrition Profile

chia seed nutrients

fibre content of selected foods

Benefits?

For such a small seed, chia are packed full of goodness. They have approximately 36g to 40g  of fibre per 100g, which is much higher than many grains and fruits. They contain all nine essential amino acids that the body can’t make(1).

  Chia seeds are rich in:

  • Fibre
  • Calcium
  • Phosphorous
  • Zinc
  • Protein
  • Polyunsaturated fats such as omega 3  – chia seeds are one of the best plant sources of omega 3 fatty acids – we require healthy fats for their anti-inflammatory properties, brain and heart health
  • Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)

Studies have shown multiple benefits from chia seeds and the nutrients they provide:

  • A large study found that plant sources of omega 3 fatty acids  could reduce cardiovascular mortality(3)
  • Have been shown to lower blood concentration of triglycerides, total cholesterol, low density lipoproteins and very low density lipoproteins, however this study was done on animals(4)
  • Can increase gastrointestinal transit time which has been shown to be directly related to gradual increase in post-prandial (the time after a meal) blood glucose levels and a decrease in insulin resistant(1)
  • Antioxidant properties which could offer protection from degenerative diseases
  • A diet rich in ALA has been shown to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease in women(5)

Are there negatives to eating chia seeds?

It really depends. There can be side effects to all food, particularly if you are new to those foods or eat a lot in one sitting.

Due to the high fibre content of chia seeds, they can cause gastrointestinal upset, such as abdominal pain and bloating. Which, for us IBS sufferers, is something we usually want to avoid. However, if the amount eaten is increased slowly and you make sure to stay adequately hydrated this side effects can be mitigated.

Eating them dry isn’t recommended. It is preferable to first soak them so they have absorbed some liquid and expanded. This is usually takes about 5 minutes. This is particularly important if you have difficulty swallowing. Make sure to be mindful when eating and to chew your food properly.

IBS Friendly?

Yes and no, which as you may know by now is the case for most foods. On the one hand, it gets the green light in terms of FODMAP’s. And two tablespoons should be tolerated well(6). Also due to the insoluble fibre and water retaining properties of chia seeds, it could definitely help get things moving in the bowels. This is particularly useful if you have IBS-C as this can help encourage bowel movements. On the other end of the spectrum, if you have IBS-D, this may mean you end up in the bathroom more.

As always use your best judgement, start with small portions and work your way up.

Takeaway

This little seed is a powerhouse of nutrition. Full of nutrients that are great for your body. It’s definitely something that you should think about including in your diet, especially if you are vegan.

But, as with all foods, everything in moderation. Eating too much of anything can be detrimental to your health. The studies do begin to show there are benefits to chia seeds, however a lot of these studies are done on animals and we can’t attribute all the positives we see from chia seeds alone. Reduction in the diseases shown in the studies is usually due to an all round healthy diet that incorporate foods such as chia seeds. If you have IBS or for that matter any sort of gastrointestinal troubles, start with a small amount and try eating chia with different foods to see which works best for your digestive system.

For these reasons, chia seeds are not a superfood. But is any food a superfood? Focusing on eating nutrient packed foods and eating the foods that work best for your IBS is the most important thing to be working towards.

References:

  1. Suri, S., Passi, J. S., Goyat, J. Chia Seed (Salvia Hispanica L.) – A New Age Functional Food. 4th International Conference on Recent Innovations in Science Engineering and Management. March 20, 2016.
  2. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 28. 2018. Available online: http://www.ars.usda.gov/ba/bhnrc/ndl
  3. Koh AS, Pan A, Wang R, Odegaard AO, Pereira MA, Yuan JM, Koh WP. The association between dietary omega-3 fatty acids and cardiovascular death: the Singapore Chinese Health Study. Eur J Prev Cardiol. 2015 Mar;22(3):364-72.
  4. Kulczyński, B., Kobus-Cisowska, J., Taczanowski, M., Kmiecik, D. and Gramza-Michałowska, A., 2019. The chemical composition and nutritional value of chia seeds—Current state of knowledge. Nutrients, 11(6), p.1242.
  5. Albert CM, Oh K, Whang W, Manson JE, Chae CU, Stampfer MJ, Willett WC, Hu FB. Dietary α-linolenic acid intake and risk of sudden cardiac death and coronary heart disease. Circulation. 2005 Nov 22;112(21):3232-8.
  6. Monash – https://www.monashfodmap.com/blog/debunking-myth-behind-superfoods/

 

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