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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Flaxseed Bread

MIMG_0498.JPGy middle daughter, Evie (7), has serious issues with gluten (and oats!). She’s tested negative for coeliac disease, but if she has even a small amount food of bread, cake or pasta she will be doubled up in pain a few hours later. As for many people with gut issues, stress and worry are also a major factor in making the problem worse. She desperately misses London since we had to move to N. Ireland 8 months ago: our
house, her school, her friends, and most of all her Dad who still lives there.

It’s lucky that I’m a dietitian, as I’m well used to managing patients with coeliac disease and non-coeliac gluten sensitivity, but practically it can be tough to avoid gluten. Birthday parties are notoriously difficult to negotiate (what kid can’t resist a tiny bit of cake!). The availability of gluten free foods is a million times better than 10 years ago, but they can be expensive and often loaded with sugar. I like making as much of my family’s food as possible, and this bread is fab for her……….the flaxseed is brilliant for gut health and constipation, and the eggs and almonds provide terrific sources of protein. And very importantly, it’s so easy.

If you are watching your carbohydrate intake, needing gluten free, or simply want a highly nutritious healthy bread, then I highly recommend this very easy ecipe. For anyone who has tried Irish wheaten bread, this has a very similar texture.IMG_0861.JPG

Flaxseeds for dietary fiber, manganese, vitamin B1, and omega-3 healthy fats. Almonds are a source of vitamin E, copper, magnesium, and high quality protein, fiber, and phytosterols. Eggs are a very good source of high quality protein, vitamin B2, selenium, B6, B12 and minerals such as zinc, iron and copper, fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.

There is about 1000 kcal, 54g protein, 5g carbs in the whole loaf. So if you cut 6 slices, that’s about 170kcal per slice.

Ingredients: 

Ground flaxseed – 1 cup

Ground almonds – 1/2 cup

Eggs – 4

Baking powder – 1 teaspoon

Method:

1) Beat together eggs & 3 tablespoons of water

2) Mix dry ingredients in a separate bowl: 1 cup ground flaxseedUnknown copy 9, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1/2 cup ground almonds

3) Add wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, mix well. Put in a loaf tin, cook for 20 minutes at 200 degrees C.

IBS? Heard of FODMAPs?

New low FODMAP diet for IBS: 75% see significant improvement

If you were to tell me 15 years ago, when I was a newly qualified dietitian at St George’s Hospital in London, that I would specialise in treating IBS, I would have thought you wereshutterstock_52604065 crazy. Back then we just didn’t have good answers for people suffering with Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome is a disorder where the bowel looks normal, but it doesn’t function properly. It is incredibly common, affecting about 1 in 5 people in the UK. The diagnosis of IBS is usually made when other conditions such as coeliac disease, Crohn’s Disease, colitis, have been ruled out. Symptoms include bloating, wind, diarrhoea, constipation, acid reflux, nausea and abdominal pain.

UnknownThe Low FODMAP Diet has been published in international medical journals and is now accepted and recommended as one of the most effective dietary therapies for IBS and other digestive conditions. In February 2015 it was added to the National Institute of Clinical Excellence’s IBS treatment guidelines.
Elimination phase: high FODMAP foods eliminated for 2-4 weeks
Reintroduction phase: high FODMAP foods systematically reintroduced to identify your problem foods (not everyone reacts to the same FODMAPs)
It is important to have the advice of an experienced dietitian to help guide you along your low FODMAP journey

Here some great information all about the low FODMAP Diet: FODMAPs

And here is what some of my patients say:

Miss VG, IBS, marathon training (April 2016) The low FODMAPs is going very well, it has helped a lot with my symptoms. I was quite surprised how well it has worked!

Mr RD, IBS (March, 2016): Hi Sarah. Hope you’re well; I came to see you a year ago to help with IBS issues which have improved dramatically. I very rarely suffer any of the symptoms I used to – brain fog, stomach cramps etc and find I’ve been able to reintroduce a lot of foods that did give me problems previously, so thanks again!

Miss J, IBS (February, 2016): This week is my 4th week on the FODMAP diet and so far so good. I’m actually really enjoying it and have discovered some lovely new recipes. It’s made a very noticeable difference in terms of bloating, cramping and wind which is fantastic. My skin has also improved too.

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IBS: Are you the 1 in 5?

An astonishing 1 in 5 people suffer with digestion issues such as bloating, abdominal pain,shutterstock_52604065 constipation or diarrhoea, excessive wind, heartburn and nausea. Usually the diagnosis is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

When a doctor or gastroenterologist has diagnosed IBS (you should not diagnose yourself) this is good news, as it means your symptoms are not due to anything more serious, such as Coeliac Disease or bowel cancer. However, coping with and managing the symptoms can be challenging. Unfortunately there is no pill or supplement that is a magic fix.

The good news? IBS CAN BE TREATED EFFECTIVELY with a low FODMAP diet. It has been so successful and popular with my clients that it has become my speciality. I have been inundated with requests for help, and even see clients via Skype if they can’t travel in person to the clinic. The vast majority have a major improvement, which make me a very, very happy dietitian!

The low FODMAP diet is relatively new. It is a rigourously scientifically tested dietary treatment that produces a significant Unknownreduction in symptoms for 75-80% of people. The FODMAP Diet was originally developed at Monash University, Australia; and recently more  research has been carried out at King’s College, London. The low FODMAP diet is increasingly being used by gastroenterologists and dieticians to successfully manage the tummy problems.

What are FODMAPs?

FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols. Quite a mouthful (excuse the pun)! These foods have one thing in common: they are all carbohydrates that the gut poorly absorbs and are quickly fermented by the bacteria  causing the bloating, wind, diarrhoea or constipation and pain. There is quite a long list of foods that are high in FODMAPs, and not everyone with IBS reacts to the same foods.

What foods are high FODMAP?

You may be surprised that many foods considered good for digestion are high FODMAP, and therefore can aggravate IBS. These include wheat, onions, garlic, apples and pears, lactose found in dairy products, beans and lentils.

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Sourced from Monash University (2015)

The FODMAP Diet

The FODMAP diet is not a diet for life. It is a ‘learning diet’, where all high FODMAP foods are removed for approximately 2-4 weeks. Many people see improvements within a few days. After this elimination phase, foods are reintroduced in a systematic way to identify which foods you react to. This stage is extremely important so that you are not excluding foods unnecessarily.

IBS and FODMAPs can be confusing, with a lot of conflicting advice on the internet. WhenConfused
done well, the low FODMAP diet can be very effective. If you want to try see if it helps you, it is advised that you seek guidance from a Registered Dietitian with experience in the Low FODMAP Diet. Your GP can refer you within the NHS, or a list of private dietitians in your area can be found on the Freelance Dietitian’s website.

I hold clinics at Kingston Health Centre and also offer Skype appointments.

Here’s what my patients say:

Miss J, IBS (February, 2016): This week is my 4th week on the FODMAP diet and so far so good. I’m actually really enjoying it and have discovered some lovely new recipes. It’s made a very noticeable difference in terms of bloating, cramping and wind which is fantastic. My skin has also improved too.

Miss R, France, diarrhoea predominant Irritable Bowel Syndrome (December, 2015) Hope you’re well I just thought I would drop you an email to let you know how I am doing. I have been on fodmap for a week now. After three days I could see a big difference to the way my tum felt and my digestive symptoms I feel great!

Mrs H, ulcerative colitis. (November, 2105): Your advice has given me some hope that I can manage my health much better and, who knows, hopefully avoid an operation. I think my gut is already beginning to improve, less gurgling, bloating and twinges, so I’m very pleased so far. (January 2016): I am so happy that you have helped me to help myself, I just wish that I had done something like this before, still better late as they say.

Good sources of information on FODMAPs:

A great article all about FOMDAPs

Monash University FAQs

A great (and reliable!) FODMAP blog with recipes