Chia seeds: Fad or superfood?

Do Chia Seeds deserve all the popularity they are receiving? Let's find out.

Chia seeds

Many manufacturers and health food advertisers have been crediting chia with a number of health benefits: aiding weight loss, lowering cholesterol, controlling sugar levels in diabetics and preventing heart attacks. But are these just tall claims?

Nutritionally chia seeds are rich in fats, particularly polyunsaturated [including omega-3 fats] and monounsaturated fats, protein, antioxidants and calcium. They also contain a good amount of iron and other minerals like potassium, magnesium and phosphorus.

Source of omega-3

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential acids which are necessary but cannot be made by the body and hence have to be obtained from foods. They have been known to reduce inflammation and blood triglycerides, thereby helping to prevent heart disease and stroke among others. Like all plant sources [flax seeds, walnuts, leafy vegetables], the omega-3 present in chia seeds is in the form of ALA [alpha linolenic acid].

Two tablespoons of chia seeds contain about 4,500 mg of omega-3, which is a little less than flax seeds, the other power house of omega-3.

Source of fibre

Fibre helps not only to relieve constipation but also in lowering cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Two tablespoons of chia has about 10g of fibre. It is regarded as a good source of fibre as adults need about 25 – 40g of fibre per day. As foods with fibre take longer to digest, chia seeds may help in keeping you feeling full longer, just like other high fibre foods.

Weight loss?

Since chia seeds are rich in fibre, they are touted to help lose weight. When chia seeds are soaked in any liquid like water, milk or juice they absorb the liquid and get swollen. They can swell up to 10 times their dry weight and become a gel like substance. This property is used to advertise its ability to curb appetite. However, a study conducted by researchers at Appalachian University showed that it did not promote weight loss or alter any disease risk factors.

Chia seeds may not be suitable for patients taking blood pressure medication or blood thinners as there is a possibility of a drug-food interaction

Most researchers agree that chia seeds may have health benefits when taken along with a balanced diet and adequate physical activity but may not be a “miracle” food for all our lifestyle induced diseases like diabetes, obesity, heart disease and stroke.

Using chia seeds

Chia seeds have been used since ancient times, both whole as well as ground into flour. They have a longer shelf life too due to the antioxidants in them. It is great for vegans and for those who are gluten intolerant.

For vegans – Since chia forms a gel like substance when mixed with water, it can be used as a substitute for eggs in baking, making it a perfect egg substitute for vegans.

For gluten intolerant – Chia seeds are gluten free and hence make a great alternative for wheat, barley, oats.

Chia seeds are very similar to the sabja seeds [tulsi seeds which are used in falooda] that most Indians are familiar with. They have a mild nutty flavour and hence combine well with most dishes without drastically changing its taste. The soaked seeds are soft but have a crunch at the end which gives the dish a different texture.

Here are some ideas to include chia seeds in your diet

Breakfast: It makes a great substitute for cereal soaked in milk; use it in lieu of cereal [cornflakes, oats, muesli or wheat flakes] or add it along with them to make your breakfast more nutritious. It can also be added to dosa, idli batters for those looking for traditional Indian breakfast.

Snacks or dessert: Soak them in curd or juice and you have a pudding like dish. You can even add them to smoothies to add a nice crunch. It can be used in baking to make cupcakes, muffins and breads.

Lunch and dinner: The soaked seeds or the ground flour can be added to rotis, thalipeeth and parathas. You could add chia seeds to your chutney recipes too.

Is it worth the price?

With the apparent health benefits of chia seeds, the only deterring fact is the cost. At INR 200 – 250 for 100g, many may feel the pinch. Flax seeds are a better buy as they have slightly more omega-3 and you could buy a kg of flax seeds for INR 200.  But wait, here’s some good news—some farmers in Mysore are growing chia seeds and if the trend catches on, it might bring the prices down in the near future.

This was first published in the April 2016 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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