An Omega-3 Powerhouse

Chia Seed is considered an ancient grain – one that has been around for centuries but that is only recently making a big resurgence in the dietary supplement and food industries, due to its amazing nutritional properties most notably its high Omega-3 content.

Chia Seed (Salvia hispanica) grows natively in Mexico and Central America and belongs to the mint family of plants. The seeds are small ovals with a diameter of ~1mm. They are mottle-colored brown, gray, black and white.

Chia was harvested and eaten by the Aztecs in pre-Columbian times. It was a significant staple in the diet of Mesoamerica and an important source of nutrition for warriors on long hunts, until the Spanish conquest. Once the conquistadors saw the relationship between chia seeds and religious ceremonies they squelched production and consumption of this special seed in an effort to transition the Aztecs to the new European ways of life.

In present day, chia sprouts have been made popular as the star of the U.S. cultural icon, the Chia Pet, which utilizes the sprouts to create hair-like projections on clay figurines.

1) High Protein Content: Chia seeds contain 20% protein by weight, more than other common grains. Chia seeds also offer a complete vegan source of protein, containing all eight essential amino acids.

Grain     % Protein
Rice     6.50
Corn     9.42
Barley     12.48
Wheat     13.68
Oats     16.89
Chia     20.70

2) Fiber: Chia seeds contain 27% fiber by weight, more than other common grains. Chia seeds contain 5% soluble fiber and it forms a high-viscosity mucilage in a liquid medium. High-viscosity mucilages may confer more of the known soluble fiber health benefits than low-viscosity mucilages from other fibers such as guar and beta-glucan.

Grain     % Fiber
Rice     2.80
Corn     3.30
Oats     10.6
Wheat     12.2
Barley     17.3
Chia     25-41

3) Fats: Chia seeds contain the highest levels of Omega-3 fatty acids by weight of any plant source (or animal source for that matter). Omega-3 fatty acids are an essential fatty acid and are respected for the numerous health benefits they impart.

How do various foods compare in delivering the important EPA/DHA (the Omega-3 fatty acids with demonstrated health benefits)?

Food (100g) (g) of Total Omega-3 (g) DHA/EPA - estimated
Flax Seed 6.33 0.13 – 0.95
Walnuts, English 9.07 0.18 – 1.36
Salmon, Wild Atlantic Raw 2.02 2.02
Chia Seeds 17.55 0.35 – 2.63

Are there advantages of consuming Chia Seeds vs other sources of Omega-3s?

Fish oil and algae oil are currently the major dietary sources of Omega-3 in the American diet, with flax seed and chia seed considered minor dietary sources. However, there are numerous factors that should be considered in choosing the source of Omega-3 with regards to safety, environmental impact and more, as summarized below:

History of human consumption no no no yes
Saturated Fats 27 50 7 9
Cholesterol yes no no no
Toxic or anti-nutritional factors yes no yes no
Natural antioxidants no very low very low high
Requires antioxidants yes yes yes no
"Fishy" taste yes yes yes no

4) Antioxidants: Chia Seeds have an advantage over flax seeds in that chia seeds can be ground without risking rancidity of the Omega-3, due to the naturally high antioxidant content of chia seeds. Ground chia can be stored without adverse organoleptic problems up to 1 year.

Antioxidants Found in Chia Seeds
Chlorogenic acid
Caffeic acid

5) Other Nutritional Considerations
    • Chia seeds contain no gluten.
    • Chia seeds contain no cholesterol.
    • Chia seeds are very low in sodium.

Black chia seeds may have a slightly higher antioxidant level than white chia seeds (for example, only dark chia seeds have the additional antioxidant, quercetin); otherwise there is not really any significant difference in the nutrition between colors. The factor that can influence nutrition even more than color tends to be the environs that it is grown in (i.e. cooler climates produce seeds slightly higher in Omega-3s).

Calories 330 Kcal %
Protein 21 g 21%
Fat 33 g 33%
Carbohydrates 42 g 42%
Dietary Fiber 41 g 41%
    Soluble 5 g 5%
    Insoluble 36 g 36%
    Calcium 714 mg
    Potassium 700 mg
    Magnesium 390 mg
    Phosphorus 1,067 mg
    Copper 0 mg
    Iron 16 mg
    Sodium 2 mg
    Zinc 4 mg
    Niacine 6 mg
    Thiamine 0 mg
    Riboflavin 0 mg
    Vitamin A 44 IU

1) Cardiovascular Health
2) Digestive Health
3) Satiety

1) Chia seeds can be used to create gelatinous foods such as porridges, puddings.
2) Chia flour can be incorporated into baked goods such as breads, cereals and crackers, or these foods can be topped with whole chia seeds.
3) Mucilaginous aspect of the seeds in a liquid could make for a very healthy alternative or substitute for some oil or eggs in various cooking recipes or salad dressings.
4) The chia seeds can also be mixed with liquids to create sweet, yet powerful drinks for athletes, with omega 3’s to address inflammation and protein to help with muscle recovery.
5) Chia seeds can be added as a topping to salads, soups and yogurts.

“The Good Seed”, Oprah Magazine, 2010
“Boost Endurance with Chia”, Trail Runner Magazine, 2010
“Healing Foods: Chia Seed”, Vegetarian Times, 2010

Christopher McDougall, author of Born to Run, the true story of the astoundingly fit and healthy Tarahumara barefoot runners in Mexico, (who take off on 50-100 mile running jaunts as if they were evening strolls) likened the nutritional value of chia to making a smoothie of wild salmon, spinach, and human growth hormones.”

Dr. Oz states, “They [chia] just may be one of the healthiest things around.”

Dr. Andrew Weil states, “A healthful and interesting addition to my diet. My prediction? You will begin to see chia being added to more and more commercial products, such as prepared baby foods, nutrition bars, and baked goods.”