Thursday, November 3, 2011

commentary: chia seeds

I had never heard of chia seeds before my introduction into the world of healthy living blogs. Turns out, these little seeds are so fantastically nutritious they just may deserve a tiny super hero cape. Not only that, but incorporate these little wonders into oatmeal (my new favorite trick) and your bowl will be so creamy and delicious you will wonder how you ever stomached oats before.

I am by no means a chia seed expert, but I have compiled what I consider the essential information on these seeds after some serious, albeit non-scientific, internet 'research'. 

What Are Chia Seeds?

Yes, these are the seeds that give rise to the noteworthy Chia Pet. Not only have chia seeds given us this remarkable (?) decorative plant, but they are especially nutritious. They grow in southern Mexico and can now be found widely in health food stores (I found mine at Earth Fare and the local co-op) and online.

    Nutritional Content*

    Chia seeds are the highest natural source of both dietary fiber and omega-3 fatty acids (Vuksan 2007). That statement is so impressive that it deserves bold, italics, and underline font.
    • Omega-3 Fatty Acids. One recommended serving (1T) per day contains more than 2,500 mg of omega-3 fatty acids. This is eight times more than contained in salmon. Note that although chia seeds have balanced levels of omega-3 and -6, they contain primarily ALA (not DHA and EPA as found in fish and other products).
    • Fiber. Chia seeds have 25% more fiber than flax seeds. They contain both soluble and insoluble fiber (~3.5 grams per 1T serving). And, unlike flax, they don't need to be ground and are easier to digest.
    And these wonder-seeds don't stop there. They also contain:
      • Vegetable protein. Chia is about 20% protein (wheat is 14%).
      • Essential vitamins and minerals. One T serving of chia contains 8% RDI of calcium, iron, phosphorus, and thiamin and 5% RDI of zinc and vitamin B6. Chia also contains magnesium, potassium, manganese, niacin, and folic acid.
      • Antioxidants. A serving of chia has about 30% more antioxidants than blueberries.
      *While trying to find nutritional information for chia seeds I found that their nutritional content tends to be highly variable and the information sources sometimes questionable. However, in addition to their high levels of omega-3 fatty acids and other features as noted above, this table provides ranges for some other nutrients about which you may be curious.

        Other Health Benefits
        • One scientific study (Vuksan 2007) found that people who ate chia seeds (about 37 grams per day for 12 weeks)
          • had lowered systolic blood pressure by 6.3 mmHg,
          • had reduced levels of high-sensitivity C-reactive protein and other heart-healthy markers, and
          • had maintained blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
        • Chia seeds absorb 10 times their weight when submersed in liquid to form a gel. This gelling property may slow the absorption of sugar into blood stream and this *may* help weight loss by blocking calorie absorption. This also may help you feel fuller faster and creates fun eating possibilities.

          How to Use Chia Seeds

          Chia seeds don't taste like much so their add-on possibilities are endless. Some say they have a nutty flavor, but to me they add a bit of tasteless crunch (when eaten raw) or gell-ed texture (when eaten soaked in liquid). My favorite way to use chia seeds is to add them to oats to create an extra-thick experience.
          • Add them raw on top of:
            • Cereal
            • Yogurt
            • Oatmeal (best to add while cooking to create gel, see below)
            • Toast with nut butter (toast + pb + banana + chia seeds is a great combination)
            • Salads
          • Take advantage of their gelling properties to create
          Lovely chia breakfast bowl photo: from Kath Eats Real Food: queen of oatmeal.

          So, go out and buy a bag even if you aren't convinced. I swear to you - make your oatmeal with these babies and you will be preaching the glory that is the chia seed in no time.

          (image 1, 2, 3, 4)


          1. "This gelling property may slow the absorption of sugar into blood stream and this *may* help weight loss by blocking calorie absorption."

            SOLD. Going to get some hahaha

          2. Courtney you are so crazy. But, yes - you should get some for that reason and others! :)

          3. I love Chia seeds also and while like you said the nutritional information is a little hard to find, they are still good for us and really do make my oatmeal yummier!

          4. I just bought a giant bag of Chia seeds from Costco, I love how they are showing up in more and more stores now :)

          5. I'm right there with you! I LOVE me some chia seeds :)

          6. @Jen - now if i just had a Costco... :)

          7. I seriously need to get some chia seeds! It sounds amazing! :)

          8. I first found out about chia seeds when I started blogging! I would love to try them and have been keeping my eye out for them but cant seem to find them anywhere here where I live. :(

            I love how chia seeds have awesome health benefits!

          9. Umm, *thank you* ... I have been wondering why chia seeds were popping up everywhere but had as of yet been too lazy to research them myself. This is exactly the information I've been after!