What’s So Great About Chia?

What’s So Great About Chia?

The Best of 2012…..

In case you got a chia pet this holiday, don’t bother watching it grow. Eat it. We picked this What’s So Great About post as one of the column’s best from this year because it changed our perspective of the tiny chia seed from laughable novelty gift to nutritional powerhouse. it was originally posted on March 20th…..

It is funny, you know. I consider myself to be fairly knowledgeable about health and nutrition, but I am learning through my SPC work that I am traditional about the food we eat at home. I may go through fits and spurts of experimentation, but the truth is, I rely on blueberries for antioxidants, milk for calcium and meat for protein. Sometimes when I’m researching – in this case the chia seed- I find myself shaking my head and regretting all the lost years I could have been incorporating chia to my family’s diet. The regret comes from how seemingly easy it is to do and yet how hard it is to make the change. It is like turning around an oil tanker mid voyage. It takes a lot to turn that sucker around, turns out, I’m no different.

But the world has a way of providing. In my neighbourhood, there is a great little shop and resource called Nut House. It’s owned and operated by husband and wife team Alex and Liza Lukashevsky. It is a boutique shop that sells the good stuff in the west end of Toronto.  When I was last in, Liza was talking about chia to another customer (I immediately filed it under my SPC list of to dos) If you’re in the neighbourhood do check it out. There’s a treasure trove of difficult to find ingredients right along side your staples.  And Liza and Alex are on hand to talk about what ever it is you’re after.

I know I’m late to the game on chia, (hell the Aztec’s and the Mayan’s were on to it centuries ago).  So for those of you who like me, had little to no clue, read on. The rest of you? Tell us how you use chia for Pete’s sake!

If you have been a regular reader of SPC you will know that I’m obsessed with finding meat alternatives for protein.  Here’s another one to add to my list. Chia contains all 9 amino acids and is considered a complete protein. Perfect to add to my daughter’s cereal, which she eats most mornings and is admittedly almost entirely devoid of nutritional value.

As with a good deal of foods that get a moment in the media sun (read: Dr. Oz endorsed) it’s usually because there are some weight loss properties that can be credited to it. Chia is a rich source of soluble fiber which is helpful in weight loss as it absorbs water and gives the perception of feeling full. Soluble fiber also takes longer to digest and is low on the Glycemic index; all good for weight management. To be sure, however, the North American diet is lacking in fiber – so regardless of weight loss promises, by adding Chia to meals or drinks you can easily increase your fiber  without having to increase the amount of food you are eating. A mere 1 oz (28grams) of chia provides 11 grams of fiber. For some perspective, many breakfast cereals contain no more than 3 grams of fiber per serving and adults should be aiming for about 25 -35 grams daily.

While chia is touted as a weight management tool, it does contain  fat. Chia is well known for its Omega 3 fatty acid content – the kind we all need. And it comes without the mercury often found in fish (another source of Omega 3s). Prior to this post, I thought that salmon was the best source of Omega 3 fatty acids going. (see my salmon post) Well, take all the good stuff in salmon – apply it to chia – then quadruple it. You will get the same amount of Omega 3 fatty acids in 3.5 oz of chia as you will in 23 oz of salmon. If salmon is a super food, I say we name chia a super food giant. And, the staggering composition of chia doesn’t stop there. Have a look:

100 grams (3.5 oz) of Chia

•       a source of Magnesium equivalent to 53 ounces of broccoli

•       a source of Iron equivalent to 10 ounces of spinach

*      a source of Folate equivalent to 2 ounces of asparagus

•       a source of fiber equivalent to 4 ounces of bran

•       a source of Calcium equivalent to 23 ounces of milk

•       a source of Potassium equivalent to 6 ounces of bananas

•       a source of antioxidants equivalent to 10 ounces of blueberries

•       a source of Omega3 Fatty Acids equivalent to 28 ounces of Atlantic salmon

source (www.greensplus.com)

Add to this, chia is transfat free, contains no cholesterol, sodium and is gluten free.

My first thought was, yeah, but maybe consuming 100 grams of chia is like choking back 100 grams of swamp water. In fact, the opposite is true. Chia is tasteless and odorless, you can throw it in to just about everything without altering the flavour: baked goods, soups, smoothies, granola or breakfast cereal. Just go for it.

So what does all this mean? It means that people are studying it. A Globe and Mail article dated November 16, 2007 – (I told you I was late to the table) reported on a study conducted by Vladimir Vuksan, “lead researcher on the study and associate director of the Clinical Nutrition and Risk Factor Modification Centre at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto.”  His findings? “The study focused on 20 Type-2 diabetes patients who ate up to four teaspoons of Salba [white chia] every day for three months. Researchers found that clotting factors dropped 20 per cent and levels of C-reactive protein, a key marker of inflammation, fell 30 per cent. Levels of EPA, an essential omega-3 fatty acid found mainly in fish, increased 80 per cent in the patients… Most astonishing of all, however, was a six-unit drop in systolic blood pressure (the peak pressure in the arteries).” Vuksan believes so much in the power of chia that he’s added a shaker of chia to the dinner table along side his salt and pepper. “You simply don’t see many other ingredients that can do what Salba can,” says Vuksan “You add this to any food, even bad food, and it will improve your health.”

It appears I have been much more successful at cutting things out of my diet, (salt, fat, sugar) than I have of adding things to it. I suppose I have to start working on the other half of that equation and I’m going to start by following Vuksan’s lead.

For more on chia, what to do with it, how to store it and how it can be used here is my chat with Liza!

Heidi: What are the different chia products out there?

Liza: You can purchase Chia seeds whole, ground, sprouted, or as an oil.  Chia comes in black seeds or white seeds.

H: Is there nutritional difference between the black and white seed?

L: The black and the white are nutritionally identical.  The white Chia seeds are more expensive because they come from Australia (more expensive to ship).  The black seeds come from Mexico.  Sprouting Chia seeds increases their protein, but lowers their Omega 3 content.

H: How do you get chia into your kids?

L: For children, Chia oil is a great alternative to Chia seeds.  I’ve tried to give my kids Chia seeds, but they do not like their texture (they have no taste, no smell), so they get their dose of Chia through Chia oil. I put it on their toast under a nut butter or slice of cheese or I add it to a salad.  One tablespoon a day is all that is needed to get a proper dose of Omega 3.  I prefer Chia oil to flax oil (Chia seeds to Flax seeds as well) because it is much easier to keep fresh–Chia oil doesn’t go rancid as easily as Flax  (flax should be kept in the fridge; chia seeds and chia oil can stay on the shelf.)  I prefer chia oil to fish oil because I don’t have to worry about heavy metal contamination and I don’t have to deal with a fishy smell/taste.  Chia oil has no taste so its really easy to hide in foods.

H: How should chia be stored?

L: Chia oil is raw and should be kept that way!  Heating it will destroy most of its health benefits.  When I’m cooking I use Coconut oil–also high in short chain Omega 3s. Chia seeds can be kept in your kitchen cupboard for years!  I’ve never seen a chia seed go bad.  The oil can be kept for one year.

H: What first turned you on to Chia?

L: I first found out about Chia years ago when I needed to make a birthday cake without eggs (one of my daughters’ good friends was very allergic to eggs).  I didn’t want to use an egg replacer because I didn’t like some of its ingredients (potato starch).  I started using Chia as an egg substitute.  Its wonderful–it is much cheaper than egg replacers (generally about $6-$9 a box compared to a few tablespoons of Chia which will cost about 30 cents if you buy it in bulk), it is a “clean” ingredient-no one I’ve met has trouble digesting Chia, and adds great nutritional punch to your baking. To use Chia as an egg replacer: put 2 tablespoon of Chia seed in bowl.  Add 2 teaspoon of water and stir.  Within 30 seconds, you will see the chia seeds transform themselves into a bowl of 2-3 egg whites.  Each seed releases a gelatinous covering when you add a little water.  It’s pretty cool!


1256 Bloor St. West, Toronto.

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  1. Amy B
    November 01, 11:45 Reply

    I didn’t know ANY of this. Ha! Thanks for learning me on chia. That egg substitute trick sounds nifty.

  2. Tara
    November 05, 12:01 Reply

    The cheaperst place I have found chia is Herb & Nutrition in the Annex on Bloor. It’s 8.99 a pound. Just a little tip for any Toronto readers!

  3. Liza
    February 11, 13:58 Reply

    chia in bulk at Nuthouse is only 7.99/lb

  4. Amy
    March 20, 14:05 Reply

    Great information! Thanks for sharing! I throw Chia in our smoothies and no one seems to mind!

  5. Andrea
    March 21, 19:19 Reply

    Thank you for the information I’d benn wondering about Chia.

  6. Lindsay
    March 21, 20:11 Reply

    Wow. I love all of your “what’s so great about” posts – so informative! I knew chia was good for you but I had no idea the extent of it! Thanks!

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