Chia Seeds


Conclusions

As well as being one of the best sources of ALA, chia seeds have many other nutritional advantages.

Having been suppressed by the Spanish in Mesoamerica during the sixteenth century after thousands of years of use, chia (Salvia hispanica) has more recently been enjoying a renaissance.

Chia seeds are very practical because they have relatively soft seed coatings and are extremely stable, allowing them to be kept for several years.

A Step Backwards? It seems ironic that the areas of Mesoamerica that enjoyed an effective agriculture system and correspondingly high quality diets at the start of the 16th century are now apparently characterized by hunger and poverty as a result of modernization.


Introduction

Chia is the common name for Salvia hispanica, a member of the mint family.

Scientific research material for chia is relatively sparse and, according to Ulbricht et al (Sept 2009), only 2 clinical trials have been conducted into the use of chia in relation to cardiovascular disease.

For this project we examined a small number of published research articles, which provided limited insight, but relied heavily on the book CHIA, by Ayerza & Coates (A&C), which we have reviewed elsewhere on this site. The information sources are listed in the Research Material page for this project.

We formulated a series of questions that we have then attempted to answer by studying the A&C book and, to a lesser extent, the other research material.

The questions that we have addressed during this project are:

What is the history of chia as a food?
What is the nutrient content of chia?
Is there a contamination issue?
How stable are chia seeds compared to other seeds?
What side effects are there?
What specific benefits do they provide?
How can chia seeds be incorporated into our diet?
Does chia need to be approved for use as a food?


What is the history of chia as a food?

Chia was cultivated, together with several other food crops, in Mesoamerica from around 3,400 BCE by various communities. These peoples included the influential Teotihuacan civilization that occupied the Valley of Mexico from around 200 BCE to the seventh century CE.

By the early sixteenth century, at the time of the Spanish colonization, chia had become an important crop of the Aztecs. It was consumed in various forms as food and drink and its oil was used as a cosmetic and also in the manufacture of paint and varnish. It was frequently used to pay tributes and taxes.

In the unique Aztec city of Tenochtitlan, located in the centre of the area that is now occupied by Mexico City, chia was grown in the innovative floating chinampas, and also on terraces.

Because chia was used in native religious rituals, its use was suppressed by the Spanish occupation, along with the consumption of amaranth. In contrast, the other two traditional food staples of corn and beans were allowed to remain in use.

Since the time of the Spanish conquest, chia was only grown in small, isolated plots as a marginal crop until the latter part of the twentieth century. It is now grown commercially in Mexico, Argentina, Bolivia, Guatamala, Ecuador and Australia.

Read a review of CHIA (ayerza & Coates)


What is the nutrient content of chia?

A Powerhouse of Nutrients: Chia seeds are close to being a complete food, supplying an excellent balance of n-3 ALA to n-6 LA with complete protein, minerals, antioxidants and dietary fiber. They are gluten free. In common with other plant foods, however, they do not contain the important n-3 PUFAs EPA or DHA.


Different data sources, such as those used by A&C on the one hand and the USDA database on the other, give different nutrient quantities.

PUFAs

According to A&C, ALA makes up 63.8% of the total fatty acids in chia seeds, while LA makes up 19%, giving a ratio of 3.36 to 1 n-3 to n-6. The USDA, using a slightly different measurement (which should nevertheless give a comparable ratio), gives 17.55g of ALA and 5.79g of LA per 100g of chia seeds. This equates to a ratio of 3.03.

Protein

It is hard to reconcile the figures provided by A&C with those from the USDA but both sources show that chia is a source of complete, high quality protein. This makes it particularly valuable to vegetarians and vegans.

Minerals

A&C give slightly higher figures than USDA for calcium, phosphorus, zinc, copper and manganese.

A&C shows much higher levels of potassium than USDA.

A&C gives a figure for magnesium, aluminium, iron and molybdenum whereas USDA does not.

A&C does not give a figure for sodium whereas USDA shows a very low level.

Vitamins

A&C highlight the vitamin B content, helpful in moderating homocysteine levels, which are significant for cardiovascular disease. The USDA lists only vitamin B12, assigning it a value of zero.

Antioxidants

Although USDA does not list any antioxidants in its nutrient analysis of chia, A&C attach particular importance to the notable antioxidant levels that are present in chia seeds, attributing to them the ability of chia to resist oxidation. This allows it to be stored for long periods without any deterioration. The antioxidants listed by A&C are:

Dietary fiber

According to A&C, chia contains a significantly higher percentage of fiber than barley, wheat, oats, corn or rice. This is reinforced by the USDA data, which indicates a fiber content of 37.7g per 100 g.

Is there a contamination issue?

The limited research sources found did not indicate the presence of any significant levels of contaminants or toxins.

How stable are chia seeds compared to other seeds?

An Unusually Stable n-3 PUFA Source: Because of their high antioxidant content, chia seeds have the uncommon advantage of stability. This allows them to be kept for several years without the rapid deterioration that other sources of n-3 PUFA are prone to.


The high stability of chia seeds is considered a major advantage, thought to be conferred by the high levels of antioxidants present in the seeds (see above).

What side effects are there?

The limited research sources found did not indicate the detection of any adverse effects associated with consumption of chia seeds.

What specific benefits do they provide?

The benefits of chia seeds can be summarized as follows:

Learn about the nutritional benefits of ALA


How can chia seeds be incorporated into our diet?

A Versatile Food: There are multiple opportunities for incorporating chia seeds into our diets, as they can be added to livestock feeding regimens and otherwise used to enrich food products, as well as including them directly in several ways.


A&C in their book CHIA focus on the possibilities for using chia seeds to enrich other food products, for example by including them in the diet of livestock, without mentioning the possibility of using the seeds directly in the human diet.

Many individuals, including the operators of this website, consume chia in their diets on a regular basis.

Here is a summary of the ways in which chia can be consumed:

Does chia need to be approved for use as a food?

Chia requires approval in Europe but not the USA: It is curious that Chia, an unprocessed, natural food of high nutritional value with no known adverse effects, requires approval by the EEC in order to be used as an ingredient in manufactured foods.


It seems from historical records that chia was used extensively in pre-conquest Mesoamerica without the need to comply with any bureaucratic formalities. The same cannot be said, however, of chia use in the modern European Economic Community.

An application was made in 2004 to the Advisory Committee for Novel Foods and Processes under the Novel Foods Regulation to include both whole and ground chia seeds as a novel food ingredient in soft grain bread.

Go to Part 3 - Flax Seeds

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