Chia Seeds – What’s all the fuss about

ChiaChia appears to be the new thing, add it to your smoothies, Bircher Muslei or gluten free bread its a new “miracle ingredient” a must have in the nutritional world.  It is, I think, surprising to know that the chia seed was only permitted to be sold as a stand alone ingredient at the beginning of 2013.  Before this they were permitted as a bakery ingredient at a level of no more than 5%.  The new legislation passed in 2013, allowing the seed to be sold in different formats, is reported to have triggered a 10 fold increase in sales.

Chia Pet: great craze other options available including Barak Obama
Chia Pet: great craze other options available including Barak Obama

So whats all the fuss about.  Often talked about as a “nutritional powerhouse” it can’t be denied the Chia seed contains good amounts of nutrients just like other seeds, unsurprising considering what it can grow into just given water.

Chia seeds are known in particular for their omega 3 content,  but also fibre, protein and Magnesium.  But how does it compare to other seeds, and does it justify the high price it demands.

The table below shows some of the commonly used seeds; the value of nutrients is based on a 15g portion size which is the maximum amount suggested for Chia per day.  15g of Chia is approximately a tablespoon.

 

g/15g portion Chia Linseed Sunflower Pumpkin Sesame
Protein 2.6 2.7 3.2 3.8 2.7
Fibre 5.1 4.1 1.3 0.6 1.8
Total Fat 4.7 6.3 7.8 6.9 7.5
Omega 3 2.67 3.42 0.01 0.03 0.06
Omega 6 0.87 0.89 3.45 3.11 3.21
Calcium (mg) 95 38 12 6 146
Magnesium (mg) 50 59 49 80 53
Zinc (mg) 0.5 0.6 0.8 1.1 1.2
Vit. E alpha tocopherol (mg) 0.1 0.0 5.3 0.0 0.0

Even from this small selection of nutrients it can be seen each seed has its own virtues.  Pumpkin seeds are know for there high zinc content particularly important to a vegetarian whose Zinc maybe low.  Sunflowers seeds have the greatest amount of fat, hence are used to make oil,  the vitamin E (an antioxidant) content of the seed does provide some protection against oxidation, unfortunately heat and light can still easily oxidise vegetable oils making them very damaging to health.  This and many other seeds have a high amount of omega 6 fats, which are abundant in the western diet, where as omega 3 fats are often in short supply hence why Chia seeds come into there own.

Flax seeds (also known as Linseeds) are a native seed having been consumed in the UK for thousands of years are also well known for omega 3 content.  They are also the subject of a huge amount of research, much benefit is seen because of its uniquely high Lignan (plant oestrogen) and antioxidant content.  Along with high fibre which helps bind hormones assisting there safe excretion and thus helping to balance our hormones.

Chia may have high omega 3 levels, but not as high as Flax, it certainly has high calcium levels, but not as high as Sesame and its magnesium content is surpassed by the humble pumpkin. It does have the highest fiber content which is not surprising considering its size this accompanied with its ability to absorb water to form a gelatinous substance has advantages for regulating bowel motions.  (Do ensure you incorporate plenty of water with it though.) This function is also advantageous in cooking, making a good replacement for egg and gelatine. However it has to be said similar advantages can also be seen from flax seed.

It is important with all seeds that they are well digested to take advantage of the nutrients and to enable this a good deal of chewing is required. This is effective with larger seeds, but smaller ones tend to escape the grinding that takes place in the mouth, therefore to aid maceration the seeds should either be ground or well soaked.

Only a small amount research has been done on the chia seed pub med search “chia seeds benefits” shows only 4 papers. One review shows 3 out of 4 human clinical trials showing advantages in fat profiles, weight loss and glucose handling.  They are all small and as papers of this kind will always state warrant more research.1.  A similar search for Flaxseeds brings up 117 papers with plenty of possible benefits many similar to the chia.

It seems a safe and nutritious option to include chia in your diet, but don’t forget other seed options  try them out and see which you can fit into your daily menus.  There easy to add to porridge or muesli make sure there soaked or ground as necessary. Or add to smoothies.

Couple of favourite recipes: Chia Pudding, Simple Munchy Seeds, Flax seed bread

1. J Biomed Biotechnol. 2012;2012:171956. doi: 10.1155/2012/171956. Epub 2012 Nov 21.  LINK