WRITTEN BY R.D.N ANTONIO GOMEZ
Chia seeds are the product of the flowering plant “Salvia Hispanica L.”, it has been taunted as a medicinal and dietary plant species since ancient times by Mayan and Aztec people. In recent times, there was increasing attention and diffusion of Chia seeds for their claimed health benefits.
The species S. Hispanica produces a dry fruit which is commonly called seed, these small white and dark seeds were highly consumed in pre-Columbian times, along with corn, beans, and amaranth, making it basic foods in the diet of several Central American civilizations, specially Mayan and Aztec populations.
Chia seeds were used as a tribute and offered to Aztec gods in the Aztec Empire.
Chia seeds are commonly used in Argentina, Bolivia, Guatemala, Mexico, and Paraguay’s cuisines as a special ingredient in dishes and beverages.
Today, Chia is mainly cultivated on a small scale in its ancestral homeland of central Mexico and Guatemala.
Scientific Health Evidence
- Contain up to 50% of fatty acids of which alpha-linolenic acid represents the higher content (Taga et al.)
- Chlorogenic acid is the most abundant phenolic compound of Chia seeds. (Martınez-Cruz and Paredes-Lopez et al.)
- A randomized, single-blind trial on 20 adults with type 2 diabetes found a significant reduction in systolic blood pressure and C-reactive protein concentration in blood plasma after ingesting 37g of chia seeds added to the diet per day for 12 weeks (Vuksan et al.)
- The effect of ingesting 50 g chia seeds for 12 weeks was examined on 76 adults. This study found no significant reduction in inflammatory markers, body weight, blood pressure, lipid profile and blood sugar levels (Nieman et al.)
- The effect of dietary intervention in checking metabolic syndromes was evaluated through a randomized double-blind trial. This trial conducted on 67 adults found a significant reduction of triglycerides, C-reactive protein concentrations and insulin resistance in groups with a chia-based diet (Guevara Cruz et al.)
- It was observed that ingesting 35 g chia for 12 weeks decreased total cholesterol level and increased LDL cholesterol (Tavares Toscano et al.)
Chia seeds have a very rich historical value and in recent times it has been heavily studied as a nutritional aid for optimizing overall health, scientific literature focuses its health benefits in cardiovascular wellness due to its most important nutrient content that is alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a type of omega 3 fatty acid found in plants. As previously mentioned in previous posts, alpha-linolenic acid is a polyunsaturated fatty acid, meaning it can aid in inflammatory conditions due to its biological role of enhancing cell signaling by lowering cell membrane inflammation.
The health evidence of chia seeds are seen in person with metabolic syndrome, meaning persons that are overweight or obese and have one or more of the next biomarkers: high blood pressure, high blood glucose and high LDL and/or triglycerides, several studies shown a decrease on those inflammatory markers by adding a high chia seed dosage (35-50 grams) to the diet for a long time (12 weeks or more). On the other hand, some studies show no change or decrease in inflammatory biomarkers in healthy persons (without metabolic syndrome).
Another interesting compound found in chia seeds is a polyphenol called “Chlorogenic acid (CGA)”, polyphenols give fruits and plants its characteristic color and/or odor, and inhuman metabolism polyphenols have an antioxidant role, in this case CGA can aid in a reduction in blood pressure because antioxidants elicit an anti-inflammatory response, nevertheless as ALA its effect is significant in persons with high inflammatory markers like the ones previously mentioned in metabolic syndrome.
In addition, chia seeds are very low in caloric content, 1 tbsp brings only 7kcal, and its use is the diet is very versatile, in Mexican culture chia seeds are highly used with lemon juice, adding 3-4 tablespoons to a liter of water or lemon water will enhance the nutritional value of our beverages, adding very low calories with a decent intake of ALA.
“Chia seeds are very unique, it's very low-calorie content and its decent content of essential fatty acids like alpha-linolenic acid make it an excellent food to add to the diet, it is also very versatile meaning you can add it to your favorite beverage, the evidence in cardiovascular health benefits are promising in people who suffer from high blood pressure, high blood glucose, high triglyceride or other inflammatory biomarkers, nevertheless more research is needed in term of dosage, as it seems you need a high intake of chia seeds every day in order to elicit those health benefits.”
Chia seeds can easily be added to our Quinoa cereals during breakfast with yogurt, milk, and fruits to benefit from the Chia nutritional characteristics.
Álvarez-Cháveza L.M., Valdivia-Lópeza M.A., AburtoJuárezb M.L., Tecantea A.: Chemical Characterization of the Lipid Fraction of Mexican Chia Seed (Salvia hispanica L.). Int J Food Prop 2008.
Ayerza R.: Antioxidants, protein, oil content and fatty acids’ profiles of a single genotype of chia seeds (Salvia hispanica L.) growing in three different ecosystems of South America. Translates from Revista Aceites y Grasa 2014.
Flachs P., Rossmeis M., Bryhn M., Kopecky J.: Cellular and molecular effects of n−3 polyunsaturated fatty acids on adipose tissue biology and metabolism. Clin Sci 2009.
Guevara-Cruz M., Tovar A.R., Aguilar-Salinas C.A., Medina-Vera I., Gil-Zenteno L., Hernández-Viveros I., López-Romero P., Ordaz-Nava G., Canizales-Quinteros S., Guillen Pineda L.E., Torres N.: A dietary pattern including nopal, chia seed, soy protein, and oat reduces serum triglycerides and glucose intolerance in patients with metabolic syndrome. J Nutr 2012.
Nieman D.C., Cayea E.J., Austin M.D., Henson D.A., McAnulty S.R., Jin F.: Chia seed does not promote weight loss or alter disease risk factors in overweight adults. Nutr Res 2009.
Tavares Toscano L., Leite Tavares R., Oliveira Silva C.S., Silva A.S.: Chia induces clinically discrete weight loss and improves lipid profile only in altered previous values. Nutr Hosp 2015.
Vuksan V., Whitham D., Sievenpiper J.L., Jenkins A.L., Rogovik A.L., Bazinet R.P., Vidgen E., Hanna A.: Supplementation of conventional therapy with the novel grain Salba (Salvia hispanica L.) improves major and emerging cardiovascular risk factors in type 2 diabetes: Results of a randomized controlled trial. Diabetes Care 2007.