I’ve been a fan of chia seeds for quite some time now, adding them to my smoothies, my morning bowl of oatmeal, to my quinoa dishes…the possibilities are endless.
And while I’ve heard that chia seeds are considered a superfood, I’ve never actually taken the time to really understand why chia seeds are good for you. So, I finally sat down and took some time to research the health benefits of chia seeds.
Why Are Chia Seeds Good For you?
Chia seeds are considered a complete plant-based protein. Meaning, they contain the nine essential amino acids our bodies need but can’t produce on their own to function. (I wrote a separate piece on complete plant-based protein if you want more info).
And luckily for us, chia seeds are packed with protein! 100 grams of chia seeds contains about 15.6 grams of protein (31% of your Daily Value).
That being said, while packed with protein chia seeds should obviously not be considered your diet’s main source of protein. Rather, think of these seeds as an added bonus to your already varied diet.
A diet high in fiber, according to the University of San Francisco, helps to “reduce the risk of developing various conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, diverticular disease, constipation, and colon cancer. “
The average woman should aim to eat about 25 grams of fiber per day, while men should target 38 grams (or 14 grams for every 1,000 calories).
So, if you’re looking for a quick and easy way to add more fiber to your diet, chia seeds, which contain roughly 10.6 grams of fiber in every 1 ounce (28 grams), are a great place to start. Not to mention that chia seeds contain both soluble and insoluble fiber, both of which our bodies need to effectively function. Reason #2 why chia seeds are good for you!
- Fiber: 10.6 grams (42% of the Daily Value)
- Protein: 4.4 grams (9% of the DV)
- Manganese: .6mg (30% of the DV
- Calcium: 177mg (18% of the DV)
- Zinc: 1mg (7% of the DV)
- Phosphorous: 265 mg (27% of the DV)
Soluble fiber vs insoluble fiber
Insoluble fiber, according to Tanya Zuckerbrot, R.D., author of The F-Factor Diet, “is like nature’s broom. It helps speed up the passage of waste through your digestive tract and reduces the risk of colon cancer and other diseases.” You can think of insoluble fiber as the “roughage” because it comes from the “woody, or structural, part of plants, such as broccoli stems, the outer kernel of corn, wheat and whole-grain cereals-as well as the skin and seeds of fruits and vegetables.” 1
Soluble fiber, on the other hand, “helps to absorb water and bulks up in your stomach which promotes a feeling of fullness,” Zuckerbrot shares. 2 These fibers, such as apple oranges and grapefruits, vegetables, legumes (beans, lentils, etc), barley, and oats, help increase stool bulk and may decrease blood cholesterol levels. 3
Chia seeds are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids. In fact, for every 100 grams of chia seeds, there are about 18 grams of omega-3 fatty acids.
What are omega-3s?
While I’ve read about the health benefits of omega-3s in the past, it wasn’t until recently that I realized that 1) omega-3s are considered essential fatty acids. Meaning, fatty acids your body needs but can’t produce on its own, i.e., similar to essential amino acids (building blocks of protein), they can only be obtained through diet. [efn_note]Dr. Axe[/efn_note] And 2) not all omega-3s are created equally.
The three most important types of omega-3s?
- ALA (alpha-linolenic acid)
- DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and
- EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid)
ALA is a short-chain fatty acid found in plants, such as chia seeds and avocados. DHA and EPA, on the other hand, are long-chain fatty acids that are most commonly found in fish, shellfish, or fish oil. While all three contain a wide range of health benefits, DHA which “plays a crucial role in fetal and childhood brain development (affecting visual acuity, intelligence, problem-solving, etc.),” 4 is believed to be one of the more important ones. According to Chris Kresser, M.S., L.Ac., “a growing body of evidence shows that adults that consume higher amounts of DHA have a lower risk of many diseases, including cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease, depression, schizophrenia, psychosis, and other behavioral disorders.” 5
It’s also been found that a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as DHA and EPA “may be valuable in treating or preventing depression, rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease, and other conditions.”
This, of course, doesn’t mean that ALA should be ignored or considered lesser than EPA or DHA, our bodies still depend on these fatty acids, they’re full of health benefits (you can read more about the health benefits of ALA here). It’s just that our bodies can’t sufficiently convert ALA into DHA and EPA. The conversion rate of ALA to EPA and DHA, Chris Kresser shares, is inefficient “less than 5 to 10 percent for EPA and 2 to 5 percent for DHA.”
DHA and EPA
Fatty fishes, such as salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring or tuna, are a great food source of DHA and EPA. That being said, due to overfishing and the high levels of mercury found in most of these fish, you might consider supplementing your diet with purified fish oil. Chris Kresser wrote a very thorough article on what to look for when buying fish oil, you can check it out here.
Of course, if you’re vegan/vegetarian, obtaining DHA and EPA through fish oil or fish, is most likely not an option and can be somewhat problematic. If you fall into this category, most nutritionists and dieticians recommend supplementing your diet with microalgae supplements. 6 7
“The best option for those unwilling to consume seafood is a microalgae supplement. Algae is the base of the food chain for fish, and it is rich in DHA. (DHA can be retro-converted to EPA, so it is not necessary to supplement with EPA separately.) Most products on the market contain about 200 mg of DHA per capsule, so a dose of one to two capsules per day would suffice.” – Chris Kresser
Although chia seeds may not be a great source of vitamins they happen to be packed with amazing minerals such as phosphorus, magnesium, and calcium:
- Phosphorus: Contributes to bone health, tissue maintenance, keeping teeth strong, filtering and removing waste from the kidneys, promoting healthy nerve conduction throughout the body, making DNA and RNA, managing the body’s energy usage and storage.
- Magnesium: Plays an important role in many bodily processes such as intermediary metabolism, DNA replication, and repair, transporting potassium and calcium ions, cell proliferation together with signaling transduction.
- Calcium: The most abundant mineral in your body, calcium is essential for bones, muscles, and nerves.
All that to say, chia seeds contain numerous health benefits. Packed with protein, minerals, soluble and insoluble fiber, and plant-based omega-3s, these power seeds will give our bodies that extra punch of nutrition we need to get us through our busy days! What’s your favorite way to add chia seeds to your diet?