Click here for Part-1: Check out CHIA - a Super Salvia

Click here for Part-2: Check out CHIA - an Indigenous Food

part 3: Chia's Super Seed Nutrition

Salvia hispanica, Salvia tiliifolia and S. columbariae all grow into beautiful salvias that produce nutrient-dense, chia seeds. The nutrients contained in the tiny seeds contribute health benefits that increase energy and may reduce the risks for heart disease and obesity.

It helps to compare chia with flaxseed, since the two are similar in nutrients and most people are somewhat familiar with flaxseeds.

Chia vs Flax

Unlike flaxseed, chia is relatively new on the commercial agriculture scene. Consequently, there are fewer scientific studies about the effects of chia nutrients, versus flax nutrients, in the prevention of disease.

Chia seeds grey or white, same nutritionChia Nutrition

What we do know is that chia's nutritional profile is similar to that of flaxseed. Both have beneficial flavonoids and lignin antioxidants, as well as alpha-linolenic acid (ALA omega-3), dietary fiber (insoluble and soluble), calcium and manganese. Both contain all the essential amino acids, providing high quality protein, which is unusual from plant foods.

Most of chia's nutrients are comparable to flaxseed. The Super Seeds Nutrition Chart below compares the nutrients in one tablespoon of chia seeds versus one tablespoon of flaxseeds.

Chia (and flax) contain monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA). Polyunsaturated Omega-6 and Omega-3's provide energy and increase the absorption of fat soluble vitamins and healthy precursors, such as pro-vitamin A carotenoids.

Omega-3 foods

The majority of Americans do not consume enough omega-3 foods. The American Dietetic Association* (ADA) and Dietitians of Canada recommend reducing dietary saturated and trans-fats and increasing omega-3. Dietary omega-3 is found in seafood and plant foods. In healthy individuals, essential fatty acids have to be consumed daily, because tCheck out CHIAhe body can not make them.

Marine sources of Omega-3 come mainly from algae and seafood. The best sources include: kippered herring, salmon, sardines, rainbow trout, steelhead trout, mussels and halibut. Other sources include: krill, catfish, scallops, seaweed and tuna.

Plant sources highest in Omega 3's include chia, flax, walnuts, canola oil, edamame and soybeans. Other, not as rich (less than 500mg per serving), sources include: wheat germ, soy oil, tofu, winter squash (including acorn, butternut, spaghetti, hubbard), bok choy, kale, Brussels sprouts, mustard seeds, pumpkin seeds, avocado, and bush and pole beans (including Blue Lake, Kentucky Wonder, fava, navy, cranberry, Great Northern).

One tablespoon of CHIA provides 1.8 grams of Omega-3, which is more than the entire day's recommended Adequate Intake:

  • males age 14 and older: 1.6 grams per day
  • females age 14 and older: 1.1 grams per day
  • pregnant women: 1.4 grams per day

The Omega-3s we hear about most include: ALA, DHA and EPA. Three-letter abbreviations are usually used instead of their long names. It's good to know them, since they are involved with human health and are often mentioned on food labels and in product advertisements.

  • ALA (alpha-linolenic acid)
  • DHA (docosahexaenoic acid)
  • EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid)

The American Dietetic Association recommends consuming marine and plant sources of omega-3 as part of a heart healthy, cardio-protective diet. Chia seeds are a good source of ALA, but not DHA or EPA. DHA and EPA from marine sources are associated with cognitive function (brain, mood) and eye health. The human body can convert some Tarahumara Chia S.tiliifolia in bloom October zone6bALA to EPA and DHA; however, the amount is arguably minimal.

Dietary Fiber

Dietary fiber comes from plant foods: seeds, nuts, vegetables, beans, whole fruits and whole grains. The Institute of Medicine recommends dietary fiber intake in the range of 14 to 28 grams (g) per day, depending on age. Chia seeds are a good source: one tablespoon provides a total of 4g soluble and insoluble dietary fiber.

Insoluble fiber promotes regularity.

Soluble fiber helps lower triglycerides, cholesterol and blood pressure, reducing risks for coronary heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Soluble fiber slows the absorption of glucose, helping to stabilize blood sugar levels.

Meals and snacks containing fiber contribute to a feeling of fullness and contentment after eating. This may help curb overeating and decrease obesity risk.

Plant Sterols

Plant foods, including chia, contain natural sterols. Plant sterols aide in lowering cholesterol.

* The American Dietetic Association will have a new name, The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, effective January 2012.

Image credits: Chia thumbnail, Tarahumara Chia Salvia tiliifolia photograph and Chia Super Seeds Nutrition chart Copyright ©2011 D.Wind. All rights reserved.

Related links:

Fiber 101: Soluble Fiber vs. Insoluble Fiber Gloria Tsang, RD

Ask the Expert: Omega-3 Fatty Acids Harvard School of Public Health