Chia seeds have long been one of the most popular superfoods in Germany. Many of you are already familiar with these tiny, gluten-free seeds, which are prized for their particularly high nutritional content. But did you know that you can increase their impressive nutritional value even further without much effort?
Learn more about chia seeds below.
Chia seeds at a glance
Chia seeds are the tiny black seeds of the chia plant (Latin: Salvia Hispanica) - a species of plant that belongs to the mint family and grows primarily in Mexico and Guatemala. Chia seeds were once a staple food source for the Aztecs long before Columbus discovered America. The Aztecs worshiped chia seeds so much that they used them as currency and as offerings. After the Spanish eventually colonized Central and South America, the cultivation and consumption of chia seeds was banned as the Spanish invaders considered them pagan. However, chia seeds are still enjoyed today by native tribes who use them to make nutrient-dense flours, oils, and beverages. Chia seeds have become increasingly popular in both Europe and North America in recent years, largely thanks to their extraordinarily high nutritional value and, of course, their exceptional versatility.
What Makes Chia Seeds a Superfood?
They may be tiny, but they pack a punch! Chia seeds contain a wealth of important nutrients, including:
Omega-3 fatty acids
The word "chia" derives from the Nahuatl word "chian" which means "oily". Chia seeds provide about 25 to 30 percent extractable oil. They're particularly high in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) - a type of omega-3 fatty acid found in seeds and vegetable oils. ALA is considered an essential fatty acid because the body cannot produce it and must therefore be obtained from the diet.
Several studies have shown that ALA is extremely beneficial to health and can help:
- reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease (Kris-Etherton et al., 2002; Connor, 2000; Mozaffarian, 2005)
- May reduce anxiety and stress and lower cortisol levels (Yehuda et al., 2005)
- can inhibit the growth of tumors (Deshpande et al., 2013)
- can reduce the risk of developing depression (Lucas et al., 2011)
As the following comparison shows, chia seeds contain proportionately more ALA than any other plant source:
Percent of the recommended daily intake of ALA per 100g
hemp seeds 20%
The body also converts ALA into EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). EPA has powerful anti-inflammatory properties (Li et al., 2005) and reduces the risk of depression (Huan et al., 2004; Martin, 2009), protects against certain types of liver disease (El Mowafy et al., 2011), reduces the Hyperactivity in children (Sorgi et al., 2007) and can improve the effectiveness of chemotherapy (Hardman, 2004).
DHA also has anti-inflammatory properties (Kelley et al., 2009), improves memory (Yurko-Mauro et al., 2010), can slow down tumor growth (Slagsvold et al., 2010), improves the effectiveness of immunotherapy (Shaikh et al., 2008) and increases sperm quality and fertility in men (Attaman et al., 2012).
Chia seeds consist of around 14% vegetable protein and are therefore popular with vegetarians and vegans who cannot get their protein from meat. Protein is important for healthy growth, healing of body tissues including muscles, internal organs and skin and is a great source of energy.
Chia seeds are high in fiber, which makes them easy to digest (Weber et al., 1991). In fact, they contain about 10 grams of fiber per 2 tablespoons, making them one of the best sources of fiber in the world. Fiber is an essential part of a healthy diet. Digestion is greatly improved. Heart disease, diabetes, weight gain and certain types of cancer are prevented.
Chia seeds also contain a variety of vitamins, including:
Vitamin A (also known as Retinol) - Boosts the immune system, aids vision in low light and keeps skin healthy.
Vitamin B1 (also known as thiamine) - helps the body metabolize carbohydrates better and is required for growth and muscle tone.
Vitamin B2 (also known as Riboflavin) - helps the body metabolize protein, fat and carbohydrates.
Vitamin B3 (also known as niacin) - is also involved in protein, fat and carbohydrate metabolism.
Vitamin C (also known as ascorbic acid) - helps protect and keep cells healthy, is necessary for maintaining healthy connective tissues and aids in wound healing.
In addition, chia seeds contain an impressive array of minerals:
Calcium - is necessary for healthy teeth and bones, blood clotting and nerve transmission.
Magnesium - supports metabolism, muscle contraction and bone formation. It is also involved in protein and DNA synthesis.
manganese - important for bone growth and the synthesis of complex carbohydrates and proteins.
Phosphor - helps in the formation of bones and teeth and helps in metabolism.
zinc - is extremely important for the immune system and plays an important role in enzyme activity.
Finally, chia seeds are packed with antioxidants like chlorogenic acid and flavonol, which help reduce the risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease (Taga et al., 1984), as well as the unwanted signs of aging.
Deliciously crunchy and flavored like poppy seeds, chia seeds can be sprinkled liberally over soups, salads and cereals, stirred directly into smoothies, shakes and protein drinks, or used as an additional ingredient in bread batter.
However, recent research (Nieman et al., 2012) suggests that the nutritional value of chia seeds can be actively increased simply by grinding them before use. The study of 46 overweight menopausal women found that those who consumed ground chia seeds had ALA and EPA levels that were 58% and 39% higher, respectively, than those who consumed whole chia seeds.
Enjoy ground chia seeds
Just like whole chia seeds, ground chia seeds can be sprinkled liberally over soups, salads and cereals, stirred into smoothies, shakes and protein drinks, or used as a base for raw desserts and nut butters. Alternatively, ground chia seeds can be soaked in water for an exceptionally filling, gluten-free breakfast porridge, topped with your choice of other delicious superfoods like Goji-Beeren or Kakaonibs can be combined.