Cha-cha-cha Chia: Is Chia a SuperFood?

Dr. Lindsey Mcilvena, MD

In her day job, treating patients living with chronic disease, nutrition and lifestyle are not after-thoughts, they’re central to helping her patients get well. She’s also our go-to expert on plant-based diets.

Chia is making a comeback. We’re not talking about Chia Pets from the 1990s here — we’re talking about the traditional food of Central and South American cultures that’s been popping up in the health food sections of supermarkets and specialty stores all over the world.

But is chia a SuperFood or just a slimy addition to smoothies and plant-based puddings?

Chia is actually quite impressive—60% of its fat content is in the form of ALA, an essential omega-3 fatty acid. It also contains smaller amounts of omega 6 fatty acids, also essential (meaning we have to eat them because our body cannot make them from scratch). This high omega-3 content makes chia an anti-inflammatory, heart-protecting, cholesterol and triglyceride-lowering athlete in the plant kingdom arena. Chia also contains quercetin, a potent antioxidant which is thought to help in preventing cancer, and possibly blood clots.

A couple of small studies have shown chia to aid in weight loss, and keep blood sugar levels steady after eating. All told, the evidence is a little scant in this area, but promising no less.

We recommend incorporating chia seeds into your diet as a SuperFood Sidekick to the other nuts and seeds we love so much—almonds, walnuts, pistachios, etc. Try making an overnight breakfast of oats with chia and non-dairy milk; the chia plumps up and absorbs the milk along with the oats. Top it with fresh berries and cinnamon. (Check out this recipe for a starting point.) You can also use chia in baking as an alternative to eggs—in the same way that many people use ground flaxseed.

Sources: National Institutes of Health 1, National Institutes of Health 2, Cambridge Journals, National Institutes of Health 3


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