Saturday, July 5, 2014

Chia Seeds

Ch-Ch-Ch-Chia! The gift that grows! And all this time I just thought it was an annoying commercial for an odd product (for those of you familiar with Chia Pets). But as it turns out, seeds from the chia plant (Salvia hispanica L.) are making their way into the American diet and for good reason too. Below is a summary of the nutritional composition of chia seeds, the most recent scientific findings, and some delicious recipe ideas from Master Chef Jenny.

Chia seeds are made up of 15-25% protein, 30-33% fats, 26-41% carbohydrates, 18-30% dietary fiber, and vitamins and minerals (% composition varies depending on environment, climate, and soil conditions).[1] 

Chia seeds do not contain gluten.[2] 

Chia seeds are rich in α-linolenic acid (ALA) which is an essential omega-3 fatty acid that research suggests is useful for the prevention of heart disease.

Chia seed clinical trials:
Like most clinical trials of natural products, clinical trials regarding the health benefits of chia seeds produced differing results, though it is speculated that differences among these clinical studies are due to variations in treatment durations, variations among participant groups, and variations in the composition of the chia seeds used in each study. Numerous large-group studies are still needed to make any definite conclusions. Nevertheless, here is a summary of five recent chia seed clinical trials:

1. In 2009, overweight adults were subjected to 25 g chia seed twice per day or placebo for 12 weeks. Although α-linolenic acid plasma levels increased in patients consuming chia seed, there were no significant effects on weight loss or disease risk factors.[3]

2. In 2010, eleven healthy subjects received bread containing 0, 7, 15, or 24 g chia, and blood glucose and appetite were measured after two hours. The results showed a dose-dependent decrease in postprandial glycemia (blood glucose levels after eating) for all subjects that consumed bread containing chia vs bread without chia, and appetite ratings were decreased as well.[4]

3. Subjects with metabolic syndrome were put on a low-calorie diet and given either placebo or a shake containing soy protein, nopal, chia seed, and oats for two months. Those that took the health shake yielded greater body weight loss and reduced triglyceride and blood glucose levels, though these results cannot be attributed to chia seed alone since the shake contained other healthy ingredients.[5]

4. In 2012, a study showed that 10 postmenopausal women who consumed 25 g chia seed per day for 7 weeks had significant increases of α-linolenic acid plasma levels.[6]

5. The most recent clinical trial I could find was published in July of 2012 where scientists studied the effects of milled and whole chia seeds on disease risk factors in overweight, postmenopausal women. Although both whole and milled chia seed consumption increased plasma concentrations of α-linolenic acid, there was no overall effect on inflammation or disease risk factors when consuming 25 g/day chia seed for 10 weeks.[7]

Chia seeds with oatmeal, strawberry yogurt and granola
Photo Credit: Jenny 

Other recent findings:
A study in June of 2014 determined that the total phenolic concentration in chia seed is 1.8-fold higher than previously thought, and its antioxidant activity is greater than previously reported.[8]

In 2013, researchers studied the effects of chia seed on glucose and lipid metabolism in insulin-resistant rats. The authors found that replacing corn oil with chia seed in the diet of these rats significantly reduced adipose tissue volume and distribution, improved lipid metabolism, normalized glucose metabolism, and reversed insulin resistance and dyslipidemia.[9]

In 2012, using rats, scientists found that supplementing a high fat, high carbohydrate diet with chia seeds resulted in improved insulin sensitivity, reduced visceral fat, and reduced heart and liver inflammation compared to rats on a similar diet without chia seeds.[10]

Overall, more research is needed to make any definitive claims regarding the health benefits of chia seed consumption, but the current research suggests numerous health benefits due to the high amounts of α-linolenic acid and dietary fiber.

Jenny’s Chia Superfood Ideas
Chia seeds go well with anything. I know that the seeds expand to make you feel fuller and content. Be careful to not get the seeds all over your kitchen or you will have an awful time cleaning them up. My mom spent ten minutes getting them out of the kitchen washcloth. They tend to stick to ANYTHING which is why they are great for digestion. I commonly add my chia seeds with my protein shakes and oatmeal. Just add about a teaspoon to a tablespoon of chia seeds to:
Pancakes, smoothies, shakes, malts, cookies, cake, cupcakes, tea, water, salads, dressings, egg dishes, muffins, crackers, tacos, bread, pasta etc…

Chocolate Chia Seed Pudding 
Photo Credit: Jenny 

Chocolate Chia Seed Pudding Recipe: 
1 tbsp of chia seeds
1 tbsp of cocoa powder
1 tsp of stevia or vanilla
½ cup of non-fat greek yogurt
Allow the ingredients to soak for about 30-45 minutes

[1] Ali et al. Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology. 2012; 171956.
[2] Bueno et al. Boletin Latinoamericano y del Caribe de Plantas Medicinales y Arom´aticas. 2010; 9 (3): 221–227.
[3] Nieman et al. Nutrition Research. 2009; 29 (6): 414–418.
[4] Vuksan et al. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2010; 64 (4): 436-438.
[5] Martha et al. Journal of Nutrition. 2012; 142 (1): 64-69.
[6] Jin et al. Plant Foods Hum Nutr. 2012; 67 (2): 105-10.
[7] Nieman et al. J Altern Complement Med. 2012; 18 (7): 700-8.
[8] Martínez-Cruz and Paredes-López. J Chromatogr A. 2014; 1346: 43-8.
[9] Oliva et al. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 2013; 89 (5): 279-89.
[10] Poudyal et al. J Nutr Biochem. 2012; 23 (2): 153-62.

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