The following topics will be covered in this article:
- What is Chia and where did it come from.
- What are Essential Fatty Acids ( EFAs )
- What are the components of Chia
- What are the benefits that Chia offers
- What are other sources of similar nutrients
- Pros and Cons for use of Flax, Fish Oil and Algae
- Table 1
- Table 6
What is Chia?
Many people have never heard of this little known miracle food of the past. The plant was cultivated by the Aztecs and other Native American peoples. Chia was a staple food considered to be sacred, and was consumed specifically for greater energy by runners, warriors, and athletes. The Spanish conquistadors destroyed and band the chia crops, in an attempt to eliminate the mystical and religious implications that the chia grain had for these people (Sahagun, 1579). Thus, the memory of this vital food of the Americas was forgotten.
Fortunately, chia has been rediscovered after 500 years. You can actually buy organic chia seeds directly from our store. In the 1990’s the University of Arizona attempted to establish new crops in northwestern Argentina. This project led to successful commercialization of chia as a crop, making it more widely available today.
There are two seed colors, white and black. Some people are claiming that the white seeds are more potent, but this is not the case. Both seeds are essentially the same.
What are Essential Fatty Acids ( EFAs )
Essential fatty acids cannot be synthesized in the body and therefore have to be obtained from foods. Omega-3 and omega-6 are the essential fatty acids for humans and other animals. They are precursors of powerful hormones that affect many biological processes; they help maintain a healthy skin, and are involved in cholesterol metabolism. The ideal ratio is from 1:1 to 5:1. During our evolutionary period, humans ate an omega-6/omega-3 ratio of 1:1. Modern diets are very rich in omega-6, derived primarily from vegetable and animal fats. Typically today’s diets are greater than 15:1 omega-6/omega-3. This imbalance increases the risk of coronary heart disease and also heightens the body’s natural inflammatory processes. What are the Components of Chia?
Chia Seeds (Salvia hispanica L.) one of Nature’s perfect foods, contain oil amounts varying between 32-39%, with the oil offering the highest known natural percentage of alpha-linolenic fatty acid (60-63%). Higher levels than Flax seed, Algae and Fish Oils. Alpha-linolenic acid is an essential fatty acid acting in the human body as a substratum for the transformation into EPA and DHA through the action of de-saturation and elongation enzymes. The seeds also contain some omega-6 essential fatty acids and exhibit a favorable omega-3 to omega-6 ratio of 3:2.
Modern diets contain too few omega-3 fatty acids. The seeds possess 19-23% protein and the amino acids of chia protein have no limiting factors in the adult diet (i.e., they are a complete protein source providing all of the essential amino acids in an appropriate balance). One ounce of Chia has as much EFAs as 8 ounces of fresh Salmon. The omega-3 daily intake recommended is 4 grams. Approximately 0.7 ounces (20 grams or 2 tablespoons) of chia seed provides 4 grams of omega-3.
Chia Seeds are also a good source of B vitamins, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, boron, and copper. They also have demonstrated strong antioxidant activity. The most important antioxidants they provide are chlorogenic acid, caffeic acid, and flavanol glycosides. Because oxidation is significantly delayed, chia offers great potential within the food industry when compared to other alpha-linolenic acid sources, such as flax seeds, which exhibit rapid decomposition due to a lack of antioxidants. (Castro-Martinez et al., 1986; Taga et al., 1984).
The human body easily digests chia seeds. The seed’s outer layer is rich in mucilloid soluble fiber (chia possesses 5% soluble fiber) and absorbs up to twelve (or more) times its weight in water. When mixed with water or stomach juices, the seeds form a gel that creates a physical barrier between the carbohydrates and the digestive enzymes that break them down. The carbohydrates thereby are digested and converted into glucose (blood sugar) at a slow, uniform rate. There is no insulin surge or spike needed to lower the blood sugar level.
What are the Benefits Offered by Chia?
- For Increased Endurance and Sustained Energy. A Balanced Blend of Protein, Essential Fatty Acids, Fiber, Complex Carbohydrates, and Antioxidants. Chia is unrivalled among all seeds and grains for providing energy from a perfectly balanced food source.
- Cardiovascular Health. Chia Offers an Extremely High Level of Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs), which are known for their dramatic Heart-Healthy benefits.
- Stabilizes Blood Sugar. Adjusts Blood Glucose Swings and Supports Conditions of Hypoglycemia and Diabetes.
- Reduce Cravings for Sweets and Junk Foods. Chia’s Soluble Fiber Allows A Controlled Release of Natural, Unrefined Carbohydrate Energy into the Bloodstream.
- Improves Mental Focus and Concentration. Chia’s Balanced Essential Fats (Omega-3 and Omega-6) Can Significantly Boost Brain Power, and Lighten Moods. (EFAs are known for their anti-depressive effects.
- The Highest Quality Protein. Chia Contains 20% Protein, more than any other grain, and is similar to Mother’s milk, along with Natural Antioxidants.
- Gluten-Free. Unlike Typical Grain-Source Proteins, it’s well tolerated by those with hypoglycemia, Celiac Disease and Crohn’s Disease.
- Promotes Lean Muscle Mass. Chia’s High-Quality Vegetable Protein is Useful for Weight Loss, Weight Maintenance, Low Carb & Vegetarian diets and it boosts metabolism.
- An Ideal Super-food. Excellent for those with food, peanut and tree nut allergies and it can be stored safely for up to 2 years.
- Super-Hydration and Electrolyte Balance. Chia’s holds 12 times its weight in water, so it gives you a feeling of satiety or fullness thereby, making you feel less hungry.
- Supports Healthy Digestion, Detoxification and Elimination. Healthy Oils and Soluble Fiber work together collecting and absorbing waste, supporting regularity and ease of elimination.
- Uniquely Balanced. Chia Offers Amazingly Balanced Ratios of Macro-Nutrient mineral ratios, which are better balanced than most grains, seeds and many other foods.
- Completely Natural. Wild, Natural Chia Contains a Colorful Mixture of Black, Brown, Tan, Gray, and White Seeds. . . Not hybridized or otherwise genetically modified (GMO).
What are the other sources of omega-3?
Chia vs Flax - What is Best and why we don’t use Flax.
Considering the alpha-linolenic fatty acid content of flax and chia, chia has proven to have a higher efficiency, by almost 230%, compared to flax. This difference could be related to the different and higher antioxidant compounds found in chia vs. flax, and their influence on fatty acid incorporation.
Neither flax, fish oil or algae, incorporated into the diets of humans or animals, are able to reach the high levels of Omega-3 fatty acids that are desired and provided by Chia.
Potential Risks of Flax
The following article is from the book: “Chia: Rediscovering a Forgotten Crop of the Aztecs” by Richardo Ayerza Jr. and Wayne Coates. University of Arizona Press, Tucson: 2005. pp. 120-122. You can also find many other articles on the Internet.
Flaxseed has been used by humans for four thousand years (Schery, 1972). Although attempts have been made to show flaxseed being used as a staple food, it was never used or even considered as a food by any civilization. However, industrial products such as fiber for clothing and oil for lighting were made from the stalks and seeds, respectively, by a number of ancient cultures such as the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, and Arabs (Cooley, 1899; Gil, 1975; Crawford, 1979; Palagia, 1984; Mayerson, 1997). Flax is mentioned eighty-nine times in the Bible (Moldenke and Moldenke, 1952); however, it is never referred to as a food but rather as a source of fiber for clothing.
Flax has been questioned as a food because it contains a number of factors that interfere with the normal development of humans and animals. The concern about human use of flax is due mainly to the presence of toxic cianoglicosides (limarin), vitamin B6 antagonist factors (Butler, Bailey, and Kennedy, 1965; Stitt, 1988; Center for Alternative Plant and Animal Products, 1995; Vetter, 2000) and other antinutritional factors, including cyanogenic glycosides, trypsin inhibitors, phytic acid, allergens, and goitrogens (Madhusudhan et al., 1986; Bhatty, 1993; Treviño et al., 2000). All flax varieties contain these antinutritional factors. This includes FP967, a genetically modified variety that has a concentration of cyanogenic compounds (linamarin, linustatin, and neolinustatin) no different from traditional varieties (Canadian Food Inspection Agency, 1998).
The antagonistic factors of the vitamin B group that are found in flaxseeds have been specified as a risk factor for human health. Recent findings show that low blood levels of B vitamins are linked with an increased risk of fatal coronary heart disease and stroke (American Heart Association, 1999). (See the discussion on vitamins earlier in this chapter.) Research on animals has brought to light concerns about the negative influence that flax has on pregnancy and reproductive development. These effects have been attributed to a compound known as diclycoside ecoisolariciresinol (SDG), which through microbial action suppresses the effect of estrogen in mammals. Flax is known to be the richest source of SDG, and therefore special caution is recommended if it is consumed during pregnancy and lactation (Toug, Chen, and Thompson, 1998; Rickard and Thompson, 1998). Both the complex ester form of SDG and the free form of SDG remain stable when flaxseeds are baked in bread (Muir and Westcott, 2000). Thus, commercially prepared bread, muffins, and cookies containing flax carry the warning of being potentially harmful. In order to safely use flax in animal and human diets the seeds should be detoxified. However, the most efficient processes require the use of solvents, and even in the best case the seeds cannot be completely detoxified (Madhusudhan et al., 1986; Mazza and Oomah, 1995).
Human consumption of flaxseed is banned in France and used with limitations in Germany, Switzerland and Belgium (Le Conseil d'Etat, 1973). In the USA, although human consumption is not prohibited, it does not have FDA approval. This means that should a company decide to include flax in a food product, it shall be liable for the safety of that product (Vanderveen, 1986).
Chia vs Fish Oil and Algae
The other two sources, algae and fish oil/meal are of marine origin. Both sources contain long chain omega-3 fatty acids, DHA and DHA and EPA, respectively. Comparing the oil composition of the four sources, it can be seen that the vegetarian sources have a much higher omega-3 content than the marine sources.
Vegetarian sources of omega-3 fatty acids show a very important advantage over algae and fish sources from the standpoint of CHD since they contain significantly lower quantities of the “bad” saturated fatty acids (myristic, palmitic, and stearic). Chia oil has a 2.8 and 5.1-fold less “saturated” fatty acid content than does menhaden (fish) oil and algae oil, respectively.
Traditionally, algae have not been part of human or animal diets (with the exception of fish). Algae, which was initially a wild sea plant, is today grown artificially in salt water ponds. The need to use sodium chloride (NaCl) for the artificial production and the use of solvents for oil extraction (Nitsan et al., 1999; Becker and Kyle, 1998) are aspects that no doubt should at least be subjects to consider from an environmental standpoint, if not a health standpoint.
For many people, a strong limitation for the use of fish as a food is that fish has been recognized as a potent allergen, both in food allergies and occupational allergies Oxidation of food lipids (fish oils) is a major concern for both consumers and food manufacturers. If not controlled, oxidation can produce not only food off-flavors (typically known as fishy flavor), but also promote aging and the degenerative diseases of aging such as cancer, cardiovascular diseases, cataracts, immune system decline, and brain dysfunction, from which you want to be protected when eating omega-3 fatty acids (Okuyama et al., 1997).
World fish stocks are in decline because of over fishing and pollution of water ways. Fish oil depends almost exclusively on oceanic fishing. Today, the high concentration of toxic substances, found in marine fish, are a cause of great concern.
Another important consideration, in regards to fish oils, is that as they are an animal product, they contain cholesterol. This is important considering that chia, flax and algae do not contain cholesterol, because they are plant species.