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All-in-one superfood: Why chia seeds in your breakfast bowl can reduce blood sugar, fight cholesterol and improve gut health

You wake up on the right side of the bed and decide you will be getting your diet back on track. You start with enthusiasm which is then pinned down by hunger pangs. Sounds familiar? Next time try adding just a couple of tablespoons of chia seeds to your meals. Not only would the soluble dietary fibre keep you full for a longer period but satisfy the nutrients that your body needs.

Chia seed is a power pack food with dietary fibre, good quality protein, essential fats, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals such as iron, calcium, magnesium and zinc required for proper functioning of body metabolism. Recently, one study showed that chia seeds inhibited the activity of ChE, owing to the abundant quantity of phenol they possess. Moreover, research has been able to back chia seeds as part of a healthy diet with nutritional benefits, which reduce blood sugar spikes and cardiovascular risk factors like high blood pressure, triglycerides and bad cholesterol. It has been backed by The European Parliament and Council of Europe to be a novel food.

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Greatest source of Omega 3 fatty acids

But let’s talk about its significance in our nation, where a 100 gram packet costs about 90 rupees. Did you know that this rich seed has six times as much calcium and eleven times as much phosphorus as milk, making it excellent for maintaining bone health for vegans? It is becoming more well-known as one of the greatest plant sources of Omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for maintaining heart and brain health.

However, contrary to the preconceived notion that we need to turn to fish or fish oil supplements, in plant-derived foods these come well in the form of Omega-3 fatty acids that our body converts into DHA and has a crucial role in better cognition and eyesight.

Boon for gut health

Festive offer

Since eating out and ready-to-eat foods are so readily available in today’s fast-paced society, the majority of Indians consume inadequate amounts of dietary fibre. Just one tablespoon (15 g) of chia seeds, which include roughly 5 g of soluble fibre, provides more than 12 per cent of the daily Indian RDA for total dietary fibre (approx. 40g/d is recommended). When it is being digested, it releases bioactive compounds that support the development of several healthy gut microbes crucial for intestine health, better bowel movements and improved immunity. To prevent IBS, colon cancer, and chronic disorders, resistant starches and insoluble fibres are also very crucial. Because whole grains, fruits and vegetables include insoluble fibre, WHO recommended that >25 g of the total dietary fibre should come from them. Therefore, try to keep your chia seed intake to not more than 15 g per day (3 tablespoons unsoaked) to meet the requirements of soluble fibres. If dietary fibres are consumed in excess (> 60g/d in total), it is going to hinder nutrient absorption and lead to diarrhoea.

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Cardio-protective effects

Chia seeds are the richest plant source of Omega-3 fatty acids with 60 per cent of their oil being loaded with them. Due to its capacity to hold water, the soluble fibre in chia seeds binds with bile to lower levels of LDL cholesterol (generally labelled as bad).

Omega-3 fatty acids play a key role in preventing the formation of clots and plaques in our arteries. What that means is that these seeds help in lowering cholesterol, regulating heart rhythms and blood pressure, preventing blood clots and decreasing inflammation. A cohort study done on nearly 60,000 individuals led us to the conclusion that those with the highest intakes of Omega-3 fatty acids had a 17 per cent reduced risk of cardiovascular mortality than the other subset.

Boost to metabolism

Being rich in micronutrients, chia seeds help to maintain normal nerve and muscle function, support a healthy immune system, keep the heartbeat steady, and help bones remain strong. They aid in the production of energy, protein and nucleic acids. There are nutraceutical benefits associated because of antioxidants and the phenolic compounds found in them, which may decrease the invasiveness of cancer cells, improve the clinical outcome and reduce inflammation, edema, hormonal imbalances and high uric acid.

Lower blood sugar spikes

Chia seeds include dietary fibres, which slow down digestion and promote feelings of fullness. This can help lower blood sugar spikes after meals. The improvement of insulin resistance is brought about by lowering the inflammatory marker (C-reactive protein).

Although superfoods like sunflower seeds, millets and quinoa are increasingly becoming popular, chia seeds have seen the biggest rise in popularity in recent years. Linking with the growing demand for functional foods and nutritional supplements, chia-based protein is establishing its position as a source of plant-based protein supplements, plant-based dairy alternatives, sport beverages and egg replacers all over the world.

Chia seeds are a fairly simple component with excellent nutritional qualities. This grain is extremely in-demand and well-liked among households. Numerous novel items are available due to their exceptional functional properties, including chia seeds in nut butter, granola bars, plant-based health supplements, plant-based cookies, ladoos, cakes, other baked products, dairy alternatives, and much more as your imagination is the limit.

Chia seeds are an all-in-one solution for many lifestyle diseases and the fact that they have amazing functionalities makes them a godsend for all those innovative home chefs out there.

How to consume chia seeds

The question often arises whether these seeds should be eaten ground or whole. Chia seeds are a highly versatile ingredient and can be consumed either way. A good thumb rule is that while eating the seeds dry, choosing ground chia may help improve absorption. Do not consume water right after having whole chia seeds.

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A case report was presented at the American College of Gastroenterology Annual Scientific Meeting in 2014 wherein a patient consumed a glass of water right after having dry chia seeds. The seeds expanded in his oesophagus and caused a blockage. Chia seeds are very adaptable and can be consumed both soaked and dry. It is advisable to soak them for 20 minutes to add as top-ups over breakfast porridges, soups, lemonades, juices and plant-based smoothies.

You can also cook chia seeds using plant-based milk to prepare nutritious porridge or pudding. The next time you bake, consider switching to the plant-based ingredient. Grounded dry seeds are excellent emulsifiers and can readily replace eggs in the baking business thanks to their ability to hold onto water. Since they have little to no distinctive flavour, they don’t overpower other ingredients in cake batter, biscuit doughs, jams and marmalades. Ground dry seeds can also be included in nutrition bars, high protein crackers and any other bakery items. That’s why chia seeds are bang for the buck. Although higher in price, they indeed go a long way.

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(The author is Executive Director, Plant Based Foods Industry Association)

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