"The results were lower blood pressure, reduced low-grade inflammation, and it made blood thinner. There are not many studies in the literature showing this kind of results from a natural grain. It was rather spectacular."
-Dr. Vladimir Vuksan, U of Toronto researcher-
Three weeks ago my sister asked me if knew anything about Chia Pet seeds. Yes, you read that right--these are the same seeds that grew the hair of the 1980's sensation "The Chia Pet"! She said she heard they were better than flax seeds--more nutritional bang for the buck--and you didn't need to grind them up or keep them in the refrigerator. Even Dr. Andrew Weil is a big fan.
I was clueless--never heard of the them. But I said I would check it out. After looking into it I think Chia just may supplant my super food favorite flax seed, and here's why I'm starting to use these teeny tiny Peruvian poppy seed-sized seeds :
- High in Omega 3-s. Chia has the highest level of healthy omega-3 fatty acids of any plant, including flax. This is in the form of alpha-linolenic acid. A June 2008 article in Nutrition Reviews raves about the cardioprotective & neuroprotective benefits of ALA, as well as its effect in countering inflammation and its beneficial effect on autoimmune diseases.
- Fiber. Chia has the highest known whole-food source of fiber. About 2 TBS.=7 grams of fiber, both soluble & insoluble. Note: This differs by brand.
- Needs no refrigeration. It's so rich in anti-oxidants (chlorogenic acid, caffeic acid, myricetin, quercetin and flavonols) that it doesn't need to be refrigerated, unlike flax seed. And it doesn't need to be ground up, unlike flax.
- Nutrients. It's chock full of important nutrients, including protein, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, copper, niacin and zinc.
- Easy to use. It's tasteless & can be mixed easily in oatmeal, yogurt, baked goods, or smoothies. Or you can sprinkle it on salads.
- Keeps your blood sugar steady. You can add it to your water bottle, wait 30 minutes & give it a good shake. The tiny seeds form a pleasant gel, which will slow down the digestion of carbohydrates, preventing blood sugar spikes, and keeping you feeling full longer. My sister adds lemon Crystal Light to her "Chia Water". My husband & I drink it "straight up". Or try "Chia Fresca", a traditional Mexican & Central American drink. Mix 8-10 oz. of water, 2 tsp. of Chia seed, a little lemon or lime juice & some sugar. "Chia water" is reminiscent of the bubble tea you may have tasted at a Thai restaurant.
- No gastric discomfort. Flax seed is gas producing for me--Chia isn't. No idea why!
The big buzz started when Dr. Vladimir Vuksan, a professor of endocrinology and nutritional sciences at the University of Toronto, published a study of 20 type-2 diabetics who supplemented their diets with about 3 tablespoons of Salba (the commercial brand of ground Chia seeds) everyday for 12 weeks. Dr. Vuksan thought it would be a great supplement to lower the blood sugar levels of diabetics and decrease their risk of cardiovascular disease at the same time. The control group ate wheat bran, the other group ate the Chia seeds. Turned out that both groups had equal drops in blood sugar. But, some surprising cardiovascular benefits accrued for the Chia group!
Benefits found from the Chia Seed Study.
- Blood pressure decreased. The Chia group had a 6.3 point drop in blood pressure. According to Dr.Vuksan, "That's better than a lot of medication." The drop may be because of the Chia's unique combinations of high omega 3's, high fiber, vegetable protein and magnesium.
- The C-reactive protein levels decreased by 30%. CRP is a key measure of inflammation & an important marker for cardiovascular disease. Anything that can reduce it by 30% is worth noting.
- Clotting factors dropped by 20%. Based on previous research, this would translate into a modest decrease in cardiovascular disease.
- The ALA blood levels (the plant form of Omega-3) doubled in the Chia group.
The Aztec Legends Surrounding Chia seeds.
- A handful of Chia seeds could sustain ancient Aztec warriors for a full day.
- The Aztecs used Chia as a medicine to relieve joint pain and skin conditions.
- Aztec runners, who delivered messages between communities, used Chia mixed with water to sustain themselves on long runs.
How Much Do The Seeds Cost? Which Brand Is Best?
- Chia seeds will set you back much more than flax seed will. Bob's Red Mill Flax costs only $.14 an ounce. I'm not giving up my flax, just adding Chia a few days a week.
- The plain Jane black seed Shiloh Farms brand costs about $.62 an ounce.
- The ChiaLife brand costs about $1.20 an ounce at a local health food store, but $.88 an ounce online.
- Nature's Answer (the brand my sister uses) costs about $.77 an ounce.
- The Salba brand, which was used in Dr. Vuksan's Toronto study costs about $1.25 an ounce. This is a white seed, that the company says is the culmination of 15 years of special breeding and results in a substantially enhanced nutrient density. Who knows? You be your own judge.
- The nutrient content for Salba, Natures' Answer & ChiaLife are all basically the same, so I'm not sure why Salba thinks their product is superior. The Shiloh Farms brand just has basic fiber, carb & protein content on its label, not omega-3 or vitamin & mineral content.
- As far as my taste tests went, they were all the same.
- UPATE: When I wrote this post I had only tasted the Salba brand of Chia meal (ground up Chia). I have since tasted the Salba Chia regular seed & I have to say, I really like its taste & texture. If it weren't so expensive it would be my first choice. Maybe the price will come down.