Is Chia a Superfood? Can it Prevent Cancer or Diabetes?

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Who knew!?! Chia seeds are not just to make little terra cotta pot animals known as "Chia Pets". I can already hear the commercial jingle... "Ch Ch Ch Chia!".
Chia Pet Homer

Image by misterbisson via Flickr

I decided to cover this topic because in two weeks, I've had people ask about Chia seed in two completely different presentations!

I did some research on what I could find out about the plant. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics:

"Chia seeds come from the desert plant Salvia hispanica, a member of the mint family. Salvia hispanica seed is often sold under its common name "chia" as well as several trademarked names. Its origin is believed to be in Central America where the seed was a staple in the ancient Aztec diet. The seeds of a related plant, Salvia columbariae (golden chia), were used primarily by Native Americans in the southwestern United States."
Nutrition Benefits of Chia

The following nutrients are found in Chia seeds:

  • protein
  • fiber
  • calcium
  • omega 3 fats
  • antioxidants
Chia has been studied for several different health related issues including:

  • glucose control
  • cholesterol management
  • weight loss
I could not find any good studies on Chia and cancer. However, the following 2 studies are from 2009 and give a summary of what was found regarding Chia and health:

  • Chia seed does not promote weight loss or alter disease risk factors in overweight adults. No group differences were measured for changes in blood EPA and DHA. Pre-to-post measures of body composition, inflammation, oxidative stress, blood pressure, and lipoproteins did not differ between chia and placebo for both sexes. In conclusion, ingestion of 50 g/d chia seeds for 12 weeks by overweight/obese men and women had no influence on body mass or composition, or various disease risk factor measures. [Nutrition Research Journal 2009].
  • Dietary chia seed (Salvia hispanica L.) rich in alpha-linolenic acid improves adiposity and normalises hypertriacylglycerolaemia and insulin resistance in dyslipaemic rats. The present study provides new data regarding the beneficial effect of chia seed upon lipid and glucose levels in an experimental model of dislipidaemia and insulin resistance. [British Journal of Nutrition, 2009]

Basically, a human study found no changes in body mass or disease risk over 12 weeks. The other study, on rats, showed a benefit to lipid levels and insulin response.

What's The Bottom Line?

Chia seeds are a good sources of healthy nutrients. While there's not consistent evidence that it will significantly improve your health, it doesn't appear to be harmful. I say it's worth a try. Let me know what you think!

How can you use it? Chia seeds work well as an addition to yogurt, sprinkled on cereal, and in smoothies.

Warning! Because they are a good source of fiber, they are best introduced starting with 1 or 2 Tbsp per day. Otherwise, you might be dealing with some gas and abdominal discomfort!

Want to read more evidence based information regarding Chia? Check out these articles:
What are Chia seeds?
Dietitian writes on Chia

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- Julie
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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Julie Lanford MPH, RD, CSO, LDN published on February 14, 2012 12:00 PM.

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