There has been a buzz about chia seeds lately. It started in the nutrition/health world and is now spreading mainstream. It became more than a buzz, for me, when a patient recently asked, “so, chia seeds, are they worth the time?” I had to reply that although I’d cooked with them a couple of times, I honestly had no concrete idea of the benefits. So began my research…
Background: Chia seeds were a staple in Aztec diets. To quote the bottle I have in my cabinet “Aztec Warriors subsisted on chia seeds during their battles and hunting expeditions, eating as little as a small handful in 24 hours.” What?? They also promote saliva production and were fed to thirsty nomads. Then they came to the US and were used to grow plants that looked like hair on terra-cotta forms like the one seen above. What a downgrade (except for the Mr. T one, that’s just awesome).
It turns out that, because it’s so new to the nutrition world (it’s been around for decades in the form of chia pets) there have been very few studies to test it’s benefits. There was one study done on women which I will share with you later.
Without lots of research done on human absorption, all we can really do is look at the nutrition profile of chia seeds. According to this label and some of my other reading, chia seeds are:
- Source of healthy fats which very few people get from the Standard Westernized Diet.
- Perfect 3:1 ratio of Omega 3 and 6 which helps protect the liver and heart.
- High in fiber which promotes healthy digestion.
- Relatively high in protein which is necessary for properly functioning and rebuilding muscles.
- Zero sugar so it doesn’t spike your insulin levels.
- Absorbs water like a sponge so, when mixed with liquid and consumed, it slows the absorption of sugar into the blood stream and further hinders sugar spikes.
- Because they absorb liquid, when eaten dry, they expand in your stomach and give you the feeling of being full.
- High in IRON, CALCIUM, MAGNESIUM, and ZINC – essential nutrients for a healthy body.
There was a study done on a small selection postmenopausal women to see if it would increase the production of the essential fatty acids, ALA (omega 3) and EPA. It did, but because scientists know very little about absorption of the fatty acids after they are produced, it is unknown if they increase heart, liver, and neuro protection.
Although the results of the few studies done are pretty much inconclusive, I’m going to call chia seeds a win. I’m a proponent of getting all the nutrients you can from your food and only taking supplements when absolutely necessary (like in the case of Vitamin D and a few other vitamins and minerals). If I can get extra healthy fat, omegas, fiber, protein, iron, magnesium, calcium, and zinc just from a sprinkling of the tasteless chia seeds, count me in!
The fad: Obviously everything that becomes universally popular is a huge fad somewhere. Apparently, Wall Streeters have started to tout chia seeds as the natural energy booster. A Bloomberg article compared it to coffee, cocaine, and 5-hour Energy Drink. “Natural” food producers have started making chia bars and juices, among other things.
How to eat it: Be careful. As with any health fad, not all chia seeds or products are made equal. Be sure to avoid anything with added sugar. Also, stick to organic or NSRI approved. Now that they’ve gotten big, farmers will start doing anything to produce them in huge quantities. You can eat them milled or whole. Sprinkled on top of granola, in your smoothie, on a salad, or just with water. They’re pretty much tasteless so they go with anything.
Well, on that note, I’m going to go make myself a Green Machine smoothie with chia seeds and protein!
Any questions? Just comment and ask. I’ll be happy to answer. I hope you’re having a happy Thursday 🙂