Chia seeds

The chia craze

Many people won’t have heard of chia, but this ancient seed is fast becoming a superfood craze in the US and Europe.

Goji berries, kombucha, wheatgrass, acai berries. It seems rarely a year passes without at least one new health-food frenzy. Everything from handfuls of strange seeds to bacteria-infested yoghurts to espresso-style shots of odd-tasting green juices are touted as a shortcut to wellbeing.

Chia will soon be joining the list. So what exactly is it?

Chia, or Salvia hispanica L, is a member of the mint family from Mexico and South America. The flowering plant can sprout in a matter of days, but chia’s appeal is in the nutritional punch of its tiny seeds.

With more omega-3 fatty acids than salmon, a wealth of antioxidants and minerals, a complete source of protein and more fibre than flax seed, the seeds have been dubbed a “dieter’s dream”, “the running food”, “a miracle”, and “the ultimate super food”, by advocates and athletes.

What’s in 100g of chia?

Protein: 20.7g

Fat: 32.8g

Carbohydrate: 41.8g

(of which fibre is 41.2g)

Calcium: 714mg

Iron: 16.4mg

Niacin (B3): 613mg

Thiamine (B1): 0.18mg

Riboflavin (B2): 0.04mg

Source: Nutritional Science Research Institute

To some the seeds taste utterly bland, but to others there is a slight nutty flavour. It also can seem expensive compared with other seeds and nuts.

In the UK, the seeds are only currently allowed for sale as a bread ingredient, but over the next few weeks, the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes is poised to allow chia seeds in a wide variety of products including baked goods, breakfast cereals and nut and seed mixes.

Elsewhere in the world, chia-seed products have been springing up over the past few years. In 2011, 72 new chia products hit the market and 28 new chia foods are already out this year, according to research group Mintel. Compare that with only seven new chia products for all of 2006 and you get a sense of its growing popularity.

The US is particularly infatuated with the seed, introducing 21 new chia items in 2011 and 13 in 2012. It’s in sweets, snack foods, seasonings, yoghurt and even baby food.

To chia cheerleaders the seeds do no wrong. They claim chia reduces inflammation, improves heart health, and stabilises blood sugar levels. A few tablespoons are touted as remedying just about anything – without any ill effects

So is this new superfood all it’s cracked up to be?

“In terms of nutritional content, a tablespoon of chia is like a smoothie made from salmon, spinach and human growth hormone,” writes Christopher McDougall in Born to Run, the bestselling book about an ultra-distance running tribe in Mexico who fuel their epic jaunts with the seeds. The book is credited with shining the spotlight on chia as food for athletes.

“If you had to pick just one desert-island food, you couldn’t do much better than chia, at least if you were interested in building muscle, lowering cholesterol, and reducing your risk of heart disease; after a few months on the chia diet, you could probably swim home,” McDougall adds.

Wayne Coates, co-author of Chia: Rediscovering a Forgotten Crop of the Aztecs, agrees. The University of Arizona professor started experimenting with the seeds in South America more than 20 years ago as part of a project to identify alternative crops for farmers in Argentina. He then started cultivating the seeds commercially.

“I hate to call it a miracle food because there are too many miracles that turn out not to be, but it almost is. Literally, you could live on this stuff because it’s pretty much everything you need,” Coates says.

Elisabeth Weichselbaum of the British Nutrition Foundation admits she had not heard of chia, but she says the foundation doesn’t buy into the idea of a single superfood.

“It is true that some foods are higher in vitamins and minerals, but no single food provides us with everything we need. So the best way to be healthy is to eat a variety of foods,” she says…..

BBC News: Read the full article

Other reading on chia:

The best new superfoods for 2012

… life. These are the Huffington Post’s predictions on 2012’s hot new health foods… Chia: These tiny brown seeds are packed with omega 3 fatty acids, great for maintaining healthy energy levels. They are …
Anuga 2011 Blog – Day One at the World’s Greatest Food Fair
… choices made with wholesome ingredients that contribute to healthier eating and drinking. One of the ingredients it, and many others, will be using to achieve this was prominent in Hall 5.1 at Anuga: chia, …

Be Natural SnacksChia in application: Kellogg’s Be Natural Four (Australia)

Innova Market Insights reports that chia seed achieved Novel Foods approval for use in baked goods in the EU in 2011, but recent launches in Australia have been particularly noteworthy.

The latest addition to Kellogg’s Be Natural snacks range (Four bars), are promoted as a simple combination of four natural ingredients: fruit, nuts, grains and seeds. The bar contains chia seeds because, “they are rich in omega 3, protein, fiber and antioxidants but most importantly taste amazing!”

Pepsi’s Sakata brand now includes Gourmet Bites featuring this ingredient.