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Chia: Does This Superfood Live Up to All the Health Hype?

chia pets for decoration and healthChia, it's not just for decoration anymore! Our diabetes nutrition expert looks at the dietary benefits.

There’s a new super food on the block. Chia seeds are one of the newest food to be touted as a potent health booster. 

However, if you grew up with memories of commercials showing potted plants with faces growing crazy hair, otherwise known as the Chia Pet, you may be wondering if they are really safe to eat. Sure, chia seeds are the same ones that you can plant to grow into your own ‘chia pet,’ but they can also make a great addition to your meal plan.

Chia is an edible seed from the Mexican plant Salvia hispanica. The word “chia” means strength. These tiny seeds were found to be dietary staples as far back as the Mayan and Inca cultures. Packed full of omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, protein, and antioxidants, chia seeds can be a valuable component to your diet. These seeds can be adsorbed by the body in their whole form and do not need to be ground before eating. Since chia seeds can absorb 9-12 times their volume in fluid, they can also be added into water to create a gel or used to thicken liquids such as a smoothie. 

The Health Benefits of Chia

There are many claims pointing to chia’s ability to promote weight loss, which would be beneficial to those with diabetes aiming for improved blood sugar control, however studies have not backed up this claim. A study out of Appalachian State University in North Carolina found when 50 grams of chia was consumed daily, there was no significant reduction in body weight, body fat, or improvement in cardiovascular markers noted1.

Although chia seeds may not promote significant weight reduction by themselves, adding them to your diet can be beneficial. Chia seeds can be used to replace refined grains or added sugars in recipes, helping to reduce the overall carbohydrate content of a meal while increasing fiber. This substitute may help to promote improved blood sugar levels after eating. Although research has not found chia alone to be responsible for improved body weight, no doubt adding a food that is rich in protein and fiber can boost feelings of satiety after eating. When you feel satisfied after a meal, you may be less inclined to snack in between meals or eat a larger portion at the next meal, which can help you adhere to your meal plan goals.

So how can you go about adding chia seeds into your diet? There are many ways to enjoy these tiny nutrient powerhouses. One of my favorite ways to enjoy chia seeds—while cutting down on added sugar in the diet—is to make your very own chia jam.

It’s easy to do. Simply puree 1 cup of chopped fruit of your choice, such as strawberries, mix the puree together with 1 tablespoon of chia seeds and allow to set for 10 to 20 minutes in the refrigerator. 

Once gelled, the ‘jam’ will provide a fruity, spread that can be added to breads, yogurts, or even on crackers. Compared to commercial jams and jellies, this variety contains no added sweetener while providing you with fiber and protein, which allows it to have less of an impact on blood sugar levels.

What is your favorite way to enjoy chia?

 

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