Why should I include Chia seeds into my diet?

Chia seeds have been around for a while, but have recently started to gain popularity on social media and in cookery books with interesting dessert recipes.

So where does Chia come from?

The seed come from a plant, Salvia hispanica, and is a member of the mint family. Like many of the fashionable ancient grains, it is believed Chia originally comes from Central America where it was thought to be a staple in the Aztec diet. The name “chia,” is derived from a word meaning “oily.” The top chia-producing countries today are Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru.

Chia Seeds are tiny, oval shaped black seeds and absorb fluid when soaked to form a jelly like substance (full of soluble fibre).

Nutrient composition:

These tiny seeds have gained some attention as an excellent alternative source of omega-3 fatty acid (a rich source of ALA). They are also an excellent source of fiber at 10 grams per 85g (about 2 tablespoons), and are also a source of protein and minerals (e.g. iron, calcium, magnesium and zinc). There is an added benefit for those with gluten sensitivities, as they are also gluten free. Chia seeds are 53% fat, 35% carbohydrate, and 12% protein.

Fatty acids:

Chia can make a great alterntaive to slamon as a source of omega 3’s – that could save you quite a bit of money seeing as salmon is so pricey at the moment. The majority of chia’s Poly unsaturated fatty acid content is ALA, about 75% – ALA is the parent omega-3 fatty acid. “To put chia’s ALA content into perspective, the recommended Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) for ALA is 1.6 g per day for adult males and 1.1 g per day for adult females. One tablespoon of chia seeds provides 1.32 g ALA, meeting the recommended DRI for women and satisfying nearly 83% of daily ALA needs for men. “

Protein
Chia seeds contain 18 amino acids, including all nine essential amino acids. Their antioxidant property varies according to environmental and soil conditions.

Fiber
The predominant fibre found in Chia is insoluble fiber, (+87% of the total fiber) and the soluble fibre content provides about 13% of chia’s total fiber. “Chia seeds are hydrophilic, which means they soak up liquid.

Health benefits:

There aren’t too many published studies out there on the health benefits of Chia. But research suggests that including chia seeds into a healthy diet may help improve cardiovascular risk factors (e.g. lowering cholesterol, triglycerides as well as blood pressure.)

Are there alternatives to Chia?

If you don’t really like Chia or if it doesn’t fit into your budget, you can try Flax seeds. These have a similar nutrient profile, but are a bit cheaper.

The important difference between these seeds is that unlike flaxseeds, chia seeds can be eaten intact without affecting digestion and absorption of their nutrients. While flaxseeds aren’t fully digestible in their whole form, so they can pass through the body, undigested and leaving us unable to use the omega 3’s and antioxidants they provide. You need to grind your flaxseeds or buy flaxseed powder in order to reap their health benefits

How to Eat Chia Seeds

The numbers of ways you can use Chia seeds are endless and only limited by your imagination.

  • Chia seeds can be eaten raw or incorporated into a number of dishes.
  • Sprinkle ground or whole chia seeds over breakfast cereals, yoghurt or vegetables.
  • Chia seeds can be incorporated into savory or sweet dishes. The latest craze is to make chia pudding – see recipes here
  • Soak chia seeds in water or any other fluid for approximately 10 minutes until they are plump and have a gelatinous texture
  • Baked goodies can be improved with chia – you can replace up to about 25% of oil/egg in cake recipes with soaked chia seeds and this apparently will not affect the weight, volume, or taste of the final product.
  • The seeds are actually are not the only important or edible part of the chia plant. The sprouts are also edible – but I have not seen these before in South Africa.

For delicious recipes that use Chia – check out our recipe page here

Munchwize Dietitians are based in Cape Town.

 

 

 

References:

What Are Chia Seeds? February 05, 2014. www.eatright.org

  1. Zimmerman. Health Benefits of Chia Learn About Its History, Nutrient Composition, and Current Research Regarding Its Health Benefits. January 2017. Today’s Dietitian. Vol. 19, No. 1, P. 44

Fast Facts: Chia seeds. http://foodandnonsense.com/fast-facts-chia-seeds/