These tiny seeds also provide a host of beneficial plant compounds that have a lot to offer in the management of diabetes and heart disease.
You might be all about eating dark leafy greens regularly, or making sure you have blueberries on your oatmeal every darn day, but here’s one nutrient-dense food group you’re likely overlooking: seeds.
“One surprising food you should eat every day and likely don’t are seeds! Some wonderful examples include pumpkin, sunflower, chia, flax, hemp, and poppy,” says Justine Rosado, RD, CDN, CDCES.
Although nuts seem to always be in the spotlight, Rosado says that it’s time for seeds to steal the show. “Often overshadowed by nuts, seeds are tiny powerhouses loaded with healthy fats, essential vitamins and minerals, and protein. The health benefits of consuming seeds include cholesterol-lowering effect and antioxidant properties,” she continues, pointing to this research.
The healthy fats in seeds play a crucial role in micronutrient absorption in the body. “Seeds are rich in unsaturated fats, which are known to enhance vitamin absorption and transport, and contain anti-oxidative properties,” elaborates Rachel Fine, RDN, of To The Pointe Nutrition.
Flax and chia seeds come out on top
Flax seeds, specifically, are a favorite of Fine’s because they contain antioxidants and boast an essential fatty acid known as alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). “Flax seeds are my favorite and often the most economical seed. Flax is a rich source of lignans, a powerful phytochemical with anti-oxidative characteristics,” says Fine, noting that flax also contains the highest percentage of omega-3 fatty acids (ALA) per serving. “ALA fatty acids convert in the body to EPA and DHA, which are two important omega-3s specifically important for heart health and brain health,” she adds.
Fine is a fan of chia, as well. “Chia seeds are rich in soluble fiber, which has been shown to improve cholesterol. Fiber also helps to keep us full between meals, maintains blood sugar control for sustainable energy, and promotes digestive regularity,” offers Fine. “Chia seeds are also a great source of calcium and unlike flax, don’t need the extra step of grinding before eating (chia is easier for the body to digest without the need to grind the seeds beforehand).”
Chia seed nutrition facts
The tiny black or white seeds from the Salvia hispanica plant add loads of fiber and omega-3 fatty acids whether you eat them dry or soaked into a gel. These tiny seeds also provide a host of beneficial plant compounds that have a lot to offer in the management of diabetes and heart disease.
The following nutrition information is provided by the USDA for 1 ounce (28g) of dry chia seeds.
In 1 ounce of dried chia seeds, there are 12 grams of carbohydrates. Of this, nearly 10 grams come from fiber. There is no sugar in chia seeds.
Chia seeds are high in healthy fats with 8.7 grams in a 1-ounce serving. About 60% of the fat in chia seeds comes from the beneficial omega-3 fatty acids also known as linolenic and alpha-linolenic acid. Research has shown that omega 3 fatty acids help with cardiovascular health by lowering cholesterol, regulating heart rhythms and blood pressure, decreasing inflammation, and preventing blood clots.
Chia seeds have 4.7 grams of protein per ounce. Unlike most plant foods, chia seeds contain all nine amino acids, making them a good plant-based source of complete protein.
Vitamins and Minerals
Chia seeds provide vital micronutrients, especially minerals. In a 1-ounce serving, you’ll get 179mg of calcium (about 13% of the daily value) and 2.2g of iron (about 12% of the daily value). Chia seeds are an excellent source of magnesium and a good source of zinc.
Some health benefits of Chia seeds
Aids diabetes management
The high fiber and omega-3 fatty acid content of chia seeds is a winning combination for long-term diabetes care. In patients with type 2 diabetes, consuming 15 grams per 1000 calories of chia seeds for 12 weeks has shown to reduce C-reactive protein (a marker of inflammation) by 40% and clotting effects by 20%. When 24 grams of chia seeds was added to bread, the sugar levels were managed better than when 7 grams were added.
Promotes heart health
Human studies on chia seeds have shown them to effectively lower triglyceride and blood pressure levels in healthy subjects. Although the sample size was small, 12 volunteers were given 50 grams of chia seeds for one month. As a result, diastolic blood pressure went down about 5 points and triglycerides were reduced by 20 points. An independent risk factor for heart disease, visceral fat level, also appears to improve with increased intake of chia seeds.
Supportsimmune system function
Chia seeds are an excellent source of omega-3s, which provide well-established benefits for the immune system, including various types of T-cells and B-cells.
Omega-3s support the function of macrophages in innate immunity. By increasing the phagocytic activity of macrophages, omega-3s help the body dispose of damaged cells and pathogens.
Omega-3s also become embedded in the cell walls of neutrophils (white blood cells) making them more flexible and faster at migrating to areas where they’re needed. If you’re not getting enough omega-3s in your diet (and most people don’t), eating more chia seeds can help strengthen your immune system.
Reduces risk of cancer
Chia seeds contain a beneficial flavonol, kaempferol. Food sources of kaempferol demonstrate anticancer potential through their ability to affect several cellular mechanisms including apoptosis and signaling. For instance, kaempferol blocks the action of bisphenol A (BPA), an endocrine-disrupting chemical found in plastics and processed foods.
Kaempferol is proactive against several forms of cancer, including breast cancer, liver cancer, brain cancer, colon cancer, and more. As a whole food, chia seeds offer several additional cancer-fighting compounds, like quercetin and dietary fiber. With few negative side effects and lots of potential benefits, chia seeds help supply your body with free radical protection.