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Are Chia Seeds as Healthy as They Look?

Chia seeds have become immensely popular in recent years. You can find them everywhere; food manufacturers have even added them to bread, cereal, pudding, protein bars, beverages, and more. You might even have started adding them to your smoothies in your kitchen. What's the deal? Are chia seeds a passing fad, or are there valid reasons to make them more of a lasting habit?

Once cultivated by the Aztecs and Mayans, chia seeds are members of the mint family. (Interesting fact: chia is the ancient Mayan word for strength.) Today, they mainly grow in the southwest US and Mexico. Chia seeds deliver a staggering amount of nutrients packaged in a minuscule number of calories. One ounce (about two tablespoons) of chia seeds contains 138 calories, 5 grams of protein, 10 grams of fiber, and 9 grams of fat.

These tiny seeds are loaded with antioxidants. These antioxidants are important because they have a clearly positive effect on your health, mainly by fighting the production of free radicals, which contribute to aging and certain diseases (such as cancer) by damaging molecules in cells. The antioxidants found in chia seeds also protect the delicate fats in the seeds from going bad.

Chia seeds also supply a significant dose of calcium, iron, and magnesium. Chia seeds are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential to brain health. They don't have a lot of flavor on their own, which makes them easy to add to a variety of recipes. They do add a little bit of crunch and texture, but their health benefits are the main reason to try them, not their taste.

You don’t have to grind chia seeds like you do flaxseeds; nor do you have to cook them. When you add a small amount of liquid to chia seeds, you’ll see that they turn into a kind of gel. This effect is because of the soluble fiber they contain. Soluble fiber is good because it makes you feel fuller and more satisfied, bulks up stool, and feeds the beneficial bacteria in your gut. Chia seeds also fight osteoporosis thanks to their high calcium, manganese, and phosphorus content.

Chia seeds might even be able to help you lose weight. The fiber they contain absorbs water and expands the stomach, making you feel fuller and slowing down the speed at which you absorb food. Their protein content also makes them filling and satisfying, which should help reduce appetite and overall food intake. Of course, weight loss takes more than just adding or subtracting a single food to or from your diet, but chia seeds can certainly be a useful addition to healthy eating.

So if you’re wondering if chia seeds really are as healthy as they seem to be, the answer is yes! They’re full of health benefits and are highly versatile, so give them a try.

How to Enjoy Chia Seeds

At one time, if you asked someone how to eat chia seeds, they probably would have told you to add a spoonful to a glass of water and drink it to aid your digestion. That’s not bad advice, but now there are many tastier ways to enjoy them.

  • Add chia seeds to just about anything you’re already eating. Mix them into bread dough, sprinkle them onto yogurt, cereal, or vegetables, or stir them into pancake or muffin batter. The addition of chia seeds to any recipe will automatically boost its nutritional value. 
  • Use them to thicken sauces or as a substitute for egg whites in recipes; their ability to absorb both water and fat make them incredibly easy to add to most anything. 
  • Eat them any time of day. Toss them into your morning smoothie or a sweet pudding for a healthier dessert in the evening. Finding recipes is easy!
  • Watch out for products containing chia seeds. Don’t assume that something is healthy just because chia seeds have been added to it; read the label and make sure it isn’t also full of chemicals, fillers, or sugar. 

Chia seeds are ideal for just about anyone, including those who follow paleo, vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, or raw diets. They are well-tolerated by most people, but if you don't usually eat a lot of fiber, you might want to increase your intake slowly to avoid digestive side effects. Buy a bag of chia seeds and start finding ways to incorporate them little by little into your daily diet. Soon, adding them to your food will be second nature, and you’ll reap their many benefits more and more as time goes on.

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