Salvia hispanicaChia Seeds
Health food or exotic food decoration?
Indian Running Food
Chia Seeds (pronounced chee-ah) are another new ‘superfood’ that people are going crazy for, but is all the fuss justified? The stories sound sexy enough — the Aztecs, Mayans and Incans traditionally used the seeds to sustain themselves when running long distances, and when preparing to battle. But what can this foreign seed offer us new-age Kiwi folk — who use cars, trains, and aeroplanes to travel long distances, and whose battles are contained to rugby fields?
Finding ourselves in yet another foreign 'seedy' situation
We were just getting used to saying ‘keen-wah’ rather than ‘quin-no-ah’, when along comes another seed from South America — Chia Seeds.
Pronounced ‘Chee-ah’, most Kiwis refer to them as ‘Chai-a’ seeds. These seeds can be black, brown or white. While the colors are different, the taste and nutritional value are more or less the same, although the darker seeds have a slightly higher concentration of antioxidants. The Chia seed is prized for the fibre, protein, oil, minerals, and antioxidants it possesses. To put it into perspective, if compared to Quinoa seeds (which are essentially the same size), it packs more of a punch on most nutritional fronts. However, because of the nature of this particular seed, it cannot be imbibed in in any great quantity. Therefore in my opinion, it leaves its ‘nutritional’ value of limited use.1
Note: Let me be clear by saying that its culinary uses however, are unlimited. For instance, I think this Raw Chia Seed Jam from Petite Kitchen is a fab idea.
The fibre And Protein in Chia seeds helps us to:
1— stablilize energy levels
2—balance blood sugar levels
3—reduce cravings and curbs the appetite
4—promote weight loss (by curbing the appetite)
5—increase detoxification and elimination
6—lower cholesterol and triglycerides
7—reduce blood pressure
Note: the top four points contribute to the ‘endurance’ factor that Chia seeds are famed for.
01—Its nutrient profile
For their size (again, similar to a Quinoa seed) these wee ‘performance enhancers’ are chock-a-block full of:2
(it contains all the essential amino acids — Vegans listen up!)
omega-3 and omega-6 oils
(quercetin, caffeic acid and chloregenic acid)
Apparently Chia seeds contain more omega-3 than salmon, more calcium than milk, and more antioxidants than blueberries. And, considering their size, they contain a ‘sizable’ amount of magnesium and potassium.
Note: I use the protein content of these seeds to establish serving sizes for my clients. It is difficult to establish dosing based on the actual levels of oils, minerals, and antioxidants. I prefer to recommend other foods and herbs for these purposes.
02—Taste and versatility
Chia seeds taste pretty harmless — they’ve got a very mild bitter/sunflower seed flavour to them. Therefore there are endless different ways you can use them (hide them!) They add texture — a bit of crunch — where necessary. This seed can also be used as a thickener, as a replacement for eggs & breadcrumbs, and to coat things.
How to eat or drink Chia seeds
Chia seeds can be used in several ways: They can be eaten freshly ground, or whole. They can be eaten raw or cooked.
How wholesalers suggest you use Chia Seeds
Add them to everything!
They recommend you use them in: cereals, smoothies, salads, soups, energy bars/balls, yoghurt, baked or cooked dishes.
Make them into healthy puddings!
Add them to water (cold/hot) or juice to drink.
01—Meh — I’ve seen it before
The way everyone goes mad for Chia seeds, you’d think we’d never heard of soluble fibre and its benefits before!
In case anyone’s forgotten, here are some examples of other foods that do the same job: flaxseeds, slippery elm, psyllium, oat bran, seaweed, legumes, apples, cabbage, onion, nuts and seeds.
Note: Soluble fibre has a gel-forming action that is believed to create a physical barrier between carbohydrates and your digestive enzymes thus slowing the conversion of carbohydrates into sugar.
02—Chia seeds could be a
little too hardy for some
I don’t know about you folk, but I don’t think my European digestive tract is as hardy as a native South American’s — whose traditional staple diet is corn and beans. Activate these seeds by soaking them first or by sprouting them, which can help to make the nutrients more accessible and the seeds easier digested (www.sproutpeople.com). This may also help to prevent constipation and gastrointestinal distress that can be created if you do not consume enough water with your seeds.
03—Don't get too excited
about the oil content
Not all omega-3 is created equally! Chia seeds are rich in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a member of the omega-3 essential fat family. ALA is not the same in its chemical make-up as the other forms of omega-3 that are derived from fish (EPA and DHA). Your body can’t always convert them into the more useable form so easily.
04—No-one can agree on how much
you should eat of them!
Different brands, have different suggested servings sizes:
Ceres suggests: 10g
Navitas Naturals suggests: 12g
Makakana Superfoods suggests: 15–30g
Different health professionals, and various health bloggers have different opinions as well!
Most fail to mention how important it is to ensure you are drinking enough water with the use of these seeds.
Be moderate with your consumption of these seeds.3, 5, 6
1— There is not enough long term research on how this foreign seed interacts with our Kiwi digestive systems, and ultimate well-being.
2—No-one can agree how much fluid these seeds can absorb. Therefore it would pay to consume these with water, least they absorb your digestive secretions, and/or constipate you!
How much you
should take to benefit
The aim should be to reach about 5–8 g of protein per serve (this amount is based on a ‘snack size’ for a reasonably active 70 kg person). Therefore you’d want to consume between 25–40g of these seeds — depending how you’re allotting your protein requirements throughout the day.
Note: Sprinkling a tsp of these seeds into your smoothie4 or over your salad won’t add much in the way of protein (approx. one gram!), or other nutrients. This hardly seems worth it consider they don’t add much in the way of flavour. Here you are simply decorating your food.
Who I recommend these
seeds to, and when I
recommend you take them
Use these seeds:
1—if you’re currently overeating
2—if you’re having trouble coming up with enough protein based snacks, or
3—if you’re having trouble producing a regular, soft spongy stool (bulk laxatives can be used for both constipation and diarrhoea — depending on the amount of water consumed along with them)
Use between 25–40g of the seeds to approx.10x the amount of water to create a healthy fibre drink (not particularly tasty but ‘doable’). This is also a portion controlled protein snack to fill you up. This can also help prevent you overeating at the next meal.
Take this drink before bed in preparation for your ‘morning poo’. The protein and soluble fibre will also help to regulate blood sugar levels throughout the night.
If taking Chia seeds in this manner doesn’t appeal, then perhaps try sprouting your seeds instead. Take 2 small handfuls of these as a snack (mid-afternoon or before bed). Make sure you drink your fluid requirements throughout the day.
Note: Snacking on Chia seeds won’t help if the reason for your overeating or craving of ‘sweet things’ is due to an emotional issue, nutrient deficiency or a hormonal concern. In fact, you may mask your complaint by doing so. It is advisable to talk with a Naturopath if you have any of these health conditions.
They don't give a quick energy boost — they allow a slow energy release.
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Lisa Fitzgibbon is a qualified (2006), experienced and registered Naturopath and Medical Herbalist. She runs her own private practice OOMPH, in Grey Lynn (Auckland, New Zealand). Lisa has been involved in the Natural Health industry for 13 years. She draws on her professional training and experience, as well as her own personal experience to bring you realistic, holistic health advice.
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Lisa sees clients from all over New Zealand either in person or via SKYPE.