It’s been a long time since I’ve done a food-specific focused post. I thought I’d go over the basics of chia seeds as they’ve become all the rage. They’re being added to everything from smoothies to comprising their own health bars. (Please note, link is an example recently brought to my attention; I have not tried the Health Warrior’s bars and do not recommend any one brand/source of chia-based products.)
So what are chia seeds? Formerly used by Aztec warriors on long marches for energy, they are high in protein and contain all the essential amino acids, as well as alpha-linolenic acid and fiber. They also form a gelatinous paste when mixed with water/wetness due to a form of natural mucilage (type of soluble fiber) and therefore chia seeds become a great thickener agent for our favorite foods, like pasta sauce and wintertime soups. (Source: Wellness Foods A to Z, by Sheldon Margen, M.D., and the Editors of the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter; 2002, p. 523)
Interestingly, although the claims of it helping with weight loss may not be true, there are signs that consuming chia seeds improves heart health. They also are a great grain substitute as it is a much healthier whole grain. According to WebMD’s article (above), two two-Tablespoon doses of chia seeds also have more antioxidants than whole foods like blueberries. Other benefits include regulating blood sugar levels, it’s gluten-free, and contains minerals that may help prevent hypertension.
Here is a lengthy, but informative, review of the safety of chia seeds as a food ingredient conducted by the European Food Safety Authority. After some excellent charts and discussion, which includes how chia seeds can be produced (rather eye-opening for those who want organically-grown, ethically-produced, fair-trade products), their conclusion is that a 5% maximum intake in breads would pose no threat to public health.
So what is the current conclusion on chia seeds? There are some studies suggesting that it may help metabolic disorders. At present, it is mainly seen as a great source of fiber and antioxidants, which is a great reason to incorporate them into one’s diet. The rest of the claims, sadly, may be good advertising–the jury is still out on it’s cancer-fighting and weight-loss benefits.