I got curious, went to Whole Foods, bought a pack, got back home and throw a handful in my green protein smoothie. And guess what: I loveeeed it. It thickens up nicely and adds a certain je ne sais quoi!
I wanted to know more about it, so I did my fair share of research and discovered the following...
The chia (also known as Salvia hispanica) is a species of flowering plant in the mint family native to central and southern Mexico and Guatemala. Nowadays chia is grown commercially mainly for its seed.
Chia seeds are small ovals with a diameter of about 1 mm (0.039 in). They are mottle-colored with brown, gray, black and white.
In fact, Chia was so valued that it was given as an annual tribute by the people to the rulers.
Nutritional value of chia seeds
1 ounce (i.e., 28 grams) of chia seeds scores 137 calories, 9 grams of fat (8 grams poly and 1 gram saturated fats), 6 grams of carbs, 11 grams of fiber (1.2 grams soluble, 9.8 grams insoluble) and 4 grams of protein.
The protein content of chia exceeds that of other grains and seeds (chia is about 20 percent protein compared with 14 percent for wheat). In addition, the protein is of higher quality, as determined by its amino acid composition. Chia is limited in lysine, which is often the case for vegetarian protein sources. The overall amino acid score for chia is 114 (based on a target of 100 for a full amino acid profile) vs. only 43 for wheat. Chia lacks only one essential aminoacid, taurine.
Chia also offers a variety of minerals, including iron, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, zinc, manganese, molybdenum and magnesium. Chia contains niacin and folic acid too.
Chia seeds are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, as the seeds yield 25-30% extractable oil, including α-linolenic acid (ALA).
When combined with water chia seeds form a thick gel. If you add add a tablespoon of seeds to one cup water after just 15 minutes they form a thick jelly-like mass.
It has been said that each seed absorbs water nine to ten times its weight.
Chia seeds as a weight loss food
Chia seeds have become popular as a weight loss food. It has been claimed that they may reduce cravings by blocking some of the food that you eat from getting absorbed. By preventing calorie absorption chia seeds should therefore help you dieting.
A recent study found that chia seeds did not decrease appetite or aid in weight loss. However, as they are packed with protein, fat and fiber, they might eventually slow down digestion and make you feel full longer.
Because of that, as a part of a well balanced diet chia seeds might help with weight loss.
Chia seeds for athletes
There’s evidence that the “chia gel” is also great for athletes because it helps with hydration No research has yet been published on this, but supposedly, once the seed has absorbed water it is difficult to remove it from the seed, so that it is a long lasting hydration source.
Recently I've seen many triathletes ingesting a couple of tablespoons of chia seeds before the race for this same reason. I'm not 100% convinced that there's actually something to it, but who knows...
Other health benefits
There's evidence suggesting that chia seeds can reduce blood pressure because of their content of soluble fiber.
They’re also among the richest plant source of Omega-3.
Because chia seeds are supposed to slow down how fast our bodies convert carbohydrates into simple sugars, there are indications that this can control blood sugar. This leads to believe chia seeds may have great benefits for diabetics.
How to use chia seeds
You can sprinkle chia seeds over cereal and muesli or use them to coat rissoles, meatloaf or burgers (they add a pleasant crunch to the exterior just like poppy seeds).
Personally, I like to add a tablespoon of chia seeds to my post-workout smoothie. But you can also mix them in juices, yogurts and soups.
My fave recipe with chia seeds is this raw chocolate pudding: Awesome!