Ch-ch-ch-CHIA [seeds]

15 Feb

So I’ve been hearing a lot about how amazing chia seeds are lately and decided to try them for myself and do a little research on them as well. So far, I’ve only added them to my oatmeal, which I do enjoy! They do seem to “puff up” and increase the volume of it… and anyone that knows me, knows I’m a volume eater – it takes a ginormous pile of food to tame my hunger. Has anyone baked with them?

 source

Chia is a seed from a plant found in Mexico called Salvia hispanica, a member of the mint family. Just a few of the health claims I’ve come across include:

  • Weight loss: chia seeds are claimed to reduce food cravings by preventing some of the food we eat from getting absorbed. 
    • First, why on earth would not want the nutrients we put in our body to be absorbed?A small, recent study found that chia seeds did not decrease appetite or aid in weight loss. However, my professional opinion is that since they are packed with protein, fat and fiber, they should slow down digestion and keep you full longer. And because of that, as a part of a lower calorie, well balanced diet with an exercise program, they may help with weight loss.
  • “Chia gel” provides good hydration for athletes due to its hydrophillic (water-loving) properties
    • I wasn’t surprised to not be able to find any recent, reliable research on this particular ‘benefit.’ The chia seed is supposed to absorb 9 times the weight of the seed in water. If you let the chia seeds sit in water, they do form a gel (looks like furry seeds to me). Supposedly, it is difficult to remove the water from the seed so that it is a long lasting hydration source. To be honest – I have NO idea on this one. Sounds like a well thought out (made up) theory to me, but also couldn’t hurt. Anyone have any research on this?
  • Reduces blood pressure
    • Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to help lower blood pressure (mostly EPA and DHA – below), but I did find one study that found no reduction in blood pressure when consuming 50gm of chia seeds per day.
  • Controls blood sugar by “slowing the conversion of carbohydrates into sugar”
    • Well seeing that sugar is a carbohydrate… this statement obviously wasn’t well thought out. I know what they most likely meant, but this is another red flag that this source probably isn’t backed with scientific information. But like I said above, the protein, fat and fiber will slow digestion, which does stabilizes blood sugars.
  • Contains omega-3 fatty acids therefore decreasing risk of heart disease, improving mood, improving inflammation of arthritis, etc.
    • There definitely is plenty of studies to prove the plethora of benefits that omega-3 fatty acids may offer, including the above. Chia seeds (as well as flax seeds, walnuts, canola oil) contain ALA, a type of omega-3. DHA and EPA are the two superstars as far as omega-3’s, with many studies showing prevention of heart disease; however, ALA is converted (inefficiently) to DHA and EPA in the body and may also contribute to some of the above benefits as well.
  • Beneficial to skin and hair.
    • Fats, protein and many of the micronutrients (vitamins/minerals) found in chia seeds are important components for healthy skin and hair
  • Used to treat colon cancer, IBS, diverticulitis, chronic constipation
    • Fiber definitely has a relationship to many GI conditions, including the above. It may help prevent colon cancer by keeping your bowels regular (if you drink plenty of fluid!), and it will help prevent diverticulitis flare-ups if you have diverticulosis (but during a flare-up, you may want to avoid high fiber foods).

Nutrition Stats (1 heaping tbsp) :: 56 calories, 5gm fat, 4gm poly, 0.5gm saturated, 6gm carbs, 6gm fiber (0.6gm soluble, 5.1gm insoluble), 3gm protein, 7% daily value iron

Also contains a vast array of vitamins (especially B vitamins) and minerals.

Just a note. There is a TON of information on the internet. Check your sources. If the site that is providing you with the information is also selling the product, do some additional research. Trust information from reliable websites (.org and .edu) and from trained professionals (RD, MD). Also, animal studies should be taken with a grain of salt; definitely a great research starting point, but humans anatomy is obviously different from any animal.

And my all time favorite advice: if it sounds too good to be true (whatever it is), it probably is.

Conclusion:: The bottom line is that chia seeds are no magic cure-all for every disease known to man (even though the internet apparently says otherwise). I did read a 2009 study that eating chia seeds had no effect on weight or various disease risk factors (inflammation, blood pressure, etc). But, in my opinion, I think they could be a good addition to a healthy, well-balanced diet due to the benefits of protein, fiber, polyunsaturated fats and many nutrients.

What do you use chia seeds in? What health claims have you heard about them? What’s your take?

Thought — “It’s never too late to be who you might have been” ~ George Elliot

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3 Responses to “Ch-ch-ch-CHIA [seeds]”

  1. Lucas February 21, 2011 at 6:55 pm #

    Just came across your blog from Heather’s tweet about running.

    Thought this was an interesting post and was glad to see you approach some of the claims. I first heard of these seeds a few years ago after reading Born To Run. They tout them as a super-food that can make you run longer and faster so of course I had to try. I initially would soak a few tablespoons of seeds in a glass of water overnight and let them soak it all up and by morning I could drink the gel. I don’t know if I ran better or not but it was an easy supplement to add. Anyway, I also eat them with oatmeal, salads and yogurt. Not having a flavor makes it easy to mix!

    • Brittany Glassett, RD February 24, 2011 at 7:27 pm #

      That’s interesting to hear you didn’t notice a difference in your running.. I was thinking about trying it… I could use all the help I can get! I do like the cruncy texture and volumizing effect of my oatmeal!

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