Cheers for Chia!

Last week, Margaret and I visited our friend Kimberly of The Wellness Works at her new health food shop, aptly named ‘Sprout’.

Armed with the latest health food crazes, we dissected some of these foods to establish what truely is a “super food”.

So, what is a super food? Is it a group of foods known to have such amazing nutritional properties that it would only be right to refer to them as super foods, or simply a marketing term to help sell over-priced smoothie drinks? Unfortunately, without a legal definition for the term, it can be widely misused, and the nutritional benefits may not always be what they seem. Dietitians use caution before labeling foods with this term, but it is undeniable that some foods are more nutrient dense than others.

Well known super foods include: salmon, broccoli, spinach and tomatoes. These are both easy to find in most supermarkets and are already synonymous with health benefits.

But there are other foods constantly cropping up, even for nutritional professionals it can often feel hard to keep up!

Chia seeds are taking the health world by storm; like wheatgrass and spirulina before them. Chia seeds are reasonably high in protein and fibre. A third of a portion of these seeds are fat including those important anti-inflammatory Omega 3 fatty acids, making it a good option for the fish avoiders out there. Two tablespoons of chia seeds provide 5g of Omega 3 fatty acids, significantly more than the 1.2g in a piece of salmon.

This brings about a rather complicated question – long chain versus short chain Omega 3 fatty acids? Long chain Omega 3 fatty acids are not found in Chia or Flax seed, they are only found in fish. Our bodies need long chain fatty acids, however it has been found that they can be converted from short chain fatty acids (found in flax seed and chia) but less efficiently. As the world becomes increasingly concerned with the toxicity and scarcity of fish, perhaps even fish eaters should be thinking of this as a more sustainable way of getting our Omega 3 fatty acids.

The other benefit of these seeds is that they contain higher levels of protein than other seeds and nuts. They are also a “complete protein”, containing all 9 essential amino acids; Chia seeds join the small list of non-meat foods that meet this criterion – others include quinoea and soya beans. Chia seeds are clearly becoming a front runner for vegetarian/vegan followers as a substitute for dairy as they offer a good source of calcium.

Chia seeds also contain a high level of fibre, almost double the amount in flax seeds. Fibre provides fullness, improves bowel health as well as offering cardiovascular protection. They have been pitched as a ‘dieters dream’, keeping you full whilst also providing antioxidants. Their fibrous component is known as pectin, found also in apples, it can help remove metals from the body. Hence, these foods are often associated with detoxifying.

Unfortunately, they aren’t as tasty as vegetables and berries and with the recommendation being 2-3 tablespoons a day it can be difficult to find the appropriate foods to add them to. Some suggestions are oatmeal, smoothies, salads, soups and yoghurts.

It’s hard to discredit chia seeds for offering a super amount of nutritious benefits! However, at EWS we believe you should enjoy every bite and that healthy eating doesn’t need to be expensive. You can get all of the nutritonal benefits in other foods, but if you are looking to make a positive change to your diet in one easy step, you could consider adding chia seeds to your diet.

Another one to watch: seabuck thorn berry, grown in Tibet and Siberia. It is regularly added to juice and tea to increase antioxidants and vitamin C. Berries have long since been known for their nutritional properties, this berry has a particularly high level of antioxidants. This will be coming to the shelves of health food shops soon.

So keep an eye out for the latest super foods, but as we are always saying at EWS – watch out for the fads; keep to the facts!

Sophie Thomas, Dietitian




5 thoughts on “Cheers for Chia!”

  1. Chia seeds come from a flowering plant in the mint family that’s native to Mexico and Guatemala, and history suggests it was a very important food crop for the Aztecs. It’s remained in regular use in its native countries, but was largely unknown in North America until researcher Wayne Coates began studying chia as an alternative crop for farmers in northern Argentina about 29 years ago.:`;^

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