Leanne Ward
(Accredited Practising Dietitian and Accredited Nutritionist)


 

If you haven’t heard of chia seeds before, you must be living under a rock. Chia seeds are the same little guys that were used in chia pets back in the day (remember those terracotta animals which grew green carpet like fur?) These versatile little seeds have an impressive nutrition panel but are they all they're cracked up to be? Read on to find out!

 

 Chia Shaggy Pet!


The little seeds originated from a plant in the mint family called Salvia hispanica L. which was primarily from South and Central America. Chia seeds have been around since Aztec times and were once considered a staple food. Nowadays, they are making a comeback into our kitchens. They are found in two colours, black and white depending on the colour of the flower they come from. The difference between the two types however is negligible as they both contain roughly the same amount of nutrients so choosing either colour will still provide you with loads of nutrition, you can alternatively mix the two colours together.



Chia Field in South America 

 

Chia seeds are well known for their wonderful nutrition profile. One 15g (1 tbs) serving of chia seeds from Power Super Foods gives: 305kJ, 2.5g protein, 4.6g fat (majority healthy fats), 1g of available carbohydrate, 5.1g fibre, 94mg calcium, 50mg magnesium, 1.15mg iron and 61mg potassium. Did I loose you? Let me make it a little simpler for you by talking about the key nutritional benefits of chia seeds.

 

 Nutrition


Fibre:

One of the biggest benefits of chia seeds I find is in the fibre. At 5.1g per tablespoon, they really pack a punch in terms of additional benefits for digestive health. Chia seeds contain both soluble and insoluble fibre. The insoluble fibre passes through your digestive system and assists with adding bulk to your foods and can even help with constipation. Other great benefit of increasing the fibre in your diet is that it can help to keep you feeling fuller for longer, and may in turn help to reduce overconsumption of food. I usually tell my clients that anything over 3-4g of fibre per serve is a good goal so chia seeds definitely tick this box.

 

Protein:

Chia seeds also contain a decent amount of protein for a plant based source (especially for those who eat little or no animal products), plus an added bonus is they don't contain any cholesterol. One 15gram serving of these super seeds has 2.5grams of protein, and an additional benefit is that they contain all 8 essential amino acids making it easier for our bodies to use the protein. Adding chia seeds to another protein source is a great option eg. mixing them into yoghurt or sprinkling them on a tofu stir-fry. Protein in our diets can help to keep up feeling full and can help us preserve muscle mass ad help your body to repair cells.


Calcium:

A 15g serving of chia seeds has nearly 10 per cent of the recommended daily intake for calcium. A few serves of chia seeds a day will put you well on your way to maintaining healthy bones, teeth and preventing osteoporosis. Chia seeds are a fabulous option for those that choose not to eat or drink dairy products. If you are following a plant based diet, adding chia seeds to other plant based forms of calcium will further boost your intake for the day - eg. fortified orange juice, fortified tofu or some greens.

 

Omega 3:

Chia seeds are a high plant based source of omega 3.You may have heard the claim that gram for gram, chia seeds contain more omega 3 than salmon. Well, this isn't incorrect, however we need to keep a few things in mind, let me explain further. The omega 3 family consist of EPA, DHA and ALA. EPA and DHA are derived from marine sources. ALA is derived from plants based sources and this is the type of omega 3 that chia seeds contain. ALA needs to be converted to EPA and DHA in the body in order for the body to use it. The issues is that the rate of conversion remains unknown (it is assumed to be a small amount). So although it is a high plant based source of omega 3, how much is actually converted and used remains unknown. All in all, chia seeds are great for those who can’t or choose not to eat animal derived omega 3 as they can get omega-3 from this plant based source too. Having said this, it is important to note that ALA alone is a great option for everyone (including those who eat marine sources) as there is good evidence that supports 2g/day of ALA decreases the risk of coronary heart disease.

  

Energy:

And finally, just be mindful that although chia seeds have some wonderful health properties, they still contain energy so should be substituted for other ingredients if your goal is weight maintenance or weight loss. As a tablespoon of chia seeds contains 305kJ, it’s a good idea to remove another ingredient (if you're watching your weight) or to be mindful of the number of servings you have or you risk outweighing any of the seeds other health advantages.

Now that we know the fabulous health benefits of chia seeds, what about the evidence. I've heard many big claims regarding chia seeds promoting weight loss and assisting heart health, but is it true? Unfortunately chia seeds haven't been studies enough to confirm or deny anything. There is no strong or conclusive evidence that eating chia seeds leads to weight loss but I guess we should know by now that there is no miracle weight loss pill anyway and the best way to manage our health is to include chia seeds into a healthy and varied diet along with regular exercise and a good amount of sleep! I will let you know however that there is a small amount of emerging evidence that chia seeds can assist with heart health but again, this needs more research. Bottom line however, more trials are needed before we can recommend chia seeds for weight loss or cardiac benefits. The best thing you can do for your weight and your health is to include chia seeds into a healthy eating plan and an active lifestyle.

 Chia is great for people with allergies

 

Not only do chia seeds have a wonderful nutrition panel, they are also very helpful for people with allergies and intolerances. Chia seeds are gluten free (making them appealing to those with Coeliac Disease) and also a great product for those with allergies to nuts, eggs, fish or soy as they can be used as substitutes or nutritional boosts. As well as being naturally gluten free, chia seeds are also a fabulous option for those who are health conscious as they are a wholefood, typically grown organically, typically non-GMO, raw, vegan and have a low GI. Finally, chia seeds are naturally high in antioxidants which we know fights the production of free radicals, which can damage our cells and contribute to ageing and diseases like cancer.

 

 

Chia Puddings @the_fitness_dietitian

 

Chia seeds are so easy to incorporate into your diet a they basically have no taste and are very versatile. They also have an unusual gelling property so can easily be used as egg substitutes in baking or thickeners in other recipes. Chia seeds can be added to smoothies, sprinkled on salads, cereals or veggies or even added into muffins, cakes, biscuits or pancakes. If you haven't tried chia puddings yet, you're seriously missing out!

 

A word of warning, never consume chia seeds in a heap straight off the spoon as they expand uncomfortably and can cause oesophageal blockage. Consume chia seeds only after they have fully expanded in liquid, although they are also fine when scattered on your salads or in trail mix. Also, if you do not currently have a diet high in fibre, introduce chia seeds slowly as some people may experience GI upsets due to the high fibre content (and not being used to this). Start with just one teaspoon and work up from there.

 

So there you have it. A tiny seed with enormous nutritional benefits. If you've never tried them before, why not give my 5 ingredient chia, cinnamon pancakes a go - you'll never eat another pancake again (especially when you layer them with maqui/chia pancakes too!).


 

Chia/Cinnamon - Chia/Maqui pancakes

 

Ingredients:

1 cup milk (or milk alternative)

1 ripe banana

1 1/4 cups wholemeal self-raising flour (or flour alternative)

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tbs chia seeds

For the maqui version, add 1 tsp maqui powder to the mixture.

Optional ingredients: sweetener, 1 tsp vanilla essence.

 

Method:

1. Place all ingredients into a high speed blender and blend until a smooth batter is formed (add more or less milk/flour for desired consistency).

2. Pour batter into fry pan and cook like normal pancakes (I cooked half the pancakes with the first 5 ingredients then added macqui powder to the remaining batter and cooked them too).

3. Layer pancakes on a plate and top with whatever takes your fancy (eg. yoghurt for a protein and calcium boost, fresh fruit for a fibre and antioxidant boost or chia seed jam and na-na ice-cream for a vegan friendly nutrition boost).

 

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