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Are chia seeds worth the hype?

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Chia seeds seem to be all the rage right now, showing up in ads everywhere and incorporated into different foods and drinks. Pictures of aesthetically pleasing acaí bowls and fruity drinks dominate social media, oftentimes sprinkled with these small seeds. But what is so great about chia seeds? What is the source of this trend?

In addition to the social “points” people can earn from sharing pictures of these small round seeds, the plant is packed with fiber, iron, calcium and antioxidants. Fiber is important for slowing the movement of food through the bowels, helping bacteria to absorb nutrients, regulating blood sugar levels and contributing to abdominal comfort. Iron is a key element in hemoglobin, which helps red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body and supports energy production. Calcium supports the development of bones and contributes to functions such as muscle contraction.

These compounds found in chia seeds are perhaps reason enough for why these little seeds get the social fame that they do, but antioxidants offer an additional rationale. Marketing firms use the word antioxidant on food packaging whenever possible. But what are antioxidants, and what do they do?

The main role of antioxidants is to fight off oxidants which, in oversupply, can harm DNA, lipids and proteins. Oxidants occur naturally during metabolic processes, entering our systems through the air and the foods we consume or from habits such as smoking or spending too much time in the sun.

The body creates antioxidants, but they take time to regenerate, leaving the potential for oxidants to cause additional damage. Eating foods that contain antioxidants may help to bridge this gap. Chia seeds, turmeric, beans, blueberries and nuts are just a few of the foods that contain optimal amounts of antioxidants.

Social media and advertising influence our minds daily, sometimes for the better but often for worse. Health trends can be problematic, encouraging people to buy into expensive diets or foods that they can’t afford.

Chia seeds, however, are a food trend that I condone fully. Why not make your acaí bowl look a little bit fancier, and why not buy that pretty red drink infused with these seeds? The health benefits are clear, so eat up!

 

Contact Hannah Shabb at hshabb ‘at’ stanford.edu

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