Chia Seeds – too good to be true?

I’m a bit slow to join the Chia Seed Party. Any health foodie worth their Instagram followings is raving about virtues of this little seed, with beautifully styled photos to match. Food bloggers and writers are telling us that they are “the most nutrient dense food in the natural world”, “high in protein”, “an omega-3 superfood”, “high fibre”. Are these claims too good to be true?

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There will always be little alarm bells ringing in my head with the claim of a particular food being ‘super’. All health professionals, including dietitians, need to be cynical about sensationalist headlines for any food. It is our job to question everything we read – from published scientific research to online food blogger articles.

There are hundreds of potential ‘super foods’ – mostly fruit, vegetables, whlolegrains, fish, nuts, seeds…….and the more variety of these you can get, the better. Focusing on any one food as having specific effects on long term health is usually not supported by good enough scientific evidence. I’m thinking chia seeds, goji berries, acai, wheatgrass etc. As well as some outlandish health claims, there is often the price tag to match. Their popularity is usually more to do with great marketing & PR, magazine and newspaper editors looking for ‘the next big thing’ to grab readers’ interest, and of course, celebrity endorsements.

Chia Seeds – worth the hype?

Here are some of the health claims:

Gluten free – true, so good for people with Coeliac Disease or non-coeliac gluten sensitivity.

High in Omega-3 fats – true, but not the ‘best’ kind. Chia seeds contain alpha-linolenic acid, the omega-3 fatty acid found primarily in plants. This is not the same as the very beneficial omega-3 fats that are found in oily fish. Our bodies cannot use the chia seed version of the omega-3 very well, so won’t have the same health benefits.

High in Protein – falseChia seeds are 16% protein and do have a good range of essential amino acids (the building blocks of protein). However, they are not high in protein per se. To obtain a decent amount of protein from chia seeds, you would need to eat a lot of them. One portion of chia, about 30g dry weight, only has about 5g of protein. To get a decent 20g of protein, you would need to eat 4 portions which would give you over 500kcal.

High in Fibre – true, there’s no disputing the excellent fibre content. A whopping 13g per portion. The seeds absorb a high volume of liquid, and become quite gelatinous (just like flaxseeds), so fabulous for helping with constipation, and they are low FODMAP so shouldn’t cause bloating.

High in calcium – true, however.…………the vitamin and mineral content of chia seeds may be misleading, because of the seed’s indigestible hull that likely prevents the absorption of many of these micronutrients. Ground chia seeds may overcome this limitation, but no studies have investigated the bioavailability of chia seed nutrients.

So although many of the health claims are sensationalised, chia seeds can benefit health and are great to be included in a healthy diet.

So what do they taste like? I tried them out for the first time in a popular recipe which has nine thousand likes on social media (see below). I asked my friend Aileen what she thought: “Chia seeds? Never heard of them” she said. “They look like frog spawn”. To me, they tasted like it too. But loads of people seem to love them!!!!

You can also use them like flaxseeds: sprinkle them over muesli, add in to porridge, or blend in to smoothies, yogurt or soup.

Chia Seed Banana Breakfast

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Ingredients
  1. 300ml vanilla soya milk
  2. 1 banana, ripe
  3. 1/2 tsp Cinnamon
  4. 1/4 cup Chia Seeds
Instructions
  1. In a medium size bowl mash or slice the banana.
  2. Add the remainder of the ingredients and stir until combined.
  3. Cover and put in the fridge overnight – or at least 2 hours
  4. (Try to) enjoy!

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