An excellent omega-3 option for vegetarians
Through my travels throughout Mexico and Central and South America, I have become familiar with the cultivation and benefits of chia (Salvia hispanica), which has a long history of use among the Aztec and Mayan cultures. Historical records indicate that chia has been used as a food as far back as 2500 BC. Up until a couple of decades ago, it was grown only on small family plots, but it’s now being grown commercially in various Latin American countries.
Oil from chia has the highest proportion of omega-3 fatty acids of any plant known. Until chia became available, the oils from flaxseed, fish, and marine algae were considered to be the only other viable sources of dietary omega-3s.
Chia’s Many Benefits
Chia has many benefits. It isn’t contaminated. It’s naturally pest-free, so it doesn’t require the use of pesticides or herbicides for growing. It’s a totally renewable resource. And it contains a naturally high level of antioxidants—including caffeic acid, chlorogenic acid, and quercetin—that protect it from rancidity.
Additionally, chia is a good source of protein and calcium, low in sodium, lower in net carbs than other grains, and an excellent source of both soluble and insoluble fiber. Chia is 16 percent protein, 31 percent fat, and 44 percent carbohydrate—of which 38 percent is fiber. (The balance is water and what’s known as “ash,” a measure of the mineral content.) Most of chia’s omega-3 content is in the form of the essential fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid or ALA.
Chia has been used as food for thousands of years without any problems. It stores without refrigeration or special care. It digests easily without having to be ground. (Although the Aztecs also ground the seeds into flour for baking.) And, unlike other grains, there are no reports of allergic reactions.
The research on chia is very impressive, but limited. Research is expensive, particularly on humans, and there’s little financial incentive to spend millions of dollars to investigate a common grain that can’t be patented. But from all indications and research, chia works just as well as fish oil when it comes to lowering levels of triglycerides and LDL cholesterol, while raising beneficial HDL cholesterol.
One study found that chia consumption not only raised HDL cholesterol levels, but also effectively improved the overall omega-3 to omega-6 ratio. Chia helps restore the omega-3 to omega-6 balance that has become so lopsided from our diets. Omega-3 oils are anti-inflammatory in nature, and excess omega-6s promote inflammation. Chia consumption can help with most types of arthritis, joint pain, and stiffness, along with conditions such as ulcerative colitis.
The recommended daily amount is two tablespoons a day for adults and one tablespoon for children. The easiest way to use it is to simply sprinkle it in salads, over vegetables, or on top of other foods.