Chia seeds are ancient grains which have suddenly become very popular in recent times. We see chia seeds being added to smoothies, juices, yogurt, oats and so on. Why have chia seeds become so popular that people are adding them in so many commonly used recipes? Let us see what are these chia seeds.

Chia (Salvia hispanica L.) belongs to the family Lamiaceae (Genera Salvia Specie; hispanica). It is an annual herbaceous plant and originated from Mexico and northern Gualtemala. In pre-Columbian Central America along with maize, amaranth, and beans, chia seeds also served as a staple food. They are oval in shape, about 1 to 2mm in size. They are black, grey or black spotted to white in colour.

Chia seeds are used in the form of

  1. Whole seeds
  2. Mucilage
  3. Flour
  4. Oil seed

Chia seeds as functional foods

European Parliament declared Chia as a functional food and this had an immense influence on chia seeds becoming very popular all over the world. Chia seeds are thought to be a safe food with no potentially harmful effects and are used in several products such as

  1. Baked products
  2. Nutritional supplements
  3. Cereal bars
  4. Bread
  5. Snacks etc.

Nutritional value of chia seeds

Chia seeds contain about 16 % protein, lipids 30 % and carbohydrate 42 %. Most of the carbohydrate present in Chia seeds is dietary fiber. Chia seeds because of their significant amount of fibre can absorb up to 15 times water the weight of seed.

Protein

When we talk about protein in chia seeds, they have more protein than any cereal. That is, they contain 16 % or even little more depending on the variety. And unlike cereals chia seed protein is a complete protein that is it provides all the essential amino acids we need. And it does not have any gluten, therefore safe for people with celiac disease.

Dietary fiber

Chia seeds are a very good source of fiber. Dietary fiber is more than 30 % in chia seeds which is more than what flax seeds, quinoa, and amaranth seeds contain. Any food rich in fiber is good for

  1. Managing body weight
  2. Preventing constipation
  3. Managing glucose levels for diabetic people
  4. Reducing the risk of heart problems.

Oil

Chia seeds have a significant amount of oil that is about 30 % and they contain omega 3 and omega 6 polyunsaturated fatty acids.  About 64 % is omega 3 fatty acids and about 19 % omega 6 fatty acids are present in chia seed oil on an average basis. Chia seeds are supposed to be the best source of these fatty acids among known food sources. It is an established fact that these fatty acids have several health benefits.

Minerals

Compared to cereals chia seeds are good sources of calcium, potassium and phosphorous. They also contain iron, selenium, and zinc which are important for the immune system of our body.

Phytochemicals

There are many polyphenols present in chia seeds which have strong antioxidant activities. The polyphenol compounds present in chia seeds are

  1. Myricetin
  2. Quercetin
  3. Kaempferol
  4. Caffeic acid
  5. Flavonol glycosides
  6. Chlorogenic acid.

Because of the presence of fiber, omega 3 and 6 fatty acids and antioxidants chia seeds are attributed with several therapeutic effects such as

  1. Control of diabetes, dyslipidaemia, hypertension
  2. Anti-inflammatory
  3. Antioxidant
  4. Anti-blood clotting
  5. Prevents constipation
  6. Antidepressant and antianxiety
  7. Immune improver
  8. Anti-carcinogenic
  9. Anti-obesity.