Chia, aka Salvia hispanica, is a member of the mint family and is primarily grown for its seeds.1 Chia seeds have a mild and nutty flavor and can be found in different colors – black, grey, white, or grey or white spotted with black. This variation in color does not affect the nutritional value of the seeds and is only important aesthetically as some foods may look better when prepared with lighter colored chia seeds.
Differences in the environment, climate changes, availability of nutrients in the soil, the stage of the plant itself and/or year of cultivation can play a crucial role to variations in the nutritional compounds of the chia seeds.1
Chia is packed with alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid, which can be converted in our bodies into the eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). EPA and DHA can affect various aspects of cardiovascular function including inflammation, peripheral arterial disease, major coronary events, and anticoagulation.2 EPA and DHA are present in cell membranes and influence their viscosity.2 Both EPA and DHA are critical for proper fetal development and healthy aging. DHA is a key constituent of all cell membranes, the brain and the retina.2
Studies on the metabolism of ALA in the human body indicate that in healthy young men only about 8% of dietary ALA is converted to EPA and 0 to 4% is converted to DHA. In healthy young women, approximately 21% of dietary ALA is converted to EPA and 9% into DHA. This better conversion of ALA to these essential omega-3 fatty acids in women may be associated with the effects of estrogen on women’s bodies. Besides gender differences, genetic variability also plays an important factor on how humans metabolize ALA.3
Chia has all the nine essential amino acids that our bodies either cannot make at all or cannot make in sufficient amounts to meet our needs, making it a high-quality protein.4
Chia is also an excellent source of fiber, containing both soluble and insoluble fiber.5 When soaked into a liquid, these hydrophilic seeds can absorb about ten times their weight in water, forming a mucilaginous gel around the seeds.5 In addition, chia seeds also contain calcium, phosphorus, manganese and antioxidants.4
Chia seeds do not need to be ground for the nutrients to be absorbed.
Eggs from hens fed with chia have higher ALA content than to hens fed with flaxseed.6 Flaxseeds are often used to feed animals as they are cheaper and are easily available.7
Emerging evidence suggests that chia may:
- assist in prolonging satiety 8
- reduce blood pressure 9
- attenuate postprandial glycemia 8,10
- reduce the risk of atherosclerosis, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease due to its high ALA content 11
- contribute to strong bones with calcium, phosphorus, manganese 4
but, further studies are needed to better clarify the potential benefits of chia to sustain and improve health.
How to incorporate chia to your diet?
- as healthy topping – toss the seeds to your salad, oatmeal, tomato sauce, yogurt and why not your ice cream. I also add it to homemade bread and granola.
- the gelling capability of chia seeds makes it a great addition to smoothies
- use it as the thickening agent for a pudding (either use the whole seeds or grind them in a food processor or blender for a smooth and creamy texture)
- use it as an egg substitute in vegan baking – the chia gel acts as an excellent binder but unlike eggs will not help a recipe to rise.
- up to 25% of oil or egg in cake recipes can be replaced with chia gel without affecting weight, volume, or taste of the final product.12
- add chia into your favorite dishes, such as, cereals, smoothies, yogurt, juices, cakes, soups, sauces, salads, and dressings. The possibilities are endless.
- Mohd Ali N, Yeap SK, Ho WY, Beh BK, Tan SW, Tan SG. The promising future of chia, Salvia hispanica L. J Biomed Biotechnol. 2012;2012:171956.
- D. Swanson, R. Block, S. A. Mousa, “Omega-3 Fatty Acids EPA and DHA: Health Benefits Throughout Life”, Adv Nutr January 2012 3 1): 1-7; doi:10.3945/an.111.000893.
- Essential Fatty Acids, LINUS PAULING INSTITUTE, Micronutrient Information Center, Oregon State University.
- Canadian Nutrient File. Chia.
- Reyes-Caudillo E, Tecante A, Valdivia-López MA. Dietary fibre content and antioxidant activity of phenolic compounds present in Mexican chia (Salvia hispanica L.) seeds. Food Chemistry. 2008;107(2):656-663.
- A. Antruejo, J. O. Azcona, P. T. Garcia et al., “Omega-3 enriched egg production: the effect of a-linolenic x-3 fatty acid sources on laying hen performance and yolk lipid content and fatty acid composition,” British Poultry Science, vol. 52, no. 6, pp. 750–760, 2011.
- R. Ayerza and W. Coates, “Omega-3 enriched eggs: the influence of dietary α-linolenic fatty acid source on egg production and composition,” Canadian Journal of Animal Science, vol. 81, no. 3, pp. 355–362, 2000.
- Vuksan V, Jenkins AL, Dias AG, et al. Reduction in postprandial glucose excursion and prolongation of satiety: possible explanation of the long-term effects of whole grain Salba (Salvia Hispanica L.). Eur J Clin Nutr. 2010;64(4):436-438.
- Vuksan V, Whitham D, Sievenpiper J, et al. Supplementation of conventional therapy with the novel grain Salba (Salvia hispanica L.) improves major and emerging cardiovascular risk factors in type 2 diabetes: results of a randomized controlled trial. Diabetes Care. 2007;30(11):2804-2810.
- Ho H, Lee AS, Jovanovski E, Jenkins AL, Desouza R, Vuksan V. Effect of whole and ground Salba seeds (Salvia Hispanica L.) on postprandial glycemia in healthy volunteers: a randomized controlled, dose-response trial. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2013;67(7):786-788.
- Ascherio A, Rimm EB, Giovannucci EL, Spiegelman D, Stampfer M, Willett WC. Dietary fat and risk of coronary heart disease in men: cohort follow up study in the United States. BMJ. 1996;313(7049):84-90.
- J. Morris. Superfood Cuisine: Cooking with Nature’s Most Amazing Foods.