Loaded with fiber, polyunsaturated fatty acids, protein (including all of the essential amino acids), calcium, and several other minerals, chia seeds are hitting the supermarkets and health foods stores with promises of weight loss, improved athletic performance, decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, and a variety of other health benefits.
Chia seeds come from the plant salvia hispanica, a flowering plant from the mint family. The seeds are native to Mexico and Central America and were probably a staple in the Mayan and Aztecan diets.
While commonly consumed in Mexico and the Southwestern United States, it was not until recently that the Chia seed gained widespread attention as a potential “superfood”. Few other foods provide as dense of a source of omega-3 fatty acids or as rich content of fiber (over 40% of the recommended daily amount in a 1-ounce serving).
The research evaluating whether the Chia seed provides substantive, measurable health benefits lags behind the public interest in this latest purported miracle food. While study results continue to be released, so far the data is mixed. One study of 75 overweight adults randomized half of the participants to a Chia seed group while the other half were given a placebo. The Chia seed group consumed 25 gram twice per day for 12 weeks; the control group took a placebo supplement.
The researchers predicted that the Chia seed group would have increased weight loss and improved cardiovascular risk profile due to the Chia seed’s high levels of satiety-inducing fiber and heart-healthy Omega-3 fatty acids. While the Chia seed group did have higher levels of alpha-linolenic acid, the Omega-3 precursor to the heart-healthy EPA and DHA, levels of EPA and DHA as well as other markers of cardiovascular risk and body composition were no different between the two groups.
The researchers concluded that the Chia seeds provided no measurable benefit over the 12-week study. However, it is possible that a longer-duration study, different amounts of Chia seeds, or and evaluation of different variables would lead to different results.
Other researches were interested in weather Chia seeds could help improve the performance of endurance exercise lasting longer than 90 minutes by serving as a source of carbohydrate loading. They compared carbohydrate loading with Gatorade to carbohydrate loading with 50% Chia seeds and 50% Gatorade in six trained male athletes.
Each study participant engaged in a one-hour run on a treadmill followed by a 10K time trial on a track with both carbohydrate loading with Gatorade and carbohydrate loading with Gatorade-chia seed mix with a two-week washout period in between.
Performance measures were equal with both regimens, suggesting that Chia seeds could provide a healthier source of carbohydrate for endurance athletes.
However, the researchers did not measure the degree of gastrointestinal distress, which could be higher with the Chia seed group given the high fiber content of the seeds.
A systematic review conducted to evaluate the evidence to date to support the health claims for Chia seeds concluded that there is little scientific evidence to support the effectiveness of Chia seeds in providing any health benefits.
That is not to say that Chia seeds do not provide benefit; it is simply that there is too little quality research available to make any definitely conclusions or recommendation. Importantly, the data to date suggest that consumption of Chia seeds is generally safe without major health risk, other than for those individuals who are allergic to Chia seeds.
Overall, the Chia seed could be an exceptional addition to a healthy and balanced eating plan. Simply substitute Chia seeds for eggs or oil by mixing a tablespoon of Chia seeds with ¼ cup of water; use as a thickener for soups and puddings, or add Chia seeds to an herb, or granola mix.
Nutritional Properties of Chia Seeds
|Nutrient||Unit||Value per 100 g||oz = 28.35 g|
|Total lipid (fat)||g||30.74||8.71|
|Carbohydrate, by difference||g||42.12||11.94|
|Fiber, total dietary||g||34.4||9.8|
|Vitamin C, total ascorbic acid||mg||1.6||0.5|
|Vitamin A, IU||IU||54||15|
|Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol)||mg||0.50||0.14|
|Fatty acids, total saturated||g||3.330||0.944|
|Fatty acids, total monounsaturated||g||2.309||0.655|
|Fatty acids, total polyunsaturated||g||23.665||6.709|
|Fatty acids, total trans||g||0.140||0.040|
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