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They were once known solely as the source of hair growth for those green, ceramic pets advertised on late-night TV. But chia seeds have more recently enjoyed the warmth of the superfood spotlight, garnering a solid following from wellness-minded people in search of new ways to boost their health.
Chia seeds are tiny powerhouses that are packed with nutrients and, thanks to their surge in popularity, are now available in most regular grocery stores. Their accessibility means that chia seeds are now popping up everywhere — from salad dressings to energy drinks to chocolate bars and puddings. And while you may have had your share of ch-ch-ch-chia, it’s possibly that you may not understand exactly why those little seeds are so vital to good health.
Historically, chia seeds date back as far as 3500 BC, when they were first consumed by Aztec warriors to increase energy and endurance — in fact, the word “chia” actually means “strength” in the Mayan language. And in addition to being a dietary essential at that time, chia seeds were also used for medicinal purposes as well as currency.
The good news is that you don’t have to be an Aztec warrior to reap chia’s rewards. The benefits of chia seeds have been studied repeatedly, and the evidence reveals time and again how effective they are in addressing a variety of issues. These are my five favorites.
Given the high fiber content in chia seeds, it’s no surprise that they play an impactful role in digestive health. In fact, there are nearly 11 grams of fiber in every ounce of chia seeds, which means one serving of this superfood will account for more than one-third of your recommended daily fiber intake, as advised by the American Dietetic Association. And because high-fiber foods help keep things moving, they therefore play a crucial role in the prevention of digestive disorders such as leaky gut.
From those suffering from adrenal fatigue or chronic fatigue syndrome, to folks trying to recover after pulling an all-nighter for work, there are no shortage of people looking for all-natural ways to boost their energy levels. Remember those chia-eating Aztec warriors? Well, they were so convinced of the seeds’ energy-boosting ability that chia seeds were thought to provide supernatural powers. Fast-forward a few thousand years and a study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning found that chia seeds actually enhance fitness performance. Researchers concluded that chia had the same effect on 90-minute workouts as a typical sports drink—but without all the sugar.
Chia boasts a high level of healthy fats, including offering more omega-3, ounce-for-ounce, than salmon. Why is that important? According to the Cleveland Clinic, the healthy fats in chia seeds may lower total, LDL, and triglyceride cholesterol levels. Additionally, they can also help raise HDL levels (aka the “good” cholesterol). Further benefits include blood pressure and cholesterol regulation as well as the reversal of inflammation.
In addition to raising energy levels, chia is also an all-natural metabolism booster — a critical quality for those looking to shed a few (or more) pounds. Also, the fact that chia seeds are one of the top plant-based sources of protein means that your body will have everything it needs to build lean muscle to burn even more fat. And, chia seeds can absorb up to 10 times their weight in water, thus slowing digestion and keeping you full and hydrated longer. (Read: No cravings!) Just make sure to drink lots of water when adding chia seeds to your diet so that your digestion doesn’t slow down too much and lead to constipation. Finally, chia seeds are also packed with antioxidants and essential minerals including calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and others. So incorporating chia into your diet will help replace many of the nutrients lost during exercise.
As mentioned earlier, chia seeds are a jackpot in terms of getting in your vitamins and minerals. Given that nearly 99 percent of the body’s calcium is found in a person’s bones and teeth, it’s obvious why chia seeds are so valuable for bone and dental health. Just one ounce of chia seeds has 18 percent of the recommended daily amount of calcium. Additionally, chia’s abundance of zinc helps prevent tartar build-up and fight bad breath.