Chia Seed Benefits for the Microbiome and Overall Health

Delving into the Instagram hashtags foodporn, smoothietime, and healthynotskinny has lead me to a wonderful thing: chia seeds. I'm not much a fan of the word "superfood," but in this case, I'm starting to become a believer.

chia seeds

Chia Seed Benefits

Chia seeds, otherwise known as Salvia hispanica, are flowering plants in the mint family. Their use dates back to pre-Columbian times in the Aztec culture, where historians believe the crop to have been as critical to life as maize.

A little-known fact? Chia seeds are a type of whole grain, which contain the entire grain kernel: the outer covering, or germ, is full of fatty acids and B-vitamins; the endosperm is high in starch, a complex carb; and finally the bran, the source of fiber.

High in Fiber

Each 2 tablespoon serving of chia seeds provides nearly 10 grams of fiber, which is almost 40% of your daily needs. Just to give you an idea, the USDA recommends 14 grams for every 1,000 calories. Following the recommended daily value might help lower the risk of constipation, heart disease, obesity, high cholesterol, and to control blood sugar levels. It may also decrease appetite.

There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber is easily dissolvable in liquid. Without our gut bacteria, insoluble fiber is otherwise indigestible. Chia seeds are mostly soluble fibers, but do contain insoluble fiber as well.

Which brings us to our next point: Complex carbs

The complex carbs found in chia seeds, as with any other whole grain food, are digested slowly, which helps balance out blood sugar. Unlike simple carbs, there are no spikes in blood sugar from digesting complex carbs. In addition, your body thrives with complex carbs as they are a vital source of energy.

How are complex carbs helpful to the microbiome? Our digestive system breaks down these complex carbs into a viscous byproduct, which is then turned into acids and gases by the large intestine. These byproducts encourage beneficial bacteria growth in the lower gut, including the colon.

High in Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Chia seeds are also a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, which many Westerners lack in their diet. These fatty acids are critical to brain and heart health. Some researchers have found that consuming 25 grams (roughly 2 ½ tablespoons daily) can increase some omega-3 fatty acids by nearly 140%.

Researchers have found a deficiency of omega-3 fatty acids in Western guts, which has been linked to dysbiosis and inflammation. Increased intake of omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to reduce the risk of inflammation through decreased lipopolysaccharide production and reduced gut permeability.

Never tried chia seeds? Here's our favorite (and quick!) chia seed and vanilla bean pudding recipe you should check out.

Ingredients

Makes 4 servings

1 cup vanilla-flavored unsweetened almond milk

1 cup homemade yogurt (recipe coming soon)

1 tablespoon pure maple syrup or honey

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/4 cup chia seeds

Directions

Mix the almond milk, yogurt, maple syrup or honey, and vanilla extract in a medium bowl until well blended. Stir in the chia seeds and let stand for ~30 minutes. If the seeds have settled to the bottom, stir to distribute.

Pour the pudding into a mason jar/gladware container with a lid. Shake or stir every 2 hours to evenly distribute the seeds. Otherwise, you might end up with big clumps at the bottom. After 6 hours, your chia seeds have been soaked thoroughly. Nowyou can enjoy plain, in a smoothie, or by adding fruits to the pudding!

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Chia Seed and Vanilla Bean Pudding Nutritional Analysis

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References

Bentley-Hewitt, K.L., De Guzman, C.E., Ansell, J. et al. How fish oils could support our friendly bacteria. Lipid Technology. 2015. 27(8):179-182. DOI: 10.1002/lite.201500035

Cahill, Joseph P. Ethnobotany of Chia, Salvia hispanica L. (Lamiaceae). Economic Botany. 2003. 57(4): 604–618. doi:10.1663/0013-0001(2003)057[0604:EOCSHL]2.0.CO;2

Guarner, F., Malagelada, J.R. Gut flora in health and disease. Lancet. 2003. 361(9356):512-9. DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(03)12489-0

Kaliannan, K., Wang, B., Li,X. et al. A host-microbiome interaction mediates the opposing effects of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids on metabolic endotoxemia. Scientific Reports. 2015. 5:11276. doi:10.1038/srep11276

Kesser, C. Myths and Truths about Fiber. 2012. https://chriskresser.com/myths-and-truths-about-fiber/

Sandoval-Oliveros, M.R. and Paredes-Lopez, O. Isolation and Characterization of Proteins from Chia Seeds (Salvia hispanica L.). Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. 2013. 61(1):193-201. DOI: 10.1021/jf3034978

Vasquez-Ovando, A., Rosado-Rubio, G., Chel-Guerrero, L. et al. Physicochemical properties of a fibrous fraction from chia (Salvia hispanica L.). LWT Food Science and Technology. 2009. 42(1):168-173. Doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.lwt.2008.05.012

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