Chia Seeds: Truth in Trends?

I’ve never been into the fad diet scene, but a doctor recently advised me to try a tablespoon of chia seeds every day. At first, I was a bit hesitant because I’ve never been much of a seed eater and I don’t really know much about them. I’m all about natural, simple preventative health, so I thought I would give it a try. The more I stuck to spooning little bits into my cereal every morning, the more I started to notice small positive changes to my health. Wrestling with the strange power of these mysterious seeds, I started to look into some background on this trendy dietary supplement.

The History of Chia

The rich religious and colonial history of this seed is important to note in our recent culture of food fads. During my JVC Orientation, a speaker gave a talk on how avocado toast is cultural food appropriation and it rocked my world. Before listing the benefits and possible negative side effects, I want to give tribute to their origins and traditional use.

According to a report from the Phytochemistry Review, Chia, or Salvia hispanica L. “is an annual herbaceous plant, native of southern Mexico and northern Guatemala.” They were considered “one of the basic foods in the diet of several Central American civilizations including Mayan and Aztec populations.” Important to ancient civilizations, it was most likely used in “tribute to the capital of Aztec Empire.” It played a major societal and religious role for Central Americans until European conquerors banned it for this same reason. Chia did not resurface into the mainstream until the 1990s. These little seeds are now mass produced and shipped worldwide to contribute to everyday preventative health. I am not a medical professional by any means, but here are some benefits and side effects of chia I found through some research.

Benefits of Chia Seeds

Chia is rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, meaning they can “protect from inflammation, enhance cognitive performance and reduce the level of cholesterol’.” They are also rich in polyphenols, chemicals that act as “antioxidant compounds protecting the body from free radicals, aging and cancer.” Chia is quite fibrous, which is “associated with reducing inflammation, lowering cholesterol and regulating bowel function”. Furthermore, they contain “protein and unsaturated fats – all of which are known to support a healthy heart and stable blood-sugar levels.” Huffington Post reports that chia is currently being studied as a natural treatment for type-2 diabetes because of its ability to slow down digestion.” Chia also contains a significant amount of calcium, contributing to better bone health.

Possible Side Effects

The resurfacing of chia is fairly new, so there aren’t many studies that prove or disprove any concrete effects. However, Bustle reports that the glucose levels can affect blood sugar levels. The Omega-3 “can actually cause your blood to thin out,” possibly causing excessive bleeding. While chia can help ease stomach pains, they can also cause diarrhea and constipation as well. You could experience “rashes, hives, or watery eyes” from an allergic reaction to chia. As with any food, moderation seems to be key.

After a few months of eating them semi-regularly I really do feel better, even if that’s just a placebo effect. Overall, my stomach feels more at ease on a day to day basis. However, I also recognize these seeds are not part of my culture. I think that eating these seeds in moderation is not only healthy, but a respective move in preserving resources.

If you decide to jump on the bandwagon, here are some basic recipe ideas to help you incorporate chia into your life.

Easy Recipes

Yogurt, granola, fruit, and chia — so healthy!

Polenta with chia and various savory toppings. My favorite kind of polenta is the mushy-oatmeal kind. It’s like oatmeal but salty!

The good ol’ morning cereal with chia sprinkles.

Toast and Jam (or nutella!) with chia sprinkled on top.

Oatmeal with brown sugar and chia. Sweet and nutritious!

Cover photo by Milada Vigerova on Unsplash

About Emily

Emily Win (she/her/hers) — Regular Contributor, Editor — She is currently earning her MA in Creative Writing and Critical Life from the University of Leeds in Leeds, England, but she embraces Toledo, Ohio as her hometown. Her passion for faith and justice led her to Saint Louis University, where she continued to explore issues of poverty and homelessness through tutoring, mentoring, companionship, and outreach. During her year as a Case Manager at a teen crisis shelter she learned that she loves working with teenagers and hopes to continue this work in some capacity in the future. Emily’s personal and professional interests exist in the intersection of writing, literature, and activism, specifically in regards to sexuality and gender. She is currently working on a collection of poetry/creative non-fiction that exposes, complicates, and affirms the relationship between womanhood, queerness, and Christianity. (Tucson 2017-2018)