Staff Articles


Healthy Eating: Chia seed - super food or just hype?

For The Patriot Ledger
April 08, 2009

QUINCY - The chia seed is touted as "the most powerful and functional super food in the world" with "more omega 3 than Atlantic salmon,  "more calcium than milk" and "guaranteed weight loss" packaged into a $50 oatmeal-sized canister. But is it worth it?

Chia seeds are nutritious but not a "magic bullet" for good health or an effective way to lose weight.

Grown in South America, there are two types: black and white. They have the same nutritional qualities - low in saturated fat and sodium with a good amount of calcium, manganese and phosphorous, and an impressive amount of fiber.

One ounce of chia seed (approximately 3 tablespoons) has 152 calories, 10 grams of fat (1 gram saturated fat), 0 mg cholesterol, 6 milligrams sodium, 5 grams protein, 200 milligrams of calcium, and a whopping 12 grams of fiber with an estimated 3 grams soluble fiber, which, like oatmeal, can help lower cholesterol and blood sugar.

Although Web sites claim chia seed is superior to flaxseed, nutritionally they are very similar. One ounce of flaxseed (approximately 4 tablespoons) contains 150 calories, 12 grams fat (1 gram saturated fat), 0 milligrams cholesterol, 8 milligrams sodium, 5 grams protein, and 8 grams fiber. It is a good source of magnesium, copper and phosphorous, and a very good source of manganese and thiamine.

Comparing the omega-3 fatty acids in chia seeds to Atlantic salmon, however, is like comparing apples to oranges. The type of omega 3 in chia is alpha-Linolenic acid, or ALA, which is different from the omega 3's in fish - DHA and EPA - needed for optimal health. ALA must be converted in the body to DHA and EPA -so you need to eat seven times the amount of ALA to get 1 gram of DHA, and in certain people that conversion does not work at all.

What about calcium? The problem is they compare 2 ounces (gram weight) to fluid ounces, which is misleading. In usual serving sizes: One ounce of chia seed has 152 calories and 200 milligrams calcium. One cup of skim milk has 90 calories and 300 milligrams calcium. Calorie for calorie, milk out performs chia seed in calcium content.

The bottom line is the chia seed is a nutritious whole food and a good addition to a healthy diet -sprinkle them on cereal or yogurt - but be careful with the calories.

Don't be drawn into the hype to buy it at $50 a pop, either - I purchased an 8-ounce bag for $5.69 at Good Health in Quincy.

Joan Endyke is a registered dietitian with a master's degree in nutrition and food science, and also a certified personal trainer. She is the nutrition director at Fitness Unlimited.

Send questions about nutrition to her at Fitness Unlimited, 364 Granite Ave., Milton, MA 02186 or by e-mail to jendyke@fitnessunlimited.com.





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