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Chia seeds nutrition facts

Does chia seeds have packed with all the nutrients in order to label them as numero uno, ultimate foodgrain? Or are they just an another novel entrant to the spectrum of food items so called "superfoods"?

Chia are tiny, oblong shaped oil-seeds consumed as one of the staple by ancient Aztecs. The crop, in fact, was cultivated in the same measure to corn and amaranth by native Mexicans. Many nutrition experts believe chia (Salvia hispanica. L) seeds top the list of functional foods because of their wholesome nutritional properties. In fact, nutrition planners today looking up at chia as a single wholesome source of phyto-nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids (a-Linolenic acid), anti-oxidants, minearls, vitamins and dietary fiber in right proportions.

Botanically, chia is a low-growing herb in the mint family of plants. Scientific name: Salvia hispanica.

chia seeds- salvia hispanica
Chia seeds.
photo courtesy: Stacy Spensely

Chia (Salvia hispanica) is a small, annual, drought-tolerant, flowering herb. It flourishes well under sandy, fertile soils.

chia seeds
Chia seeds-close up view.

The Salvia hispanica plant can grow up to a meter in height and bears broad, green color leaves with serrated margins. Purple, pink-violet color flowers in spikes appear after about 4 months after seedling.

Chia seeds come in variegated colors depending up on cultivar type and may vary in color from black, brown to off-white. Its seeds measure about 1 mm in diameter and resemble like miniature pinto beans. Its smooth outer cover is made of hygroscopic mucilage coat which absorbs water and swells up several times the original size.

Health benefits of chia seeds

  • Chia seeds compose almost of all the essential nutrients such as protein, omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, dietary fiber, vitamins and minerals essential for optimum growth and development in good proportions.

  • Being an oil seed, chia is rich in calories. 100 g seeds provide 388 calories. However, much of their calories come from poly-unsaturated fatty acids (PUF). Chia seeds compose an excellent proportion of omega-3 to 6 poly-unsaturated fats; in the recommended ratio of 1:4.

  • An important omega 3-fatty acid in chia is alpha-linoleic acid (ALA). Studies found that ALA and other omega 3 fatty acids by virtue of their anti-inflammatory actions help lessen blood pressure, coronary artery disease, strokes and breast, colon, and prostate cancers risks. Adequate quantities of omega-3's in the diet may be essential for normal development and maturation of nervous system in infants and young children.

  • Chia seeds compose of several health benefiting anti-oxidants namely ferulic acid, caffeic acid, quercetin, etc.

  • 100 g seeds provide about 91% of daily recommended intake levels of dietary fiber. The outer coat of chia is made of water-soluble mucilage, a non-starch polysaccharide (NSP), which swells up several times and acquires gel-like consistency. Mucilage helps in smooth digestion and bowel movements.

  • Chia is a gluten free grain. People with known sensitivity to gluten sensitivity or celiac's disease can safely add it in their diet.

  • Chia are one of the low glycemic index foods and according to Nutritiondata.com has a fullness facor of 2.8. Low glycemic index help in effective regulation of daily blood glucose levels. Substitution of chia to rice and other cereal grains may benefit in individuals with diabetes.

  • The seeds are an excellent source of vitamins like niacin, riboflavin, thiamin, folic acid. Niacin is an important B-complex vitamin found abundantly in chia, nearly more than twice the amount in sesame seeds. 100 g of chia provide about 8.83 mg or 55% of daily-required levels of niacin. Niacin helps reduce LDL-cholesterol levels in the blood. In addition, it enhances GABA activity inside the brain which in turn helps reduce anxiety and neurosis.

  • The seeds are good sources of many essential minerals. Calcium, phosporous, iron, manganese, and magnesium are particularly concentrated in chia. Many of these minerals have a vital role in bone mineralization, red blood cell production, enzyme synthesis, as well as regulation of cardiac and skeletal muscle activities.

Just a few tablespoon full of chia a day provides enough recommended levels of phenolic anti-oxidants, minerals, vitamins and protein.

Selection and storage

In its native field, chia harvested and processed in the same way like that of amaranth and quinoa. Traditionally, its mature seed-heads cut, dried under sunlight, threshed and winnowed to remove chaff in order to obtain clean chia seeds.

Chia seeds are small, about pinhead size, deep-brown in color and feature sooth, shiny surface, measuring about 1 mm in diameter. Salba chia seeds are genetic variant of wild chia and come in white color. Chia can be stored in good condition for several months to years in polybags/bins. Ground chia, however, should be stored inside an airtight box and placed in cool dark place where it can store for few weeks.

Culinary uses

Chia can be readily available all round the season in the market. Cleaned whole seeds, and ground flour in airtight packs, bulk bins are displayed for sale in these stores.

Here are some serving tips:

  • Chia can be used in several ways. Aztecs and Mayans happen to drink chia mixed in hot water and prepare thin gruel. In the present day Mexico, chia seeds consumed in many novel ways. Chia fresco or agua de chia is a refreshing summer drink made of groung chia, lemon juice and sugar.

  • Toasted seeds can be added to bread, cookies, muffins, etc.

  • Sprinkle whole or ground chia over yogurt, fruit smoothies, milkshakes, etc.

Safety profile

Chia seeds have been found to have no known intolerance or allergic reactions in humans. The seeds can be safely consumed by pregnant and small children in small quantities. (Medical Disclaimer).

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Further Resources:

1. USDA National Nutrient Database.

2. Plant profile for Savia hispanica (chia).

3. Chia (Salvia hispanica): a systematic review by the natural standard research collaboration.

4. University of Kentucky cooperative extension service-pdf.

5. Nutritiondata.com.

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