By Cheryl Harris, MPH, RD
Chia is the new nutrition powerhouse on the block! It’s 100% gluten free, and high in omega 3 fatty acids, fiber, and antioxidants, too.It’s a great addition to any diet for the health benefits, but particularly helpful in gluten free and vegan baking as a both binder and as an egg substitute.
So what IS Chia, anyhow?
Chia seeds are from a plant called Salvia Hispanica, which is a member of the mint family.Chia has been grown for years in Mexico and Central America and was revered as a superfood in Aztec societies. In the US, experts have recognized the benefits of Chia as well, and it is gaining interest and popularity.
Salba® is a brand name for a patented form of white Chia seeds grown specifically for health benefits, and has been studied more extensively.Salba® seeds look a lot like white poppy seeds.They are sold whole or ground.
Benefits and nutrition
They may be tiny, but these seeds pack quite a punch!Like most seeds, Chia is high in fiber, but it’s also a great source of magnesium, folate, iron, and calcium, and is very good source of antioxidants, too.Many of these nutrients are ones lacking in the standard American diet, but this is particularly important for people on a gluten free diet.Studies have shown that people with Celiac Disease eat less calcium, iron, and fiber than recommended.  Since many gluten free foods are not fortified, intake of folate among Celiacs may be low, too. Chia seeds are also high in omega 3 fatty acids, which are important for cardiovascular, joint health, and the prevention of many chronic diseases.
Although most of the studies on Chia are on animals, there are human studies on the health impact of Salba®. A small study on Type 2 Diabetics showed lowered blood pressure in people eating Salba®, and also improvements in other measures of inflammation.Although more studies are needed, this is very encouraging.
A small study also suggests that Chia may be helpful to women in breast cancer treatment by lowering resistance to chemotherapy drugs. Granted–this is an early study, but that is pretty amazing to even think about.
How is it used?
Chia can be used in a variety of recipes or just enjoyed simply.It can be sprinkled onto a salad or yogurt, added to a smoothie, or just eaten plain.It can also substitute for flax seeds, but unlike flax seeds, Chia seeds do not need to be pre-ground for health benefits….but once they’re ground, refrigerate them or they’ll go rancid. See Baking with Chia for more information.
Brands I like
- Nutiva: organic and certified gluten-free
- Salba seeds–organic
- Ground salba seeds
- Spectrum organics: gluten-free
Healthy products containing chia:
 http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/id/QAA365093 Accessed July 15, 2008
 http://www.salba.com/ Accessed August 5th, 2008
 http://www.nutritiondata.com/facts/nut-and-seed-products/3061/1 Accessed August 6, 2008
 Thompson, T, et al. Gluten-free diet survey: are Americans with coeliac disease consuming recommended amounts of fibre, iron, calcium and grain foods? Journal of Human Nutrition & Dietetics, Vol 18 (3) 2005.
Supplementation of conventional therapy with the novel grain Salba (Salvia hispanica L.) improves major and emerging cardiovascular risk factors in type 2 diabetes: results of a randomized controlled trial.
Diabetes Care. 2007 Nov ;30:2804-10.