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Chia seeds are unpopular sources of healthy proteins, omega oils, and fiber. They are small and have an oval shape. Another name for chia seeds is chia pets (Loux 2003). From a closer look, they resemble sesame seeds. The most common type of chia found in the marketplace at present is composed of roughly 95% black seed and 5% white (Perricone 2010). However, some retailers are selling pure white seed, and others selling clean black seed.
Chia seeds belong to the mint family and are native to Mexico, especially among the Mayans and Aztecs. The ancient Mayans and Aztecs cooked and ate chia seeds before making long treks, or entering into battle to maintain their energy, give them endurance, and control their hunger when food would be hard to find (Perricone 2010).
Chia seeds grow tender and sprout daintily with a sweet and soft smell. Historically, the cultivation of chia was in tropical and subtropical areas, from frost-free regions to areas where frosts occurred each year. Chia seeds are relatively unpopular outside Central America. However, they are gradually getting recognition as a superfood due to their many benefits in animal and human nutrition. At present, several countries such as Australia, Mexico, Argentina, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guatemala, Peru, and Paraguay grow chia commercially.
Chia seeds primarily act as sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Chia seeds have the highest percentages of α-linolenic acid recognized (62-64%) and the oil content of chia seeds ranges between 30% and 34% (Preedy et al. 2011; Scheer 2001). Chia seeds contain 20-23% protein and this percentage is higher than that for corn (14%) and wheat (14.7%) (Coates & Ayerza 2009). Chia seeds have 2.3, 2.6, 8.3, and 9.8 times more fiber per 100g of edible share than wheat, oats, corn, and rice respectively (Preedy et al. 2011). Chia seeds also have antioxidants such as flavanols and acids. Present flavanols include myricetin, quercetin, and kaempferol flavonols, while acids include chlorogenic and caffeic acids (Preedy et al. 2011). Caffeic and chlorogenic acids hinder lipid peroxidation and are considerably stronger than ordinary antioxidants such as vitamin E and vitamin C (Kweon et al. 2001).
In Support of Chia Food
Chia seeds have micronutrients, considerable amounts of vitamin E as well as antioxidants that give double protection, defending the body and its natural oils from oxidation (Preedy et al. 2011). Besides, chia seeds act as suitable sources of minerals like calcium, phosphorous, and magnesium, which help build strong bones (Agin & Jegtvig 2010). Chia seeds also have a high level of lignans, which are phytochemical compounds with anticancer properties. Lignans also serve as phytoestrogens.
Chia seeds are nutritious, nonallergenic, and gluten-free and they have very little sodium. These seeds have gained popularity as a superfood because they possess so many health benefits without any identified limitations (Agin & Jegtvig 2010).
Health Benefits of Chia
First, chia seeds have a neutral flavor and contain large amounts of an omega-3 fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid. This fatty acid enhances the well-being of the heart and allows weight control. Second, chia seeds are loaded with manganese, calcium, and fiber, which are essential for strong bones and proper digestion (Agin & Jegtvig 2010). Third, chia seeds have a high proportion of protein, and they have all the crucial amino acids, which act as the building blocks of proteins. Hence, chia seeds are a great source of protein for vegetarians. Third, regular consumption of chia reduces blood pressure as well as inflammation.
The omega-3 fatty acids reduce blood pressure and inflammation by cutting down cholesterol levels. This also reduces the risks of acquiring cardiovascular diseases. Fourth, chia seeds have fiber that helps in bowl regulation, reduces heartburns, and guarantees general gastrointestinal health. Fifth, chia seeds regulate insulin thus reducing blood sugar and hunger since they have low metabolism. Lastly, chia seeds maintain high energy levels in the body because they absorb water slowly.
Against Chia Food
In the last two decades, chia seeds have become an increasingly popular thing in health food stores, mainly due to their high content of the beneficial omega-3 fatty acid. In addition, many people have begun feeding their domestic animals with chia seeds. Although chia seeds are effective in supplementing eggs and meat with omega fats in animals (Cordain 2012), human beings should not use these seeds as their staple food.
From a face point of view, chia seeds form nutritious food that is not only high in alpha-linolenic acid but also high in fiber, protein, vitamin B, iron, calcium, zinc, and manganese (Loux 2003). Unfortunately, similar to other plant seeds, chia seeds have many anti-nutrients that decrease their nutritional value. For instance, chia seeds have high concentrations of phosphates, which act as a source of phytate, an anti-nutrient that attaches to many minerals, such as calcium, zinc, magnesium, iron, and copper, making them unavailable for absorption (Cordain 2012). Therefore, chia seeds provide inadequate minerals in human beings. Again, chia seeds have high amounts of vitamin B6, but our bodies make use of this vitamin in nominal amounts when it comes from plant foods.
Furthermore, food products from chia have a clear, sticky gel that envelops the seeds. This gel creates a barrier that obstructs fat absorption and digestion. This gel also interferes with protein digestibility. Animal and human studies point out that this gel and other anti-nutrients can cause allergies (Cordain 2012).
After evaluating the pros and cons of chia seeds, it is apparent that the pros outweigh the cons. Chia seeds have omega-3 fatty acids and other nutrient contents that have many health benefits. Some of these benefits include general well-being of the heart, proper digestion; reduce risks of high blood pressure and cardiovascular diseases as well as general gastrointestinal health. On the other hand, the main shortcoming of chia seeds is that they have anti-nutrients that decrease their nutritional value together with a sticky gel that obstructs digestion, and may cause allergies, or cancer. Supplementary foods can solve problems caused by anti-nutrients and no research exists to confirm that eating chia seeds cause allergy. Therefore, chia seeds are suitable for human consumption.
Agin, B & Jegtvig, S 2010, Super foods for dummies, Wiley, Hoboken.
Coates, W & Ayerza, R 2009, ‘Chia (Salvia hispanica ) seed as an -3 fatty acid source for finishing pigs: effects on fatty acid composition and fat stability of the meat and internal fat, growth performance, and meat sensory characteristics’, Journal of Animal Science, vol.3, no.2, p.1910.
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Cordain, L. 2012, The Paleo answer 7 days to lose weight, feel great, stay young, John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken.
Kweon, M, Hwang, H & Sung, H (2001) ‘Identification and antioxidant activity of novel chlorogenic acid derivatives from bamboo (phyllostachys edulis)’, Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemicals, vol. 49, pp. 4646-4655.
Loux, R 2003, Living cuisine: the art and spirit of raw foods, Avery, New York.
Perricone, N 2010, Forever young: the science of nutrigenomics for glowing, wrinkle-free skin and radiant health at every age, Atria Books, New York.
Preedy, V, Watson, R & Patel, V 2011, Nuts & seeds in health and disease prevention, Academic Press, Brlington.
Scheer, J 2001, The magic of chia: revival of an ancient wonder food, Calif, Berkeley.