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24 February 2011 ~ 0 Comments

More on Chia: the “Superfood” that may just Earn the Title

Doesn’t it seem that every year we are asked to believe that “researchers” have uncovered THE superfood? And this year really does seem to be the year of the Chia seed.

The Chia seed, as an excellent source of nutrition may well retain its reputation beyond that of many of its predecessors – is anyone still sprinkling oat bran on their cereal?

In the previous blog post on Chia, I summarized the main characteristics of Chia seeds and also detailed the nutritional components of the seed.    This time we look at claims associated with these characteristics.

The claims are pretty impressive; and in the interests of keeping it real  – as factual as possible – I thought I would share and comment on the health benefits and properties attributed to Chia seeds.  With luck you will come away with  a balanced view and likely many of your own questions.  So check out the additional links at the end of the post.

“Chia” is the Mayan word for “Strength” and like many seeds and grains coming to light, Chia is an ancient Mayan and Aztec food staple, said to give an incredibly sustaining surge of energy and has been called “Indian Running Food”.   The researcher who was the perhaps the world’s foremost educator on Chia seeds is Dr Choates who was also among the first to grow Chia seeds experimentally and later commercially.  Where possible I have checked his and other’s formal research in commenting on the health claims.

What is true is that Chia seeds are nutritionally dense – meaning they have a wide variety  of nutrients, including protein, calcium, potassium, anti-oxidants, fiber and – the big one –  an appropriate balance of Omega-3 and Omega-6 essential fatty-acids.  That is pretty good for such a little package. 

An interesting property of the Chia seed is its hydrophilic properties, the ability to absorb more than 12 times its weight in water. Its ability to hold on to water offers the ability to prolong hydration.  This property helps the body regulate the  absorption of nutrients and body fluids and thus help maintain electrolyte balance.   Think about Chia seeds helping  in situations of diarrhea or  high fever when large amounts of fluids could be lost.  Great quality but not “sexy”;  nor something we consider in our everyday lives.  Yep, I just wanted to point out that if nothing else, Chia seeds do have value here.

To return to “how do the seeds help me..”?

Based on the nutrients in Chia seeds, some of the claims are (and note these are not my claims but I have commented on them):

* Provides energy and Bolsters Endurance

The protein, essential fatty acids and fiber along with complex carbohydrate provide energy.  This is based purely on the nutritional composition and there is no reason to dispute it.   And the ability to slow food absorption gives  stamina over time – time-released energy from food.  Because Chia seeds soak up water/liquid and form a gel, this helps slow the conversion of carbohydrates to sugars, and this translates to energy over time, rather than a burst followed by a “crash”.    This claim makes logical sense; and my experiment of soaking Chia seeds then eating the “glutinous” mixture kept me feeling full most of the day!!   (Chia is gluten-free in case you were wondering.)

* Helps Stabilize blood sugar

Slowing conversion of carbohydrates to sugars helps eliminates the peak and valleys of blood sugar levels, resulting in a more consistent energy level and reduced cravings.  Much more than this, keeping blood sugars stable helps protect against things like Diabetes and hypoglycemia.   This is a widely accepted property and I have come across people with type-2 Diabetes or who are in danger of getting Diabetes, sprinkling Chia seeds on yoghurt, salads etc every day to help maintain healthy blood sugar levels.  I certainly had no sugar cravings after eating the liquid-soaked Chia seeds.

* Induces weight loss

Chia seeds absorb liquid, swell in the stomach and help you feel full and potentially eat less; they contain both soluble and insoluble fiber which aid digestion and help keep a healthy colon.  The seeds are high in protein and low in carbohydrates which help build lean muscle – which in turn aids in boosting metabolism and losing weight. 

I have not substantiated this personally but Chia seeds would seem to be helpful in all of the above.  And there are studies that refute the weight-loss claim.

      “………..a single serving, about an ounce (28 grams), delivers 4 grams of protein and 11 grams of fiber, which is supposedly the key to its weight-loss magic.   But there is little evidence that it lives up to that claim (appetite suppressant). In one study in 2009, a team of researchers randomly split 76 overweight and obese men and women into two groups. One group was given 25 grams of Chia seeds twice a day, and the other was given a placebo. After 12 weeks, the scientists found no significant difference between the groups in appetite or weight loss.  [New York Times January 24 2011].

I would like to add –  eating the Chia seeds without soaking did not make me feel full in the same way that eating them after letting them soak up liquid did.  Perhaps that is the key!

* Aids Digestion

The essential fatty acids in Chia help the body emulsify and absorbs the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K.  And by absorbing water and forming a gel it is thought to help the passage of foods through the digestive tract and also aid the body in absorbing the nutrients from the food.   Taking this further, Chia seeds may help people tolerate foods they are otherwise sensitive to, for example aiding the passage of gluten through the intestine where the gluten might otherwise irritate and harm the intestine walls.

I really like all these ideas even if I didn’t find conclusive proof.  I am sensitive to wheat (gluten) and while traveling in January, I found myself in a particular situation where I was unable to avoid it.  Coincidentally I was taking a teaspoon or more of Chia seeds every night, though I was unaware of this claim.  Interestingly the Chia seeds likely lessened the effect of the wheat on my system since I had a very mild reaction to the wheat.

There is so much more one can read on Chia seeds and I will do one more post with some recipe suggestions and a  couple of links.

My personal opinion:  even if only half the claims are accurate, or all the claims are half true, this is indeed a great seed and healthy addition to your diet.

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