What do President Obama, a house plant and a health food snack all have in common?
That’s right, the kitschy ceramic novelty planters that sprout “hair” from chia seeds and were all the rage in the late 1970s, and now bear the likeness of such notables as the POTUS, Newt Gingrich and SpongeBob SquarePants are also the very same seeds that health-conscious people spanning the globe have recently embraced as one of the most well-rounded superfoods available.
Appropriately, the ancient Mayan word itself means “strength” and at 137 calories, a one-ounce (28 grams) serving packs a wallop of a nutritional punch that breaks down as follows:
Carbohydrates: 12 grams (11 of which are fiber)
Protein: 4 grams
Fat: 9 grams
Calcium: 28 percent Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA)
Phosphorous: 27 percent RDA
Manganese: 30 percent RDA
Additionally, chia seed (a whole grain seed deriving from the Salvia hispanica plant), which is part of the mint family, is gluten-free and most often organically grown.
The seed has been riding atop a health food trend for the past few years, thanks in large part to its nutritional edge over flax seed, as well as its comparative ease of preparation, in that, unlike flax seeds, chia seeds needn’t be ground and can easily be sprinkled over oatmeal and yogurt or blended seamlessly into any number of different recipes.
Although prized and consumed for thousands of years for its nutritional value, there are scant modern nutritional studies of the chia seed to measure its health benefits in humans. A few, however, do exist, the most successful of which seems to be one involving the seed’s effects on subjects with type 2 diabetes.
In a 12-week study, type 2 diabetic patients were either given 37 grams of wheat bran or 37 grams of chia seeds to determine if the seeds were associated with cardiovascular improvement. Subjects given the chia seeds experienced only a slight drop in blood sugar that was not statistically significant, but showed significant improvements in other key health markers.
Systolic blood pressure, for example, dropped by 6.3 mmHg and an inflammatory marker known as hs-CRP, which is used to measure a patient’s risk for heart disease was reduced by nearly half. The risk factor vWF, also dropped 21 percent in the group eating chia seeds.
Furthermore, while studies of weight loss involving chia are not prevalent and have so far proven inconclusive in measuring the seed’s association with weight loss, consider that chia seeds absorb nine to 12 times their weight in water and expand in the stomach, which, theoretically should help a dieter feel more full after eating fewer calories. The antioxidant-rich seed is also a soluble form of fiber, which can benefit metabolism.
Along this line, a recent study published in Annals of Internal Medicine tends to bolster claims of a link between a high fiber diet and weight loss. The study, while not focusing specifically on chia seeds, involved increasing the fiber intake of subjects to determine a link between fiber consumption and weight loss. The results from the study highlighted a loss of between 2 to 6 pounds of weight in the high-fiber group of test subjects.
Given the positive results of this study, as well as the seed’s rise in popularity and increased mainstream consumption, there is high potential for more studies to take place that investigate the link between the seeds and weight loss, as well as its numerous other potential health benefits.
Looking for some fun ways to incorporate chia into your diet? Here are some mouth-watering recipes.