Chia seeds are a rich source of protein, omega-3s, fibre, minerals and powerful antioxidant polyphenols, all of which have beneficial effects on blood pressure. In fact, chia seed oil contains as much as 60% omega-3 in the form of the essential fatty acid, ALA, making it a richer source than flax seed oil (57%).
Chia seeds, sometimes known as salba grain, are obtained from a member of the mint family (Salvia hispanica L.) They have a mild, nutty taste and vary in shade from black to white. Chia seeds contain so much soluble fibre that, when mixed with water or milk and left for 15 minutes, the mixture thickens. As well as reducing hunger, to aid weight loss, this also slows the absorption of sugars and fats to improve glucose control and cholesterol balance.
Chia seeds and blood pressure
Chia seed fibre, omega-3, and antioxidant polyphenols have beneficial effects on the liver and circulation that can lower blood pressure. ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) is known to block the formation of substances (oxylipins) that cause blood pressure to rise. Chia seeds also contain fibre, lignans, antioxidants, magnesium, calcium and potassium which together have an even more powerful effect against high blood pressure.
This was tested using a chia flour which was prepared by grinding chia seeds to form a powder that could be added to water, yoghurt, milk or fruit juice.
Twenty-six volunteers were recruited, all of whom had hypertension, but only 17 were receiving antihypertensive medication – the remaining 7 had untreated high blood pressure. Volunteers were randomised to take either 35g chia flour per day, or a placebo, for 12 weeks.
- Those taking placebo had no changes in their blood pressure readings.
- In those taking chia flour, there were significant reductions in blood pressure readings, overall, from 146.2/94.2 mmHg, down to 136.6/85.5 mmHg after 12 weeks – a fall of 9.6/8.7 mmHg.
- When this was broken down into those who were also taking antihypertensive medication, blood pressure improved across the 12 weeks from 145.8/94.3 mmHg (so not that well controlled on medication alone) down to 133.7/83.3 mmHg – a fall of 12.1/11 mmHg.
- In those with untreated hypertension, blood pressure fell from 146.8/94.2 mmHg down to 137.7/88.7 mmHg – a reduction of 9.1/5.5 mmHg.
So, whether or not you are on prescribed antihypertensive treatment, this study suggests that eating chia seeds, especially chia seed flour, can improve your blood pressure readings.
And in a study involving 37 people with type 2 diabetes, taking 37g chia seeds per day for 12 weeks lowered blood pressure from an average of 129/81 to 123/78 – a reduction of 6/3 mmHg, while in those taking placebo, blood pressure increased. Some studies did not find an effect of chia seeds on blood pressure in people without diabetes, however.
How to eat more Chia seeds
Chia seeds can be ground in a coffee grinder to produce chia flour that you can sprinkle over foods or added to smoothies or used to make gluten-free pancakes or muffins, for example.
Chia seeds can also be eaten ‘raw’ without soaking, or soaked to absorb up to 12 times their weight in water. This forms a thick gel which is easily digested. To soak chia seeds, mix them in a ratio of around 1:10 seeds to fluid, such as 15g chia seeds added to 150 ml water.
There are lots of recipes on-line for chia seed puddings, and there is a great recipe below for chia and oat porridge which is a great way to start your day and bring down your blood pressure.
Chia seeds side effects
Because of their high fibre content, eating too many chia seeds can lead to bloating and abdominal pain from trapped wind. Eat chia seeds in moderation, and always drink sufficient fluids to help them swell.