Chia seeds have gained popularity among the list of well-known health foods. Coming from the desert plant, Salvia Hispanica, which commonly grows in Mexico, their use dates back to the ancient Mayan civilisation. Although packed with nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, carbohydrates, protein, fibre, and antioxidants, just how much of a ‘superfood’ are chia seeds?
Fun Fact 1
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports that chia seeds contain 31% total fats, of which are mainly polyunsaturated fats, and have one of the highest known content of Alpha-Linolenic Acid (ALA) – an important omega-3 fatty acid. Did you know that omega-3 fatty acids are associated with cardio-protective benefits?
Fun Fact 2
Chia seeds are also high in soluble fibre. A high fibre diet has many health benefits such as good colon health, a healthy weight as well as reduced risks of diabetes and heart disease.
Fun Fact 3
Chia seeds have been touted to contain a higher complete protein content than most grains and cereals. Protein is essential for building muscles, and may also help support the immune system. However, chia seeds cannot be used as a sole source of protein, as they lack sufficient lysine – an essential amino acid that can be obtained from other protein food sources such as meat, poultry, fish and nuts.
Fun Fact 4
Chia seeds also contain antioxidants such as naturally occurring polyphenols. Dietary antioxidants protect the body against harmful cell damage. Generally, coloured fruits and vegetables are known to be rich in polyphenols.
Although a nutrient-dense food, research on whether chia seeds can help with diabetes management and weight loss has been inconclusive. Consumers should thus be aware of the possibly over-hyped and unsubstantiated health claims related to chia seeds.
If you are looking for a good allrounded dietary source of fibre, protein and healthy fats, chia seeds are certainly a welcome consideration to add to an already varied and balanced diet. Remember that nutrients and foods often work in synergy, and that there is no such thing as a single ‘superfood’!
By Ms Celia Jong,
Nutrition and Dietetics Department,
Tan Tock Seng Hospital