A point for the good guys: Chia Seeds

Fresh off the heels of my first installment of sugar free recipes, I decided I’d write an article on a specific and specifically nutritious ingredient that took part in three of said recipes: Chia seeds!

Chia seeds. As you can see, some are white and some black. As with golden vs. brown flaxseeds, there is no real nutritional difference in the two. Most are sold together like this, anyway.

I was pretty irritated to ‘find out” about these guys, especially once I saw their nutrient profile. What I mean is that the only time I had ever heard of them in any context was as part as the stupid jingle “Ch-ch-ch-chia!” that I’m sure most of you remember as the marketing for Chia Pets and Heads. For all this time, I never knew that the little seeds that were being used in some 57 year-old New Yorker’s apartment to grow hair on a terracotta Homer Simpson were so beneficial to health. In fact, when I analyzed that aforementioned nutrient profile, I was surprised and disappointed that their nutritional mightiness wasn’t more common knowledge. Take a look:

1 oz. chia seeds contain:

• 11g of dietary fiber, mostly soluble; that’s about a third of the recommended daily value. If you read my post on fiber, you know that 11 g is about as much fiber as most Americans get in a day. Just 3 oz. of this stuff in your morning cereal, and you’d be covered!

• 177mg calcium. That’s 18% of your daily recommended value- in ONE OUNCE of chia seeds! Milk, the oft-cited place to get calcium, per-ounce has only 17% as much as these little hair-growers.

• 265mg phosphorus, or 27% of your daily recommended value.

• .6mg manganese, or 30% of your daily value. In case you don’t think that little bit’s important, see here.

• 4915mg omega 3 fatty acids. This is of special note, since an ounce of chia seeds also contain 1620mg of omega 6 fatty acids. This means this is probably one of the only natural foods (especially seeds) which contains more heart-healthy omega 3s than inflammatory omega 6s, and also has the amazing property I’m about to divulge. Have a look!:

• I saved this point for last, as for me it is the most impressive. AHEM; 1 oz. of chia seeds contain 4g of protein. “Big deal,” you may be thinking. Well, it is when you consider that the protein in chia seeds is a complete protein, consisting of all the essential amino acids for muscle growth and development. In conjunction with the above-named nutrients, the profile of this plant food looks a lot like the profile of a meat! That said, this is an excellent source of complete protein and those nutrients above for vegetarians and vegans!

Antioxidant properties

In examining anti inflammatory foods, we found that antioxidants perform various protective roles within the body. One such antioxidant I directly spoke on, quercetin, is found in spades within chia seeds; and its usefulness has been compared to a chemically-created synthetic commercial antioxidant called Trolox. Bet ol’ trollox doesn’t come jam-packed with complete protein, huh? (Just can’t get over that!) In any case, this antioxidant is linked to a decrease in presence of allergy triggers. Also present in these seeds used as food since ancient times (this was one of four main crops of the Aztecs, and the only one not to become cultivated in modernity to any great extent) are the antioxidants chlorogenic acid (which aids in glucose metabolism) caffeic acid (aiding in aflatoxin destruction), kaempferol (which helps maintain heart health, eliminate cancers, and possibly is a natural deactivator of depression), and myricetin (useful in cancer elimination). The antioxidant capabilities of our “seedy” pals (okay, that pun made no sense) doesn’t end for us, though; natural antioxidants from within the seed itself protect the omega 3 fatty acids within from degradation. As I have discussed on other posts, polyunsaturated oils are highly prone to degradation which causes destruction of the omega 3 compounds and spoilage; to know this amazing seed has a built-in defense mechanism against that makes it even more attractive! And we’ve been using it in Chia Pets.

Seeds of Change

Chia seeds also have potent effects as a remedy for diabetes. They have been seen to reduce post-meal blood glucose levels, insulin levels, blood pressure and oxidant stress in both diabetes patients and the normal population; as well, they show promise as helpers in artery cell wall movements and coagulation (and specifically anticoagulation) of blood.

I’ve been well-aware of the practice of feeding hens and the like with high omega 3-containing flaxseeds for some time now, and the better omega 3:6 ratio their resulting eggs are imbued with; however, I was not aware of the emerging use of chia seeds as healthy supplementation to chickens (as opposed to the awful soil and grain feed commercial chickens on-the-whole receive). In fact, chia seeds “beat out” flaxseeds in one department: yolk fatty acid composition. While a 30% flaxseed diet caused hens to replace some of the saturated fatty acids with high omega 3 linolenic acids, a 30% chia seed diet went so far as to even the ratio between linolenic acid and saturated fatty acids! In addition, broiler chickens fed a similar diet showed many of the same properties, including the replacement of much saturated fatty acid with high omega 3 linolenic acids and a better omega 6:3 ratio. Additionally viewed on the adult chickens was less fat on the dark meat portion of the chickens, and the fact that they were lighter and more lean, suggesting that they might have been healthier than average farm chickens.

So, how do I use ’em?

Since all of the reasons above make it obvious that you should be eating these things, now all you have to go do is buy some and figure out how to utilize them. Here are a few suggestions:

• As a supplement: This is, by far, the easiest and most practical way to use chia seeds. A bag of chia seeds at most health food and vitamin stores costs around $9/lb. for organic. With the heaviness of nutrients contained within, it doesn’t take much to get a whole lot out of these little seeds. In fact, besides the nutrition facts I posted above, I’ll point out that the same one ounce that contains all the protein and vitamins also contains 130 calories, 9g of fat (1g saturated) and 12g (low-gi) carbs; so, an ounce is plenty enough to sprinkle over your breakfast in the morning or stick in some fresh-squeezed fruit/vegetable juice.

• As a flour. You may or may not have seen my post with sugar-free recipes; in it, I use chia seed flour with mixed results. It’s certainly an interesting medium for baking. Due to its complex fatty acid and fiber structures, it rises just like regular flour. The texture’s a bit…different, but if you’re looking for a heaping dose of fiber and complete protein that would be missing in baking with normal flour, you should check into it! I just use my normal 10-speed blender to chop chia seeds into a flour. I wouldn’t really recommend using these in high-heat cooking due to the potential of degradation of the fatty acids, but as I said: They do have some antioxidant defense against that!

• In a chia pet. JUST KIDDING.

I hope you’ve been illuminated to the use of this wonderfood. If any of you know vegans, be sure to pass it on!