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07 February 2011 ~ 0 Comments

Chia the “Superfood” – Executive Summary

Did you ever look at the cute Chia Pets and wonder of the sprouting vegetation was edible…. Me neither.  In fact I think the closest I came to a Chia Pet was the commercial on TV – and I never thought of them as food.  The seed on the other hand IS food.

I wanted to give some facts about the Chia Seed, which is not only edible but  is really good for you.  Despite any hype around the “Superfood of the month”, these tiny little seeds have high nutritional value.    There is a lot of information available about these seeds, and I have sifted through it in order to present what the facts appear to be; what the claims are; and what might just be bogus.   The good news is that Chia seeds really are valuable nutrition – in many ways.   The summary of the research is below and a second blog post will give much more detail for anyone who wants to read more.  The summary is a stab at synthesizing the important aspects, and giving you enough information to draw some conclusions on Chia seeds.

What is known about Chia seeds?  They are loaded with:

Anti-oxidants – to help in fighting free radicals

Essential fatty acids – and have the right balance of Omega-3 and Omega-6

Calcium – a good natural plant-based source

Protein – highest of the seeds

Dietary Fiber – both soluble and insoluble

Chia seeds are also a good source of:

Potassium and other minerals

Iron

Niacin

I was wondering just how much of these nutrients Chia seeds have.  Some of the claims are hard to believe  –  one stated  “more potassium than a banana”  without any indication of just how much Chia one would need to consume to make this be true.

I found some great charts showing the composition of  Chia seeds. 

Nutrition Facts Page 1

and

Nutrition Facts Page 2

Additionally, Chia seeds have a Glycemic factor of 1 – (the “1” on the first chart that is missing its label).  This means it won’t spike sugar levels and in fact helps keep sugar levels stable.

Wayne Choates is generally accepted as the most knowledgeable person on Chia – he started growing and experimenting with Chia seeds in 2003, looking into the value of Chia in our diets and his research is extensive, including analyzing the best environment for growing Chia seeds to produce the highest levels of the valuable nutrients.

The Nutrient composition of 25g of  Chia is taken from a page on his website and in the follow-on blog post I will point to his research papers.

Chia Nutrient Composition

Four important characteristics of Chia seeds are:

  • Extremely stable  –  Chia seeds can be stored for “years without deterioration in flavor, odor or nutritional value”.  This can be compared to Flaxseed which once crushed should be eaten within one to two months  before it goes rancid. 
  • The seeds do not need to be crushed to release the Omega-3  and other nutrients.  Again compare this with flaxseed which does need to be crushed or else taken as an oil; and neither form has a long shelf life.
  • The high oil content of its leaves acts as an extremely potent insect repellent and eliminates the needs for pesticides.  Thus you don’t have to go looking for “organic” Chia seeds – it simply is grown without sprays.  (Choates does talk about soil and weather conditions playing a part in producing high oil and protein levels in Chia seeds.  “…….. it appears that the Great Chaco and Atacama Desert ecosystems are better suited for producing Chia seeds having a high α-linolenic content than are the other areas.”)
  • Chia seeds are highly absorbent – can absorb more than 12 times their weight in water.  In your body this ‘swelling’ of the Chia seed can help make you feel more ‘full’ longer.  And this ability to absorb liquid and form a ‘gel’ along with the seed’s high oil content means it is versatile in recipes and can replace a portion of butter/oil in baking.

I think Chia seeds deserve a place alongside the almonds, avocados and salmon that we know are part of a “flat belly/ weight loss/healthy” diet.

You can give up the flaxseeds and replace them with Chia seeds for the essential fatty acids and dietary fiber you were using Flax for.

However, I wouldn’t give up bananas  – the amount of potassium in Chia seeds is small.

For anyone who has concerns about blood sugar readings after eating – sprinkle Chia seeds on your salads or other food, or simply take a spoonful of seeds with water  after a meal. 

Next post will include some recipes along with how to make and store the “gel”.

Till then enjoy your Chia seeds anyway you like – sprinkled on your blueberries-almonds-and-Greek-style-yoghurt breakfast is a delicious start to the day.

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