Chia Seeds

Chia seeds are praised as a superfood for their high dietary fiber content, along with omega-3 fatty acids. As some seeds should be ground to release these nutrients, you may wonder whether you should grind chia seed or can get the benefits while eating them whole.

Whole Versus Ground Chia Seeds

You can use chia seeds whole, unlike flax seed, which must be ground to release its pulp and beneficial oil.

Chia seeds are easily broken open after they are moistened, as you can tell when they pop in your mouth as you chew them. The whole seed will be digested enough in your body to allow the beneficial omega-3 fatty acids to be absorbed. Either whole or ground, they provide the benefits of fiber in your diet.

Whole chia seeds can be used without cooking, such as mixed with yogurt, sprinkled on salads, or in a no-bake pudding. They can also be included in baked goods, soups, and stews. Ground chia seeds produce a meal called pinole, which you can use as an addition to flour in baked goods. You can find both whole and ground chia seeds at health food stores and in many markets, or grind our own.

While you don’t need to grind chia seeds, would you get more benefits from them if you ground them? Researcher David Nieman, Director of the Human Performance Lab at Appalachian State University, has been exploring that question.

He was looking for effects of chia seeds on body weight and body composition, along with other indicators of health, such as blood pressure and blood lipids. He didn’t find those health or weight loss effects in his studies, but he found that the omega-3 fatty acids from ground chia are better absorbed than from the whole chia.

Ground Chia Enhances Omega-3 Absorption

One study led by Nieman involved 56 overweight, post-menopausal women between the ages of 49 and 75 years. The subjects were either given 25 grams (about 3 tablespoons) of whole or milled (ground) chia seeds or a poppy-seed placebo each day for 10 weeks.

They were instructed to maintain their usual dietary and activity patterns, as well as to avoid flaxseed products and fish oil and limit fish and seafood to only one serving per week. These are sources of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), and the researchers wanted chia seeds to be the only dietary source during the study. When consumed, ALA is converted into either DHA or EPA. The subjects were tested for ALA and EPA levels.

At the end of the 10-week period, the subjects who received ground chia seeds had higher blood levels of both ALA and EPA. No significant increase in either of these healthy fatty acids was found in either the whole chia seed or placebo groups. The authors cite their own previous research in which subjects who consumed twice as much chia each day—50 grams (about 6 tablespoons) as whole seeds soaked in water—had raised blood ALA levels compared with placebo. But when compared with the ground chia study, those levels were much lower at the end of 12 weeks than the levels seen by participants in the later study who had ground chia for 10 weeks.

Grinding Chia May Be Better

This small study suggests that grinding chia seeds helps the body reap greater nutritional benefits from them, perhaps by increasing their so-called “bioavailability.” Previous trials have reported similar results from ground flaxseed compared with whole flaxseed. The next time you decide to eat chia seeds for their nutritional benefits, consider grinding them. You can grind chia seeds in a clean coffee grinder or buy ground chia seed meal.

Sources:

Nieman DC, Cayea EJ, Austin MD, Henson DA, McAnulty SR, Jin F. Chia seed does not promote weight loss or alter disease risk factors in overweight adultsNutr Res. 2009 Jun;29(6):414-8.

Nieman DC, Gillit N, Jin F, Henson DA, Kennerly K, Shanely RA, Ore B, Su M, Schwartz S. Chia seed supplementation and disease risk factors in overweight women: a metabolomics investigationJ Altern Complement Med. 2012 Jul;18(7):700-8.

 

 

J Altern Complement Med. 2012 Jul;18(7):700-8. doi: 10.1089/acm.2011.0443.

Abstract

OBJECTIVE/SETTING:

This study assessed the effectiveness of milled and whole chia seed in altering disease risk factors in overweight, postmenopausal women using a metabolomics approach.

DESIGN/INTERVENTION:

Subjects were randomized to chia seed (whole or milled) and placebo (poppy seed) groups, and under double-blinded procedures ingested 25 g chia seed or placebo supplements each day for 10 weeks.

SUBJECTS:

Subjects included 62 overweight (body-mass index 25 kg/m(2) and higher), nondiseased, nonsmoking, postmenopausal women, ages 49-75 years, with analysis based on the 56 subjects who completed all phases of the study.

OUTCOME MEASURES:

Pre- and poststudy measures included body mass and composition, blood pressure and augmentation index, serum lipid profile, inflammation markers from fasting blood samples, plasma fatty acids, and metabolic profiling using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry with multivariate statistical methods including principal component analysis and partial least-square discriminant analysis (PLS-DA).

RESULTS:

Plasma α-linolenic acid (N=ALA) increased 58% (interaction effect, p=0.002) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) 39% (p=0.016) in the milled chia seed group (N=14) compared to nonsignificant changes in the whole chia seed (N=16) and placebo (N=26) groups. Pre-to-post measures of body composition, inflammation, blood pressure, augmentation index, and lipoproteins did not differ between chia seed (whole or milled) and placebo groups (all interaction effects, p>0.05). Global metabolic difference scores for each group calculated through PLS-DA models were nonsignificant (Q(2)Y<0.40), and fold-changes for 28 targeted metabolites associated with inflammation and disease risk factors did not differ between groups.

CONCLUSIONS:

Ingestion of 25 g/day milled chia seed compared to whole chia seed or placebo for 10 weeks by overweight women increased plasma ALA and EPA, but had no influence on inflammation or disease risk factors using both traditional and metabolomics-based measures.

 

 

 

 

We’ve been eating chia seeds for over 5,000 years. To put that in perspective, that brings us way back to the Bronze age, or the era in human history when the earliest forms of writing (shout out to cuneiform!) were developed. In spite of that, most of us only learned about chia seeds within the past few years, thanks to the rise in popularity of chia seed pudding. Like flax seeds, they also make a great substitute for eggs in baking – for one egg, just combine 1 tablespoon ground chia seeds with 3 tablespoons water and let it sit in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes. But have we been eating chia seeds wrong this whole time? According to the video above, we have.

they’re exceptionally high in fiber (one ounce of chia seeds contains 10.7 grams) and they’re also a great source of omega-3 fatty acid with 5 grams per one ounce. But in order to benefit from their exceptional omega-3 content, it looks like we have to grind chia seeds, just like we would with flax.

According to a study published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, subjects who consumed two tablespoons of whole chia seeds daily for ten weeks had no change in their omega-3 levels. But when the subjects consumed the same amount of milled chia seeds, they saw a significant increase in the amount of both short chain and long chain omega-3 levels in their blood. So, it looks like we might want to avoid those pre-packaged chia seed puddings or chia seed-infused drinks — at least if you’re looking to eat them for the omega-3 fatty acid benefits.

Luckily, even if you grind up chia seeds, they still take on that jelly-like texture, so it’s not like we need to vow to never eat chia seed pudding again – but you might want to grind them up in a mini coffee grinder or mortar and pestle first.

 

We recommend trying it with this summery Raspberry Macadamia Coconut Chia Pudding, this Sunrise Nourish Bowl, or this Carrot Cake Chia Pudding.

 

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