If you haven’t heard of chia yet, you’ve got some exciting smoothies and juices to look forward to. Chia seed benefits included being packed full of minerals and vitamins, as well as antioxidants, omega 3 and fiber. Chia seeds come from a flowering plant native to Southern Mexico and Guatemala which belongs to the mint family. Chia, which means strength in Mayan, was a staple food for the Aztecs and Mayans who prized them for their ability to provide long-lasting energy.
Much like flax, chia seeds have a nutty flavor that can be added to just about anything. However, unlike flax, chia seeds don’t need to be ground to get their full nutritional benefits and can be eaten whole. In fact, chia seeds expand to nearly 10 times their size, which makes them great for extra bulk in a smoothie, without extra calories! Brown, white or black in color, chia seeds are the missing ingredient for your juice or smoothies – once you’ve tried them, you simply won’t be able to look back.
Chia seeds are packed full of Omega 3’s; they contain more of these essential fats than salmon for instance, and without the added risk of mercury. This healthy fat is important for building new cells and regulating body processes.
Omega 3’s are also famous for improving brain health, in fact they are often recommended to pregnant ladies to help improve the brain health of a developing foetus. Omega 3’s can also help reduce inflammation, lower cholesterol, improve overall cognitive performance, support heart health, and improve skin, hair, and nails. Just add a few teaspoons of chia to your morning juice or smoothie to reap all the benefits.
Chia seeds are naturally gluten free and a low-carb addition to your juice or smoothie (which offers the fullness of carbs without the fat). An ounce of chia has 12 grams of carbohydrates (equivalent to about two tablespoons). But of those 12 grams, 11 are fiber, which isn’t digested by the body and shouldn’t count as a carb – which means the true carbohydrate content of chia is miniscule at only 1g per ounce.
Chia seeds are an incredible source of fiber (40% by weight), which is good for digestive health, reducing inflammation, and lowering cholesterol. Because of their high fiber content, chia seeds can absorb up to 10-12 times their weight in liquid, which makes them become gel-like and expand in your stomach. Added chia in juices or smoothies increase the feeling of fullness and slows down the absorption of nutrients and minerals in your food – which helps you get consume less calories!
This leads us a compelling reason for using chia seeds in your smoothie or juice to get rid of excess weight. Apart from swelling in your stomach, slowing the absorption of food and keeping you full for longer, chia can also help you fight belly fat. This is because chia’s stabilizing effect on blood sugar also fights insulin resistance, which can be tied to belly fat.
Chia seeds also contain the amino acid tryptophan, which helps regulate appetite, to maintain a calmer and more relaxed mood (which can help sleep), and promote weight loss. In addition, the protein in chia seeds can help to diminish appetite and reduce the quantity of food consumed overall.
Apart from protein being a nutrient that promotes weight loss, it has been shown to reduce cravings and night-time snacking. Chia seeds also contain all nine amino acids in proper ratios, making them a form of complete protein. And with the fact that just one 28-gram serving (equivalent to two tablespoons) of chia seeds contains 4.4 grams of protein, which is nearly 10 % of the recommended daily value, adding it to your juice or smoothie gives you a quick and easy protein boost that’s surprisingly easy on the pocket.
Chia seeds are marketed as the performance-boosting secret of the Aztecs and Mayans. But does the science hold up? A recent study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning found that consuming chia seeds enhanced exercise performance for 90-minute workouts much the same as a sugar-laden sports drink would, but without all the sugar. The ability of the seed to absorb 10 times their weight in liquid means many athletes use them as a way to pre-hydrate and prolong hydration during training, while also helping maintain electrolyte levels.
The gel substance formed by mixing chia with liquid coats the stomach and works as a barrier between carbohydrates and your digestive enzymes, slowing down the breakdown process which converts those carbohydrates into sugars. This gives runners a longer period of time (more endurance) before they hit a sugar crash which would cause them to slow down, feel weak or lightheaded. Of course there’s a lot of hype about chia and most of the benefits are anecdotal, but whether they give you increased energy or not, you’re getting more nutrients with just a tablespoon, so why not add it to your juice or smoothie and let us know if you feel any enhanced performance benefits!
Chia has an impressive calcium content, equal to 18% of the recommended daily allowance in a single ounce. So adding two tablespoons to your smoothie or juice gives you 5 times the calcium content of milk, to put that figure into perspective. Calcium protects your teeth and bones, and helps prevent osteoporosis.
Despite their tiny size, a portion of chia seeds added to a smoothie or juice gives you double the amount of potassium as a banana, three times the amount of iron than spinach and a healthy portion of manganese (30% of your recommended intake) – which is great for bone health and for increasing the bioavailability of other essential nutrients such as biotin and thiamin. Chia seeds also contain 27% of your recommended daily value of phosphorous, which helps maintain healthy bones and teeth. Phosphorous is used by the body to make protein for the growth and repair of cells and tissues.
Though perhaps not for everyone, smoothies and juices with added chia end up with a thicker, almost jelly-like texture. This is because the outer layer of the chia seeds swells when mixed in with a smoothie or juice, and this forms a type of gel. This can be used for binding in baking instead of eggs, and just adds to the nutrient content while providing some extra substance in a juice or smoothie! If you’re not a fan of this gelatinous texture, you can just sprinkle chia seeds on top of your smoothie or juice – they’re delicious when crunchy.
Chia seeds are rich in antioxidants – which help protect you from free radicals, aging and diseases like cancer. Combined with a fruit juice or smoothie, you’ll be getting a healthy dose of antioxidants that keeps your skin and body looking and feeling youthful and radiant. The high antioxidant content also stops chia seeds from going rancid – they can last up to two years without being kept in the fridge!
Although studies are still being done, chia’s ability to slow down digestion means it could be a natural treatment for type-2 diabetes. The high fiber content, as well as the gelatinous coating which chia seeds develop when in liquid, slows down the breakdown of carbohydrates – allowing the digestive system to process sugar gradually and preventing blood sugar spikes. Not bad for a tiny seed that can easily be added to your daily juice or smoothie.
Chia seeds have also been shown to reduce blood pressure in diabetes, according to the Cleveland Clinic. They can increase healthy cholesterol, while lowering total, LDL and triglyceride cholesterol – which is great for heart health. These findings corroborate an earlier study published in the Diabetes Care journal, which found that chia seeds can even improve “major and emerging cardiovascular risk factors in type – 2 diabetes”.
With these 12 reasons to add chia to your daily juice or smoothie, the title ‘superfood’ is well-deserved in the case of chia. So add some chia to your life. Just a sprinkle might turn you into the Aztec warrior you always wanted to be.
JUICES Add 1-2 tablespoons of white or black chia in juices after you've juiced. Add it in after you've juiced your juice and allow it to sit for one minute to soften. Alternatively, you can add the chia to a bit of water and let it sit for 5-10 minutes to soften, then add it to your juice when ready.
SMOOTHIES/BLENDED JUICES Add in 1-2 tablespoons of white or black chia to your smoothie before blending. It will blend and soften quickly.
I have a whole chapter on Chia Juice Recipes in my paperback book >> The Juice Lover's Big Book of Juices.