Lower Cholesterol Naturally – with Chia!
People with high cholesterol looking for an all-natural way to lower their numbers might want to consider taking 2 tablespoons of chia seed each day. Exactly how can one food significantly lower cholesterol and heart disease risk?
ONE: Soluble Fiber
Chia is covered in a very unique soluble fiber. Unlike the soluble fiber of oats or flax seed, Chia’s fiber is hydrophilic – meaning it can absorb approximately 10-12 times the weight of the seed in water*. When chia seeds come in contact with liquid, they soak up the water and turn into a gel. Being hydrophilic means that Chia prolongs hydration and retains electrolytes in body fluids which protects against dehydration and promotes endurance and recovery. This gel stays in the system for a long time and helps to control blood sugar levels by slowing down the conversion of carbohydrates into sugars. This can also help to reduce cravings for sugar while slowing the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream. The digestive system uses the nutrients and takes a while to remove the gel, thus hydrating the colon and easing digestion and also might help with digestive disorders. Chia acts kind of like an “internal band-aid” helping to hydrate, protect and heal the digestive path – which might be helpful for people with a “leaky gut syndrome.” A well hydrated colon has an easier time moving food through it. Keeping the body hydrated is also important for absorbing nutrients and for endurance. This fiber in Chia also makes you feel fuller – so it can help with weight loss.
*Note: it is very important to drink plenty of water when taking Chia, to facilitate this absorption and uptake of water. See below for how to make the chia gel.
TWO: Insoluble Fiber
The insoluble dietary fiber in chia is different from other fibers – as chia is highly nutrient dense – whereas many other fiber products are not. The fiber in chia promotes healthy regularity. Taking chia daily helps to sweep out old debris in your intestines and detoxify your system naturally. Keeping the colon clean means that toxic substances aren’t allowed to build up and unfriendly bacteria gets swept away. Like soluble fiber, insoluble fiber creates a feeling of fullness for longer. Consuming chia can help people to lose excess weight, which can itself help to lower cholesterol.
THREE: Essential Fatty Acids/Omega 3s:
Not all fats are bad, in fact, healthy fatty acids are a very important part of a balanced diet. Many Americans have gone crazy with the low fat diets – and there is some evidence that low fat diets are actually WORSE for your heart health! So getting high quality fatty acids in our diets is important. Chia is a very rich source of omega 3 fatty acids, yielding 25-30% extractable oil, including α-linolenic acid (ALA). Studies show that ALA levels found in chia are higher than those in flax seed, and are more stable because of its high antioxidant content. The combination of antioxidants and fatty acids are important for transporting oxygen into cells, and the lubrication and resilience of cells. This makes our cells healthier and more resistant to damage. Linoleic fatty acids can not be made by the body and are very important – they combine with cholesterol in the body to form membranes that hold cells together. Healthy fats are an important component for anti-aging, and keeping our skin and cells looking and acting young. Dr. Walter Willet is a Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, and has been chair of the Harvard Department of Nutrition and Epidemiology since 1991. He is also the author of Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy and Eat Drink, and Weigh Less. Dr. Willet indicates that you should be eating plant-based Omega 3′s 7 days a week and wild fatty fish 2 days a week.
Chia’s antioxidants include flavonol aglycones: quercetin, kaempferol, and myricetin; and flavonol glycosides: chlorogenic acid and caffeic acid. Chia that is comprised of black chia seeds, which may contain 12%-15% more antioxidants that the white seeds. Other essential fatty acids from other sources (fish and flax seeds) can be damaged and become rancid by heat, light, and oxygen. Chia’s natural antioxidants keep the omega-3 fatty acid stable and prevent it from going rancid. Not only that, but when you eat chia, the antioxidants also protect YOU and your cells from oxidative damage – the hallmark of most degenerative diseases and signs of aging.
- A study by researchers at the University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health shows that quercetin significantly boosted energy, endurance and fitness. Another study on quercetin found it increased the supply of new energy to brain and muscle cells and that these changes were associated with an increase in both maximal endurance capacity. Quercetin, kaempferol, and myricetin are antioxidants that could protect against a host of chronic diseases like ischemic heart disease, cerbrovascular disease, lung cancer, prostate cancer, asthma, and type 2 diabetes. Read more here.
- Chlorogenic Acid, another of chia’s antioxidants, has been found to possess anti-cancer properties and could be used to prevent growth of certain brain tumors. It could also slow the release of glucose into bloodstream after a meal, and is a compound of interest for reducing the risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes. Chlorogenic acids does other things too: help the flow of bile, thus reducing bile stagnation and promoting liver and gallbladder health. It could also help to reduce cardiovascular risks.
- Caffeic acid, another antioxidant in chia, may be used as a component to contribute to the prevention of the following: colitis, a condition that could lead to colon cancer; cardiovascular disease; certain cancers; mitosis (cell division); and inflammation. It may also be used in the healthy maintenance of the immune system.
Manage Risk Factors
Reducing or eliminating risk factors for high cholesterol is also important. Some risk factors you can’t do anything about – like heredity. But others such as obesity and diabetes you can help to control with chia and other diet and lifestyle factors. Eating a diet that reduces inflammation is important, and regular exercise is also key. One of the most nutrient dense foods on the planet, chia contains:
- Highest known plant source of Omega 3 (8 x more than Salmon)
- Complete protein source with correctly balanced amino acids. Many plant sources are incomplete proteins, but chia is a complete protein source, with an amino acid score of 115.
- Potassium, phosphorous, folate, zinc, iron (3 x more than spinach) & calcium (5 x more than milk)
Chia is very adaptable to any recipe – it has no flavor, so it won’t interfere with the taste of foods you are making. To make the gel, simply put 1-2 Tablespoons of chia into water. The chia will soak up the water and form a “gel.” It is good to make the gel – because you can be certain that the chia will be hydrated and will not soak up your body fluids. This gel is a great thickener for sauces, you can even replace eggs in a recipe with the chia “gel.” Chia is a wonderful Omega 3 source for anyone, and especially vegans. If I don’t have time to make a smoothie or another recipe – often I simply stir into a glass of water and drink it down.
You can buy the whole seed, or ground – if you get the ground chia – look for cold water processed chia, which helps to protect the essential fatty acids from heat damage. But some people like the crunch of the whole chia seeds. Adding chia seed daily improved my energy, mood, digestion, lowered my inflammation and more. It is the things we do every day that have the biggest impact on our health. So one of the most important things you can do – is to simply be consistent with foods like chia. Taking 1-2 Tablespoons of chia each day, can have a major impact on your health, your outlook, and your life.
©2011, all rights reserved. Sara Vance.
This content is not to be construed as providing medical advice. All information provided is general and not specific to individuals. Persons experiencing problems or with questions about their health or medications, should consult their medical professional. Persons already taking prescription medications should consult a doctor before taking the above foods to be sure there are no interactions.