Five Top Tips on Chia

Do you sprinkle Chia on your cereal? Should you?

Chia means “strength” and years ago in Mexico, it was used to as an energy enhancer.  Chia seeds are the latest functional food, which means the food may have physiological or health benefits and/or reduce the risk of disease.  Chia seeds can be added to cereals, cereal bars, cakes and desserts.  It is claimed to be a miracle food which assists with weight loss, improves hydration, increases omega-3 and omega-6 levels and improves blood glucose levels…but, does it?

TOP TIP # 1 - What is Chia?

Edible seed that comes from the desert plan Salvia Hispanica grown in Mexico, which produces white or purple flowers.  Chia can grow up to 1 m tall, with small flowers only 3 – 4 mm and grey, black, or white seeds only 1 – 2 mm long (1).  Chia seeds have the ability to stabilise emulsions due to their water holding and absorption capacity, and are gluten free.  They are added as an ingredient in cookies, cereal bars, chips, desserts, breads, jellies and emulsions.  They are also used in animal feed to increase fatty acid levels in eggs and meat. 

TOP TIP # 2 - Digestion

It has been observed that Chia seeds soaked in water exude a transparent mucilaginous gel that remains strongly bonded to the seed coat (2). Chia seeds contain mostly soluble fibre, which absorbs water and turns into a soft gel.  This fibre can swell in the intestine making you feel full for longer, and it can therefore stabilise blood glucose by slowing down the absorption of carbohydrates (2).  When starting to use Chia, start slowly by adding 1 teaspoon daily into your food for a few days and increasing the amount every 2- 3 days until you manage to consume about 1 – 2 tablespoons daily which is the recommended amount (3).  

TOP TIP # 3 - Weight Loss

Chia has been claimed to help with satiety (reducing hunger) and thereby assist with weight loss.  Studies conflict in this area, and generally the research indicates that it does not assist in weight loss.  One study by Nieman, et al (2009) had participants consume 25 g chia mixed with 250 mL water, twice daily for 12 weeks (4).  No significant results were shown with changes in body composition or inflammatory markers, blood pressure and lipoproteins (4). In another study there were also no significant results, and the amount of Chia was only 4 g in addition to other foods such as oats (5).

TOP TIP # 4 - Non-communicable diseases

Animal studies indicate that rats fed chia seed had significantly decreased triglyceride and low-density lipoprotein levels and increased high density lipoproteins (6).  However in systematic review looking at all the human studies to date from the previous 10 years (2004-2014), most of the studies did not demonstrate statistically significant results in relation to cardiovascular disease risk factors.  Thus the relationship between Chia seed consumption and cardiovascular risk factors is deemed insignificant, mostly due to the studies reviewed having numerous limitations (7).  This same systematic review analyzed Chia's effect on blood glucose and serum insulin in the studies, which also indicated no significant changes (7). 

TOP TIP # 5 - Nutritional analysis of Chia

Chia seeds are an unprocessed wholegrain which contain 25 – 40% oils, which are around 60% alpha linolenic acid (ALA) and 20% linoleic acid.  Both of these are essential fatty acids required by the body for good health. A serving size is recommended to be 2 Tablespoons, which contains 139 calories, 4 grams protein, 9 grams of fat, 12 grams of carbohydrates and 11 grams of fibre.

Chia Fruity breakfast

1 cup milk

1 cup Greek yogurt

2 tablespoons maple syrup

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Pinch of salt

 1/4 cup chia seeds

Topping; 1 cup strawberries, hulled and chopped +1 tablespoon maple syrup  + 1 tablespoon sliced/ chopped almonds

Directions

1.      Whisk almond milk, yoghurt, maple syrup, vanilla, and salt together in a bowl until just blended

2.      Add the chia seeds, and whisk together.  Cover the dessert and leave in the fridge for 8 hours – soak overnight.

3.      In morning, mix together maple syrup and strawberries into the chia seeds.  Serve into 4 bowls and top with almonds. 

Alternative fruit toppings are blueberries, pomegranate seeds, raspberries, blackberries.  

Alternative nuts/ seeds toppings are sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, crushed plain nuts, walnuts.

References

1.      Mohd Ali, N., Yeap, S. K., Ho, W. Y., Beh, B. K., Tan, S. W., & Tan, S. G. (2012). The promising future of chia, Salvia hispanica L. BioMed Research International, 2012.

2.      Dick, M., Costa, T. M. H., Gomaa, A., Subirade, M., de Oliveira Rios, A., & Flôres, S. H. (2015). Edible film production from chia seed mucilage: Effect of glycerol concentration on its physicochemical and mechanical properties. Carbohydrate Polymers, 130, 198-205.

3.      U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015 – 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th Edition. December 2015. Available at https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/

4.      Nieman, D. C., Cayea, E. J., Austin, M. D., Henson, D. A., McAnulty, S. R., & Jin, F. (2009). Chia seed does not promote weight loss or alter disease risk factors in overweight adults. Nutrition Research, 29(6), 414-418.

5.      Guevara-Cruz, M., Tovar, A. R., Aguilar-Salinas, C. A., Medina-Vera, I., Gil-Zenteno, L., Hernández-Viveros, I., ... & Torres, N. (2011). A Dietary Pattern Including Nopal, Chia Seed, Soy Protein, and Oat Reduces Serum Triglycerides and Glucose Intolerance in Patients with Metabolic Syndrome–. The Journal of nutrition, 142(1), 64-69.

6.      Ayerza Jr, R., & Coates, W. (2007). Effect of dietary α-linolenic fatty acid derived from chia when fed as ground seed, whole seed and oil on lipid content and fatty acid composition of rat plasma. Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism, 51(1), 27-34.

7.      de Souza Ferreira, C., de Sousa Fomes, L. D. F., Espirito Santo da Silva, G., & Rosa, G. (2015). Effect of chia seed (Salvia hispanica L.) consumption on cardiovascular risk factors in humans: a systematic review. Nutricion hospitalaria, 32(5).

8.      Jin, F., Nieman, D. C., Sha, W., Xie, G., Qiu, Y., & Jia, W. (2012). Supplementation of milled chia seeds increases plasma ALA and EPA in postmenopausal women. Plant foods for human nutrition, 67(2), 105-110.

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