The benefits and nutritional contents of chia seeds, considered to be nature’s new superfood, are analyzed and a comparison with other foods is presented.
Chia seed, scientifically known as Salvia hispanica, has risen from centuries of obscurity and is now considered by many to be nature’s new “superfood”. Chia was considered to be a very valuable seed in most pre-hispanic cultures, especially by the Mayans and Aztecs. These people had some understanding of the high nutritional properties of chia and this is why it was used as a form of currency and the staple food given to messengers who had to travel long distances.
Once the Spaniards conquered Mexico and Central America, the cultivation of chia seeds was banned because the seed was also used during traditional religious ceremonies, considered pagan by the Europeans. A relatively large percentage of the Mexican population has still consumed chia in various forms throughout the years, but it was not until recently that the world became fully aware of the properties of this highly nutritious food.
Health Benefits of Chia Seeds
The main reason why Chia is considered to be a “superfood” is because it contains high amounts of many essential nutrients when compared with most nutritious foods. Chia seeds contain 20% protein, 37.7% soluble fiber, 43% carbohydrates, and 31% fats, making the seed a better source of protein than beans and other legumes, and a better source of dietary fiber than oats and other grains.
Even though chia seeds contain a relatively high percentage of fats, most of these are omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce levels of triglycerides in the body, blood pressure, and the risk of suffering heart attacks. They improve blood circulation. Additionally, chia seeds provide an excellent source of protein for vegetarians and is completely gluen free.
Chia is a mucilagenous seed, which means that it has gel-forming properties that create a barrier between carbohydrates and digestive enzymes in the stomach. This is why chia slows down the converstion of carbs into sugar and can stabilize sugar blood levels.
Nutritional Comparison Between Chia Seeds and Other Superfoods
Surprisingly, chia seeds also contain high contents of several essential vitamins and minerals. According to some studies, a gram for gram comparison between chia seeds and other foods shows that chia contains six times more protein than kidney beans, twice the amount of dietary fibre as bran flakes, three times the amount of iron in spinach, twice the amount of potassium in bananas, and six times the amount of calcium in milk.
In order to do a proper factual comparison between the nutritional contents of chia and other foods, the USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory homepage was accessed. The nutritional contents of oats and flaxseed were retrieved and compared with those of chia seeds since these two foods are also considered to be very complete in terms of their nutritional value.
Nutrients (per 100 g)
Protein (g): Chia 20.7, Flaxseed 19.5, Oats 13.7
Carbohydrates (g): Chia 43.8, Flaxseed 42.0, Oats 6.8
Fats (g): Chia 30.8, Flaxseed 42.0, Oats 6.8
Dietary Fibre (g): Chia 37.7, Flaxseed 27.3, Oats 9.4
Calcium (mg): Chia 631, Flaxseed 255, Oats 47
Phosphorus (mg): Chia 948, Flaxseed 642, Oats 458
Potassium (mg): Chia 160, Flaxseed 813, Oats 358
Iron (mg): Chia 6.5, Flaxseed 5.7, Oats 4.6
Copper (mg): Chia 0.2, Flaxseed 1.2, Oats 0.3
Zinc (mg): Chia 3.5, Flaxseed 4.3, Oats 3.2
Vitamin C (mg): Chia 0.0, Flaxseed 0.6, Oats 0.0
Thiamine (mg): Chia 1.4, Flaxseed 1.6, Oats 0.5
Riboflavine (mg): Chia 0.2, Flaxseed 0.1, Oats 0.1
Vitamin B6 (mg): Chia 0.1, Flaxseed 0.4, Oats 0.1
Vitamin E (mg): Chia 0.0, Flaxseed 0.3, Oats 0.7
Vitamin A (IU): Chia 10, Flaxseed 3, Oats 0
This comparison confirms the fact that chia does contain higher amounts of most essential nutrients than flaxseed and oats, with the exception of vitamin C, vitamin E, copper and potassium. Chia seeds do contain higher levels of protein, dietary fiber, calcium, phosphorus, riboflavin, iron, and vitamin A.
Best Ways to Eat Chia Seeds
Perhaps the easiest way to eat chia seeds is to grind them and sprinkle them on cereals, milk, juices, yogurt or shakes. Some companies have started baking bread with chia seeds and ground seeds can also be added to cakes, pancakes or waffles. Surprisingly, chia can also be part of a refreshing drink; in Mexico a lot of people squeeze lime juice and add a little bit of sugar, water and whole chia seeds. Regardless of how you do it, it seems that adding chia seed to the diet will definitely bring a lot of healthy benefits.