Archive for April, 2012

Chia Seeds, superfood or hype?

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

Chia seeds are gaining popularity as a dietary superfood, but are they really special?

Chia is an ancient grain, cultivated by cultures such as the Aztec thousands of years ago, and a significant portion of their diet. More recently in the 1980’s, these are also the same seeds grown to sprouts on Chia Pets.

Nutritional Analysis of 1 ounce (28 grams):

Calories 137
Total Fat 9g (1g saturated)
Cholesterol 0mg
Sodium 5mg
Total Carbohydrate 12g
Dietary Fiber 11g
Protein 4g

Minerals of note:

Calcium 177mg (18% DV)
Phosphorus 265mg (27% DV)
Manganese 0.6mg (30% DV)
Zinc 1.0mg (7% DV)

Touted superfood benefits which we will analyze one by one:

Weight loss: Chia seeds swell and form a gel when added to water. This effect may be filling and blunt the appetite. However there isn’t any research to back up claims of direct weight loss. It’s also worth noting that an ounce of seeds packs the same number of calories as a thick slice of bread, and a tablespoon of chia is worth 70 calories.

Reduction of cholesterol: Chia seeds contain fiber, fiber helps to reduce blood cholesterol levels. So, yes they are helpful to reduce cholesterol.

Control of blood sugar: again, it’s about the fiber. So, yes chia’s fiber slows absorption of sugar into the bloodstream during and after a meal.

It’s worth noting that chia is a complete protein and has an excellent omega-3 fatty acid profile (57% alpha linolenic).

My analysis finds that chia really isn’t extraordinary or a superfood. However it is a healthy, good quality food. It lends the same heart health benefits of many other seeds and legumes. Flax, chick peas, oatmeal, quinoa, black beans come to mind.

What you may want to do is a cost analysis. How much is a half pound of chia? You may be paying a premium for hype, Chia has been around for thousands of years and there is precious little research to back up any claims that it’s better than widely available healthy grains and legumes.