Chia seeds are found in South America and have been around for hundreds of years, thanks to the Aztecs and Mayans who used them as a staple food. The seeds were used both nutritionally and for medicinal purposes where the tiny seeds would be transformed in different ways, but always beneficial. They were stirred into water, or ground into a powder to be used as a medicine, and oil extraction for cooking.
Chia seeds are only slightly smaller than a strawberry seed and are black in colour. They have a very mild, nutty flavour.
Despite their small size, they are however, packed full of important nutrients and are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids. Chia seed is composed of:
High dietary fibre
Minerals, vitamins and dry matter
It also contains high amount of antioxidants, is free from mycotoxins and does not contain gluten.
Research to date suggests that omega-3s can decrease the risk for thrombosis and arrhythmias, which can lead to heart attack and stroke.
Omega-3s may also decrease LDL, total cholesterol and triglyceride levels, reduce atherosclerotic plaque, improve endothelial function and slightly lower blood pressure. Chia seeds are one of the richest sources of plant-based omega-3s, along with flaxseeds, hempseeds and walnuts.
A big benefit of introducing the seeds to your diet is that they are very high in fibre and when soaked in water, the seeds bulk up into a gel like substance making them easily absorbed by the body and thus keeping you feeling fuller for longer.
Just 2 tablespoons of chia seeds contain around 18% of the recommended daily intake of calcium, the crucial mineral to help build bone strength and keep muscles as healthy as possible.
Due to the seeds containing high amounts of antioxidants, researchers in Mexico found that they could stop up to 70% of free radical activity, i.e. reducing the rate of aging skin by preventing the oxidisation of free radicals.
Chia seeds contain all 8 essential amino acids making them a complete protein. This is particularly important in vegetarian and vegan diets where protein can be difficult to come by. Because they are also high in essential minerals such as phosphorus and manganese, the seeds can help replace some lost nutrients from working out and aid in exercise recovery.
Incorporating Chia Seeds into your Diet
They can be eaten raw or cooked, sprinkled on cereal, yoghurt or added to baked goods and smoothies.
If you are experimenting with vegan baking or you just happen to run out of eggs, you can mix 1 tablespoon of chia seeds with 3 tablespoons of water, let them sit for a few minutes until they form a gel. You can use this as a substitute for eggs in baking.