One of the biggest food trends of the last couple of years has been the mighty chia seed and nutritionally they certainly have some good credentials. Used by Aztec warriors to increase stamina and performance, they can also be a huge game changer in modern day diets for anyone suffering with digestive problems such as constipation.
What is chia?
Chia seeds are the tiny black seeds from the Salvia hispanica desert plant, a member of the mint family which comes from Central and South America. In the mayan language chia means ‘strength’. There use dates back to the aztec and mayan cultures where they were eaten to support energy levels and good health.
It was a major crop in central Mexico between 1500 and 900 B.C and used frequently in mayan diets by Aztec warriors to support endurance. Today chia is used frequently by runners as they provide a sustained energy boost during workouts. Chia was still cultivated well into the 16th century, AD, but after the Spanish conquest, its use declined due to its use in Aztec religion.
Chia seed Nutrition
Chia seeds are a powerhouse of nutrition and an excellent addition to your diet as they are a nutritionally dense, unprocessed whole food. We should certainly all be carrying them around in pouches on our belts as the mayans once did. Chia seeds contain omega 3 fats, fibre, prebiotics, protein, vitamins and minerals, including high amounts of calcium. They are a great plant based vegan source of omega 3 alpha-linoleic acid fatty acids for people who choose not to eat meat and fish. One ounce (about 2 tablespoons) contains 139 calories, 4 grams of protein, 9 grams fat, 12 grams carbohydrates and 11 grams of fibre, plus vitamins and minerals such as B vitamins and selenium.
What are the benefits of chia seeds?
Chia seeds contain fibre, protein and unsaturated fats – all of which are known to support a healthy heart and stable blood-sugar levels. Fibre and healthy fats are essential for your body to balance insulin levels and so chia are natural blood sugar balancers. Some research has suggested that chia seeds may be beneficial for overweight and obese patients with type 2 diabetes1. They concluded that chia seeds were a useful dietary addition as part of a balanced diet, that may help to reduce the risk of heart disease or diabetes. Chia seeds may contribute to overall health alongside other lifestyle factors such as regular exercise.
Chia seeds are very high in Omega 3 fatty acids which are important for skin health as these fats help to lower inflammation in the body, reduce dryness, and improve circulation. Modern day diets contain too much omega 6 with our over consumption of refined oils found in pre packaged foods, takeaways, and high consumption of processed non organic meat. The antioxidants found in chia seeds can also help to reduce premature skin ageing and free radical damage.
The benefits of chia seeds are attributed to the calcium content and other trace minerals known for their role in bone health. A 25g portion of chia contains 157mg of calcium, which is a significant source of calcium, more than that in 100ml of milk. They contain more bone strengthening calcium and phosphorous than flax seeds.
How Can Chia support Optimal Digestion?
Chia seeds are packed full of fibre and omega 3 fatty acids, and so have a beneficial effect on digestion and bowel regularity. Just two tablespoons of chia seeds contains 11 grams of soluble fibre. The average adult should consume 30g fibre per day but most people in the UK are consuming a lot less than this. Fibre is an important part of a healthy balanced diet as it improves digestive health by preventing constipation, and reduces our risk of getting chronic diseases such as colon cancer, Type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. The mechanism of action of fibre on constipation improves stool consistency and accelerates colon transit time. Fibre increases stool bulk, produces short chain fatty acids which supports peristalsis, and is a good food source for our friendly bacteria, thus supporting the health of the microbiome2.
Chia seeds are a great prebiotic as the soluble fibre found in chia is mucilaginous and so forms a soft gel like consistency which feeds your friendly bacteria, (probiotics) in the gut. This mucilaginous fibre detoxifies the colon, repairs the gut lining, and stimulates bowel movements.
There are two types of fibre that your body needs, soluble and insoluble. Insoluble fibre does not dissolve in water and passes through your digestive system in close to its original form. It sweeps and moves bulk and toxic waste through the intestines and helps to promote regular bowel movements. Soluble fibre feeds your good gut bacteria, balances food sugar, and lowers total cholesterol levels. 25g of chia seeds provides you with 6.9 grams of mostly soluble fibre.
Ways to increase your fibre intake
Good sources of fibre can be found in plant based foods such as fruit and vegetables, whole grains, oats, brown bread, pulses, peas, beans, potatoes with skins, nuts, seeds, and oats.
1.) Always choose wholegrain over refined carbohydrates. Good sources include buckwheat, millet, brown rice, brown bread, barley, oats, bulgar.
2.) Add high fibre legumes such as peas, beans, lentils, chickpeas to soups, stews, and salads.
3.) Starting the day with a bowl of porridge with some fruits is an excellent way of getting a fibre boost in the morning.
4.) Choose high fibre snacks such as nuts, seeds, dried fruits.
5.) Take a good quality probiotic with reasearched strains that contains fibre and freiendly bacteria to support constipation.
How many calories in chia?
1 Tbsp chia seeds contains 69 calories and 3g protein. There are 486 calories in 100g chia seeds. I would recommend eating 1-2 Tbsp per day. 15-30g.
Chia Seeds Breakfast Recipe Ideas (Pudding, Chia jam, Overnight oats, Nutribullet)
Overnight oats - Soak 1-2 Tbsp with a plant based milk (almond, coconut, oat) overnight, and top with fruit and nuts/seeds in the morning for a nutritious gut freindly breakfast.
Chia chocolate pudding - Soak 2 Tbsp for 30 mins or overnight in a plant based milk with 1/2 tsp vanilla powder and 1 Tbsp cacao powder. Add 1/2 tsp cinnamon or 1 tbsp maple syrup to sweeten. Once set, top with fruit and coconut yoghurt.
Chia jam - Soak chia seeds with pureed fruit to make a sugar free thick energy boosting jam.
Chia superfood smoothie - Chia seeds absorb up to 10 times their weight in water and so can be a great way to thicken a smoothie if you’ve run out of frozen banana or don't have an avocado to hand. Blend 1-2 tbsp chia in 250ml of plant based milk in a Nutribullet , add a handful of blueberries, a handful of spinach,1/2 banana, and 1/2 tsp cinnamon.
Chia Egg - Use in vegan baking as an egg replacer or to add moisture to your cakes and muffins. 1 Tbsp chia seeds + 2.5 tbsp water = 1 chia egg. Mix together and let the mixture rest for 5-10 minutes until it thickens into a gel like consistency. Calories: 65. Protein: 3g.
Soak overnight and stir in to your porridge or scrambled eggs for an extra energy boost in the morning.
Sprout seeds and sprinkle over salads and soups. With no distinct taste they can be added to any dish to boost the nutritional content and to thicken soups and stews.
Where can I buy chia seeds?
You can buy chia seeds whole or milled from any good health food shop and some supermarkets stock them now also. They are very versatile as they can be eaten raw, soaked, or sprouted. They make a great healthy snack, pudding, or breakfast, and for on the go digestive health you can now purchase chia shots. Chia shots come in small sachets and can be added to a glass of water whilst out and about.
How do I introduce them in to my diet? (Start slowly, increase water intake, soak seeds)
I would recommend you start slowly as chia are high in fibre and always make sure you consume lots of water when eating them as they absorb up to 10 times their weight in water. If your body is not used to eating so much fibre you may feel bloated, so if this happens reduce your dose to 1-2 tsp. When starting to use chia seeds I would always recommend you soak them first so that they have soaked up all of the fluid they can absorb before entering the digestive system. At least 15-30 mins or overnight in your breakfast chia pot.
1 Vuksan V et al, Salba-chia (Salvia hispanica L.) in the treatment of overweight and obese patients with type 2 diabetes: A double-blind randomized controlled trial, 'Nutrition, Metabolism, and Cardiovascular Disease', 2017, Feb;27(2):138-146
2 Sun H B, Diets for Constipation, Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition, 2014, 17 (4):203-208