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Chia, chia, chia!

18 Dec

Chia seeds

When I first read about chia seeds on health blogs, I was reminded of the chia pets from the 80s.


When I found out what chia seeds were and the more I read about them, the more convinced I became of their health benefits.  Now I eat them almost everyday in my oatmeal.

What are chia seeds?

Chia’s scientific name is Salvia hispanica.  It is  is a flowering plant of the mint family which is native to Mexico (source).

Chia has an interesting past as it was banned after the Spanish conquered Mexico as chia was used in Aztec religion (Source).  Today, the crop is gaining in populatiry as it is being grown to harvest its seeds, chia seeds, due to their health promoting functions. 

Are chia seeds really as healthy as they claim to be?

When a product, such as chia seeds, becomes popular very quickly, I am often skeptical about the product’s health claims.  Chia seeds have been touted as a superfood with health benefits ranging from keeping one hydrated to providing more Omega-3s than salmon.  The problem is that the supposed health benefits of foods, such as chia seeds, are often listed on websites which are selling the product, thus introducing a bias.  As a scientist, I like to trace back the claims to the original studies.  What is fact and what is fiction?

Let’s find out!

What are the health benefits of chia seeds?

  • Chia seed oil is a rich source of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), such as linoleic and α-linolenic acid (source), which have been linked to numerous health benefits from decreasing cardiovascular disease morbidity and mortality (source) to  decreasing cancer development (source)
  • The seeds have protein and fiber contents that range from 17% to 24% and from 18% to 22%, respectively (source) (source)
  • The seeds have a number of compounds with potent antioxidant activities: myricetin, quercetin, kaemperol, and caffeic acid (source)
  • The seeds are a complete protein (great for vegetarians!)
  • The seeds are high in fiber
  • The seeds contain numerous micronutrients (see below)

Chia seeds are low in saturated fats, have no cholesterol (since they are a plant product) and are higher in Omega-3s than fish and flax seeds.

(source)

Chia seeds are also loaded with healthy micro- and macro-onutrients which are important for the normal workings of our bodies

(source)

Studies on Chia

  • Chia seed oil can be used as an moisturizing agent for pruritic (itchy) skin (source)
  • Chia seeds were able to reduce visceral adiposity (around organs-the dangerous fat) present in rats fed a high sucrose diet (source)
  • Rats fed chia had a decrease in their serum triacylglycerol and an increase in their serum HDL cholesterol (healthy cholesterol) (source)
  • A Florida-based company, Valensa International, is promoting a new chia-cranberry blend which they claim can ease digestion problems among those who eat a lot of fast food (source)
  • Rats fed a diet supplemented with chia seeds had improved insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance, reduced visceral adiposity and reduced heart and liver inflammation (source)
  • Athletes given chia seeds before events lasting more than 90 minutes did not require as much sugar to maintain their performance (source)
  • Salba (the plant from which the chia seeds are harvested) mildly suppressed appetite and regulated the spike in blood sugar often seen post-eating (source)

How can I eat them?

Chia seeds have very little taste but absorb tons of water.  This ability to absorb water is why they are good for runners as it helps runners’ bodies store water and reduce dehydration.  The simplest way to eat chia seeds is to create a chia gel.  This gel is made of a 6:1 ratio (water to seed).  However, this is bland and boring.  Why not try one of the recipes below?

Chia gel

“Chia eggs” are great for vegans as chia eggs can replace eggs for most baked products.  You can replace 1 egg in a recipe by mixing 3 Tbsp Water with 1 Tbsp Chia Seed and letting it solidify for about 10 min.

Chia egg (source)

I like to add about a tablespoon of chia to my overnight oats to bump up their volume and fiber content.

One of my favorite blogs, Oh She Glows uses chia seed in her oatmeal too!

Banana Bread with Chia and Whey

Chia Cashew Coconut Cream Parfait from RAW Living and Learning

Chia Flour Brownies

Lime, Poppy Seed and Chia Muffins

Question?

Have you tried chia seeds before?  How do you determine if a health claim of a food is real or not?

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