Chia seeds are nutrient powerhouses. These tiny seeds hail from Central America and were domesticated by ancient Mexicans around 2,600 B.C. For centuries, chia seeds were beloved as a staple food by Indians of the Southwestern US and Mexico. Ancient documents indicate that in Mayan times there were four vital crops: corn, beans, amaranth, and chia seeds. In fact, chia seeds were valued so highly that tribute and taxes to Aztec priests and nobility were often paid in chia seeds. While we might not value chia seeds the same way as Mexicans of yonder years, they are worthy of our respect for their exceptional nutritional properties and health benefits. Here's why you should be eating more of this super seed.
1. They're the richest vegetable source of essential omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are an essential component of the human diet; sufficient omega-3 fatty acid intake is necessary for optimal brain functioning. Omega-3 fatty acids are also necessary to help emulsify and absorb important vitamins, such as vitamin A, D, E, and K. At 5 grams of omega-3 fatty acids per ounce (about 2 tablespoons), chia seeds have even more omega-3 fatty acids per serving than flaxseeds, another rich source.
2. They offer about 25 percent of your daily fiber in one serving. With 11 grams of fiber per ounce, simply adding about 2 Tbs. of chia seeds to your cereal or smoothie in the morning doubles the fiber intake for the average American.
3. They make you feel satiated. Chia seeds are high in soluble fiber; that's why they form a thick gel when mixed with water and set aside for 30 minutes. Research indicates that this reaction also occurs in the stomach, slowing the process in which digestive enzymes break down carbohydrates and convert them to sugar. A slower digestive processes leads to feelings of fullness in the stomach for a long period of time.
4. They pack in protein. About 23 percent of the calories in chia seeds come from protein. If you consume just two ounces of chia seeds, you will take in 8 grams of protein.
5. They're pantry-friendly. Did you know that chia seeds can be stored for years without deterioration in flavor or nutritional value? This is due to the presence of natural antioxidants. Unlike fish oil, fish meal, or algae (other rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids), chia seeds don’t require any special packaging or storage conditions to prevent even minor changes in quality over time.
6. They're eco-friendly. The high levels of omega-3 fatty acids in chia seeds act as a potent insect repellent, eliminating the need for pesticides when growing.
Talia Fuhrman has a B.A. in Nutritional Sciences from Cornell University and is a freelance body image and nutrition writer and chef.