More often than not, the term ‘super-food’ is used in a way that creates a false idea of miraculous, ‘super-healing’ powers. However, to dismiss all the health claims associated with so these called ‘super foods’ as ‘wishful thinking’ or ‘nifty marketing’ is hasty.
Over the next couple of weeks we will be delving deeper into the scientific evidence behind the health claims of popular ‘superfoods’ and analysing the evidence.
This week we are starting with chia seeds:
What’s the claimed super power?
Chia seeds are often touted as the ultimate protectors against cardiovascular disease. This is because Chia contain Omega-3-fatty-acids, thought to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. There is no question that increasing your Omega 3 intake is a good move health wise.
What makes Chia Seeds worthy of the super food title over say a simple piece of salmon- ( also high in omega 3)?
The nutritional breakdown:
100g chia seeds = 17g omega-3-fatty-acids
100g atlantic salmon = 2g omega-3-fatty-acids
So it would appear that the chia seeds trump over the salmon. HOWEVER – the omega 3’s contained within chia seeds (known as Alpha Linoleic Acid- ALAs) have to be transformed into other fatty acids (Eicosapentaenoic acid- EPA and Docosahexaenoic acid – DHA) within the body before they can induce any cardiovascular benefits. The body finds this conversion processes quite tricky, and the inefficiency of the conversion means you gain much less of these particular fatty acids (by weight) than it’s fishy counterparts.
Although Oily fish contain less total omega 3’s, fish such as salmon are rich sources of EPA and DHA which can be used directly within the body.
Some more considerations:
To convert ALA to the more useful fatty acids (EPA/DHA) , your body has to first digest the seeds to extract the fats and some seeds pass straight through! If you’re eating chia to boost your omega 3’s it’s probably worth blending them in a smoothie to release the fats. However this will reduce the amount of soluble fibre provided by the seeds.
Increasing your soluble fibre intake has also been associated with improved heart health by reducing levels of ‘bad’ cholesterol (LDL).
FTFs verdict on chia seeds:
Chia seeds make a great addition to vegetarian/vegan diets as chia seeds are one of the few plant-based sources of these essential fatty acids. Further clinical studies investigating the health benefits of chia seeds are needed, and it’s less hyped-up equivalents such as oily fish are not to be overlooked.