Flaxseed isn't the only grain rich in omega-3s. Salvia hispanica L. or "Chia" is making it's mark on the healthy foods industry. Chia, a member of the mint family, has been used since ancient times as an energy enhancer for Aztec warriors and as a food staple in certain Central American cultures.
Today, Chia seed is re-emerging as an important new heart healthy ingredient in our Western diets because of its ability to deliver the essential omega-3 fatry acid ALA, the omega-6 fatty acid LA, protein and fiber in one whole seed.
According to Mitch Propster, CEO of Core Naturals, Winter Springs, FL. "Gram for gram, these powerful seeds offer more omega-3s than salmon, more calcium than milk, more fiber than all-bran cereal and more antioxidants than blueberries."
Because of its high soluble fiber content, Salvia hispanica "forms a gel that slows the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream, binds it to toxins in the digestive system and helps eliminate waste," says Christopher Daniels, director of product development at Greens+, Vero Beach, FL, which offers Omega3 Chia in one pound containers of bulk seed. He also notes that preliminary results of a double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial performed by the Nutritional Science Research Institute and Appalachian State University (due to be published this year) "indicate an increase in antioxidants and omega-3 in the bloodstream."
Other health benefits, says John Minatelli, PhD., senior vice president of business development at Valensa International, Eustis, FL, are those associated with omega3 and omega 6 fatty acids ratios. "Salvia hispanica L. ("Chia") contains one of the highest mixed levels of the essential omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids known in nature with a total of 33 wt/wt % oil content in the seed at a very favorable and heart healthy 33:1 ratio of ALA to LA, the perfect counterbalance to the high omega-6 content Western diet while sporting only 3% saturated and 7% monounsaturated fats."
Minatelli also notes, "Confirmation of the efficient metabolic conversion of ALA to heart healthy EPA and brain healthy DHA in short studies in man and, even more impressively, in longer term studies, has recently emerged." Studies "unequivocally" show both ALA's and its metabolic cascade product, EPA's, positive effects on heart health in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease events in people.
Chia also is a good source of protein and insoluble fiber. "Whole Chia seed contains 33% fiber and 20% protein making either seed, or defatted chia seed meal, excellent sources of both fiber and protein. Therefore, either the seed or defatted seed meal, provide a unique blend of fiber and a wellbalanced mixture of amino acids, including those essential to people" says Minatelli, whose company distributes Tresalbio Salvia hispanica seed oil extract and defatted seed meal. To prevent oxidation of the oil, the company developed it's 02B antioxidant technology platform that maintains stability for as long as two years. Without such technology, the oil degrades within months.
And finally, the grain may help reduce cardiovascular and diabetes risk factors. "Argentina-based Salba Research and Development continues to pioneer efforts in human clinical study. Based on a recent study published in the prestigious journal, Diabetes Care, Salba, a registered variant of Salvia Hispanica, was proven to lower CVD risk factors in type 2 diabetics", said Propster.
Consistent markers such as the lowering of C-reactive protein, lowering of inflammation, lowering blood pressure and improved blood-thinning effects have been reported.
The seed can absorb large amounts of water, thereby slowing digestion and, in turn, reducing glycemic responses to many foods.
Two notable characteristics of Chia are that it is suitable for use in its natural, unprocessed and raw seed state. In addition, says Daniels, it is especially rich in high-ORAC antioxidants like quercetin, caffeic acid and chlorogenic acid. "As a result, omega-3 Chia seeds maintain a 99% sprout rate and have a shelf life of up to five years," he explains.
In terms of food products, Propster notes that formulators are turning to Salvia hispanica (especially the white variety) "for its consistent nutrient density, its neutral flavor, and its soft hull shell for it's ability to integrate easily into recipes and product formulations." Overall, experts suggest that Chia can be used as a meal replacement, for athletic performance, as a thickening agent in soups and sauces, as an egg replacement in baked goods or as a flavor enhancer. Chia also has been added to finished snack foods products such as pretzels, tortillas, chips, salsas and lOO-ca1orie packs from Salba Smart, Denver, CO. In addition, Greens+ makes and Omega3 Chia Energy Bars in natural and chocolate-coated varieties.
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