I think most people have now heard of chia seeds. Even if you don’t eat them, you’ve probably seen them at the health food store, the supermarket, or appearing in foods like protein balls and breads. And many people know they are a ‘healthy’ food, even if exactly how or why they are healthy isn’t fully understood. I was trolling through Facebook the other day when an ad caught my eye. There were chia seeds, in a popular Chemist and supermarket brand, with 25% less fat!!!
Rather than diving head first into a big vat of low fat chia pudding to celebrate, I was horrified! What on earth was this company thinking? Here you have something many naturopaths and nutritionists recommend for its wonderful omega 3 fatty acid content, and they have to go take out some of that healthy fat! It’s just ridiculous. It’s like saying here is some brown rice with 25% less fibre, or here is some chicken with 25% less protein… I know chia contains other beneficial components such as fibre, minerals, antioxidants and protein, but the vegetarian essential fatty acids contained in this little seed is one of the biggest selling points for me.
Let’s look at chia seeds further. 25-30% of the weight of chia seeds is made up of extractable oil. The health benefits of the oil component of this amazing plant has been detailed here for you.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids an essential fat normally found in fish oil. Chia seeds’ fat profile is made up of 60 percent omega-3s, making them one of the richest plant-based sources of these fats. This essential fat is rarely found in plants, more commonly Omega-6 is available. As a result, it is very easy to consume enough Omega-6 through plants, but often difficult to meet the daily requirements of Omega-3 without fish. Chia contains the highest known plant source of these essential Omega-3’s above perilla and flax, two other commonly known oily seeds. They also contain alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA. The omega-3s in chia seeds can help reduce inflammation, enhance cognitive (brain) performance and help to reduce high cholesterol.
Studies have found that after 10 weeks of consuming 25 grams of ground chia seeds per day resulted in higher blood levels of ALA and EPA (2 of the good fats). These fats are good for the heart, while having no negative effect on inflammation or disease risk factors. In another study, blood was found to be thinner and less prone to clotting, and the blood pressure of participants dropped significantly, after three months of eating whole chia seeds daily.
A study published in the “British Journal of Nutrition” showed that chia seeds can lower triglycerides (blood fats) and total cholesterol levels, while increasing HDL or “good” cholesterol. The study also found that when substituting chia seeds for other fat sources, such as corn oil, the good fats in chia, namely the ALA was able to prevent high triglyceride levels and reduce central obesity.
A number of arthritis sufferers have reported reduced pain and inflammation after a few weeks of taking chia seeds. The high concentration of omega-3 are responsible for helping to lubricate joints and keep them supple.
So as you can see, if you take out 25% of the fat contained in chia seeds, you are taking out some of the health benefits! Certainly you can still take chia for its fibre content, protein or antioxidants, but in my opinion, if you want to increase these elements, you are better off using a supplement specific to your goal. For example, psyllium husks are a lot higher in insoluble fibre, and they are a lot cheaper than chia seeds.
For me it comes back to the beauty of whole foods. Mother Nature doesn’t make mistakes. She didn’t just accidentally put too much oil in chia seeds. They are there for a reason, and work synergistically with all the other nutrients in the seed. The fats that are contained in those seeds are good for you, just eat them. Ok, you can now cue the vat of chia pudding, but make sure it’s full fat.