Despite the fact that the nutrition landscape is like a minefield today, where one has to consciously make their way through the numerous products and claims, we do have many things to celebrate and be excited about. The organic, natural and optimal health movement is growing, and thanks to it we have an increased understanding of so many foods, and superfoods at that, which are superior for our health. One such example is the chia seed, which is a nutritional gold mine for anyone who is interested in obtaining their vitamins, minerals and nutrients naturally. Meaning through healthy eating, not through some pill! In this essay we will explore some of the key nutrition and health benefits of this tiny little food gem.
Chia is a South American grain or super seed. It has been used by Aztec civilizations and its roots date back to 3500B.C. It sustained the Aztec culture of South America for hundreds of years. It comes from the mint family called CHIA. The Salvia seed was one of five major plants consumed by the vast and prosperous Aztecs. After the downfall of the Aztecs, following the Spanish Conquistador take over, knowledge of this seed was pretty much lost and hence the seed was forgotten. That was until about 1991 when two Argentinean brothers rediscovered this impressive seed. And so in the past 3 decades this seed has resurfaced and became known to the North American culture, as well as other parts of the globe.
I am excited to share about this little seed with you as I know many people today are still unaware of it and the potential that it has where out health and wellness is concerned. What we have probably heard about is the chia pet, and yes this is the same seed! What was once a novel decor idea has today become prized for its outstanding nutrition benefits. Today the chia seed is ranked amongst some of the top superfoods. It is also amongst my top three seed recommendations for daily or regular consumption, the other two being flax and hemp seeds.
Salba - A Type of Chia
Salba – Salvia hispanica L – is a branded type of chia seed. It was bred to offer a nutritionally superior chia seed, though reports today fail to acknowledge it as such. In 1994 Salba was introduced in Columbia, and in 1997 experimental crops were started in Bolivia and Peru. At the start of the new century, thanks to the work of Dr. Vladimir Vuksan Professor of Endocrinology and Nutritional Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto – the modern world was introduced back to this nutritional powerhouse. Dr. Vuksan is one of the world’s experts renowned for developing novel alternative therapies for obesity, diabetes and heart disease and has been studying this seed for roughly the past 20 years. One of his main studies can be found here: The Effects of Salvia Hispanica-Enriched Foods on Glycemic and Insulinemic Responses and Subjective Satiety.
The research showed promising, but as the years went on it was discovered that conflicts of interest had a big emphasis on why the results seemed to place Salba above ordinary type of chia seeds. The brand’s quick claim to fame was therefore short-lived and various divisions fell apart. Today, one can still get Salba from Salba Smart. The producers still claim that “Salba Chia stands out among competitors for nutritional and agricultural consistency”, which may very well be true, but unfortunately is not that simple to prove.
Chia Nutrition Info
Salba chia has provided the following nutrition benefits in a gram to gram analysis as follows:
- 5 times more folate than spinach
- 6 times more calcium than milk
- 3 times more iron than spinach
- 8 times more omega-3 ALA than salmon
- 15 times more magnesium than broccoli
- 2 times more potassium than bananas
- 3 times more fiber than oats
Additionally, one can look at it in this way:
- 325% more fiber than oatmeal
- 800% more Omega-3 (ALA) than salmon (EPA/DHA)
- 30% more antioxidants than blueberries (based on ORAC values)
- 1500% more magnesium than broccoli
- 200% more potassium than bananas
- 70% more vegetable protein than soybeans
Chia seeds are also a source of:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin B1 (Thiamine)
- Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)
- Vitamin B3 (Niacin)
- Vitamin B5 (Pantothnate)
- Vitamin B7 (Biotin)
- Vitamin C
Chia seeds are all-natural, have no cholesterol or trans-fats, and are gluten free. They have an outstanding ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids. They are a smart and excellent complement to anyone’s diet, including people with Celiac’s disease and Diabetes. They also offer an excellent choice of nutrients for vegetarians and vegans.
Finally, the best part about chia seeds is that, next to eating a natural, wholesome and balanced diet, it is the easiest way to naturally obtain some critical nutrients like a rich source of protein, omega-3, antioxidants, fiber and many vitamins and minerals, many of which are in higher amounts than from any other food or nutritional supplement.
Chia Health Benefits
Thanks to chia’s excellent omega-3 content, as well as the near perfect omega-3 to omega-6 content, chia seeds provide anti-inflammatory protection. This can benefit every area of our health, from our heart to our joint health, and everything in between.
2. Help promote weight loss and healthy weight maintenance
Chia seeds are packed with nutrients and fiber, and have a high satiety effect. They are able to absorb more than 10 times their weight in water. When they come into contact with water they form a gel. Imagine what this can do inside of us, not only when it comes to making us feel full, and thus eat less, but enhance our intestinal health, making way for regular elimination provided you drink enough water. The gel slows digestion, making you feel full for longer. It also keeps your blood sugar levels from spiking, which we will talk about below.
3. Help balance blood sugar and prevent diabetes
As mentioned above, chia seeds have an excellent ability to keep us full thanks to their high affinity for absorbing water. This along with their zero sugar content and high fiber content makes them an excellent choice for blood sugar stability, and thus diabetes prevention. They can also play a role in the reversal of diabetes on our path of healing.
4. Help prevent cancer and degenerative disease
Thanks to the high antioxidant content, chia seeds can offer protective benefits from diseases like cancer and heart disease. Antioxidants help protect the cells of our body from oxidation and free radicals. Free radicals cause cell damage and are linked to conditions such as heart disease and cancer. A whole-food, plant-based diet is our best nutritional protection here, and including chia seeds as part of that lifestyle is a good idea.
5. Help enhance the immune system
Thanks to their high antioxidant content, as well as zinc and vitamin C, chia seeds can help ensure that our immune system stays strong. Of course it will take more than just chia seeds to prevent minor and major infections, and we do have to take our entire diet seriously. But chia seeds are definitely a smart addition to working for, rather than against our health.
6. Offer anti-aging benefits
Thanks to their high antioxidant content, chia seeds can protect us against free radical damage, which can wreak havoc on our health. Diets high in anti-oxidants have been found to be protective against accelerated aging, and overall health enhancing.
How to Eat Chia Seeds
The best way to consume chia seeds is as part of smoothies, which are made using high powered blenders as this ensures the entire seed is pulverized for easiest digestion and maximum absorption. However, chia seeds can also be sprinkled onto any meal you like, from salads to stir-fries. Today, many people also use chia seeds as egg replacers or to make unique treats with them, like chia pudding.
Whatever you choose, note that chia seeds are pretty much flavor-less, so they can easily be combined into any meal idea, wether on the sweet, spicy or salty side.
Where to Find Chia Seeds
Today, chia seeds are widely sold across North America. You can find some in every health food store, as well as many major grocery stores, and of course online from retailers like Well.ca in Canada, or the Raw Superfoods Store in the US.
Chia seeds typically cost about $8 to $15 per pound, depending on the source and quantity (bulk options are typically on the cheaper end). They are typically sold whole, although ground options are available, as are sprouted chia seed options. One also has the option to choose between organic and conventional. Whatever format of the chia seed you choose, know that it is a good use of your financial resources thanks to its nutrition density. The seeds also store well and keep for long periods of time thanks to their high antioxidant content.