The health benefits of chia seeds

Chia seeds are making a comeback.

They sprout on store shelves and are wrapped in puddings, pretzels, and even jams. According to forecasts by Grand View Research, a company that tracks the food industry, the chia seed market is expected to grow by more than 22% per year between 2019 and 2025.

Such is the life cycle of the chia seed – always appearing in one trend or another. The seeds have long been a staple in Latin America and were even offered to Aztec gods in religious ceremonies, but every generation in America seems to think they’ve discovered them for the first time, said Beth Czerwony, a registered dietitian. in Cleveland. Clinic’s Human Nutrition Center.

Over the past 40 years, chia has maintained a fairly constant presence in the public consciousness. They first appeared as the Chia Pets fur plant in the late 1970s, and in the 90s health food companies began marketing them as a nutritional powerhouse. In the last decade in particular, the tiny seeds have gained an outsized reputation: as a supposed weight-loss hack, a protein supplement, and a staple for super-healthy people.

Today, thanks in part to social media, chia seeds are once again on the minds of many people. Some TikTok users are touting the purported benefits of an ‘inner shower’ – a viral trend that involves drinking a supposedly cleansing mud of chia seeds, water and lemon to relieve constipation and help with weight loss . The hashtag #internalshower has been viewed over 100 million times.

“When it was all the rage in the early 2000s, the kids talking about it now might not even have been born,” Ms Czerwony said. “Everything old comes back.”

We asked nutritionists and doctors if the latest chia craze lives up to its health craze.

Chia seeds aren’t a magic conduit for weight loss or a cure for disease, but they are “incredibly healthy as a natural food source,” said Dr. Melinda Ring, integrative medicine specialist at Northwestern. Medical.

As with everything, though, you have to be careful not to overdo it, said Dr. Lisa Ganjhu, an associate professor at NYU Grossman School of Medicine who specializes in gastroenterology. She cautioned against eating the seeds directly, which can upset digestion. Instead, soak them in water or plant-based milk for several hours until they turn into a jelly-like slime, or add ground chia seeds to baked goods. You can also swirl them into a smoothie, where they can soak up the liquid, or blend them into a pudding.

If you eat too many chia seeds — say several pounds in one sitting — you run the risk of bloating, cramping, discomfort and diarrhea, she said.

One serving of chia seeds — about two tablespoons — won’t transform your entire diet or replace the vitamins you should be getting from vegetables. But doctors and dietitians point out a few key health benefits:

Chia seeds contain remarkably high levels of an essential omega-3 fatty acid known as alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA. You can only get these acids through your diet, Dr. Ring said, and eating ALA-rich foods can help prevent heart problems. sickness. In fact, seeds are one of the richest plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids; one serving contains more than double the daily amount of ALA recommended by the National Institutes of Health.

Two tablespoons of chia seeds contain about ten grams of dietary fiber, more than twice that of an apple. High-fiber foods support gut health by encouraging bowel movements – hence the idea behind “internal showering”. But Dr. Ganjhu said she sees chia seeds as more of an “internal Brillo buffer.”

“It’s definitely going to move things forward,” she said.

The fiber in chia seeds can also keep you full longer, especially if you soak the seeds first. The soft outer layer that covers the seeds softens and congeals into a gel-like shape, which can expand further in your stomach, Czerwony said.

Chia seeds are rich in several potential antioxidants, which can help break down free radicals that damage our cells, Czerwony said. Although it’s possible to have too many antioxidants, doctors say most people would benefit more from them in their diets because free radicals can build up in the body over time, leading to, among other problems. , the formation of plaques in the heart.

Ms Czerwony said she has seen patients use chia seeds, which are gluten-free and vegan, as an egg substitute, using the same consistency to cook pancakes and bread.

And chia seeds are a good source of protein, although considerably less than soy or quinoa, Dr. Ring said, making them an ideal supplement for vegetarian diets or anyone looking to cut down on their meat intake. .

“It’s a good trend – it’s healthy,” Ms Czerwony said. “It’s not going to hurt you.”


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