Health Matters – Exploring the Chia Seed

?Dear Dr. Katie,

What are chia seeds? I saw someone purchasing them, and I was intrigued.?

John

Dear John,

Good question! Chia seeds, or salba seeds, are small, brown- and grey-coloured seeds from the plant Salvia hispanica. Originally a staple food of the Aztecs, their popularity spread to both Central and South America, and now more recently to North America. As you probably noticed, chia seeds can now be found in nearly every health food store, and in some grocery stores as well.

One might ask, why the popularity of this lowly seed? Chia seeds are being touted as the easier, healthier alternative to flax seeds (flax seeds contain omega-3 fatty acids, are a good source of fibre, and possess lignans that bind exogenous estrogens in the body). Human digestive systems have difficulty digesting whole flax seed; hence to benefit the body, ground flax seed is always recommended. However, chia seeds do not need to be ground, since the body is able to break down the seeds? outer coat on its own.

You will notice that chia seeds have a mucilaginous consistency when you chew them. This mimics what the seeds do in your intestines. Research shows that chia seeds possess hydrophilic qualities, which refers to the seeds? ability to attract water (hydrophilic means ?water-loving?). In fact, chia seeds may be able to absorb up to 10 times their weight in water! In the intestines, this often means more regular bowel movements.

Additionally, chia seeds contain ?good fats?; namely, omega-3 (30% of the seeds? oil can be classified as omega-3 fatty acids) and omega-6 (40% of the seeds? oil is omega-6 fatty acids). In general, these ?good fats? help with skin hydration as well as brain function.

Note that although omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids also often reduce arthritic inflammation and promote heart health, it is debatable whether the levels found in chia seeds can impact these two concerns. Research shows that although the seeds? fatty acids are well-absorbed by the body, they do not have the same effect on inflammation and heart health do those found in fish oil, for example.

It is also possible that the gluten-free chia seeds may be beneficial for diabetics. Recent research shows that 37 grams daily of chia seeds may reduce blood sugar levels. Since the seeds also are high in fibre, this is an additional benefit for those with blood sugar dysregulation.

In short, the health benefits of chia seeds sound promising. Check them out and enjoy their unique flavour!

?Dear Dr. Katie,

I purchased some chia seeds, but I’m not sure what to do with them. Help!?

Unsure

Dear Unsure,

To prepare chia seeds, think of other nuts and seeds that you might have in your diet; chia seeds can be consumed in much the same way. They are best eaten raw; you can munch on one to two tablespoons for a snack, or you can sprinkle that amount over your salad, trail mix, yogurt, or morning cereal. The possibilities are endless.

You will also notice that the seeds have a nut-like taste to them when eaten raw. With this flavour in mind, you can let your imagination run and experiment with adding the seeds to a myriad of recipes!

Katie D?Souza, B.Sc., ND

Katie D?Souza is an AU graduate and a licensed naturopathic doctor. She currently lives in Ontario.

The information contained in this article is for personal interest only; it is not intended for diagnosis or treatment of any condition. Readers are always encouraged to seek the professional advice of a licensed physician or qualified health care practitioner for personal health or medical conditions.

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