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Chia – Nutrition in a Tiny Seed

Chia (Salvia hispanica; Lamiaceae) seed originated in South America and was a staple in the diets of ancient Mesoamericans. The ancient Aztecs revered chia seeds as vital nourishment and even used them as currency.

Low in calories and gluten free, chia seeds provide fiber (25 g of the seeds correspond to almost 7 g of fiber) and are considered easy to digest. The nutritionally dense seeds contain high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, B vitamins, and minerals, including calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, copper, iron, and zinc. They are also a source of complete protein, containing all the essential amino acids.

Research has shown chia seeds may be of benefit in improving cardiovascular health, including improving both high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Research has also shown chia seeds can benefit brain and neurological functions, arthritis, and plasma levels in postmenopausal women (See HC 101256-467). Because chia seeds are digested slowly, they may also help with blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. Chia seeds are also being touted for weight loss, as the high-fiber content keeps one feeling satiated resulting in less likelihood of snacking between meals. Chia seeds are being marketed for their mood-enhancing benefits, ability to improve concentration, capability to increase energy, and for skin, hair, and nail health. The seeds can also prolong hydration, and are, therefore, a benefit to athletes.

The tiny seeds of the chia plant can be eaten right out of the bag, mixed into granola or trail mix, sprinkled on cereal, salads, or yogurt, and can be used in baking. Although some companies selling chia have described the taste as "bland" (so they can be mixed into recipes without distorting the taste), Dr. Andrew Weil states that chia seeds have a nutlike flavor. He suggests mixing the seeds in water and adding lime or lemon juice and sugar (or honey or stevia) to make a drink that is known as "chia fresca" in Mexico and Central America.

Lori Glenn,  Managing Editor