This time of year I'm used to hearing people say things like: "This is the year…
I recently received this question via email:
A week ago I started eating chia seeds because I had seen it in a news article on the top 10 super foods. When I read up on it I can’t help but wonder why everyone in the world is not eating it. What do you know about it? Is it as good as this article says it is?
On the scale of optimistic to pessimistic I am usually faulted for being overly optimistic but I have to admit that my pessimistic side clambers to attention when I see a media article on “super foods.” Our society and media tend to hype up The New Latest Thing, whether that’s in fashion, electronics, or whatever. The New Latest Thing grabs our collective attention by the throat and promises a quick and easy fix to our problems, the latest miracle that most people don’t know about or have yet. You know the allure this holds, having an inside scoop about something that’s unknown to the masses, which will miraculously improve your life. The field of nutrition is no less vulnerable to The New Latest Thing, offering new “super foods” that will help you lose weight, cure cancer, prevent disease, fill you with energy, etc.
Often there’s nothing false about the claims made about such foods, but there’s a sneaky side to this: these foods usually offer nothing better than the nutritional powerhouses of everyday foods. Your latest super food is probably no better for you than, let’s say, an apple. But super foods are marketed as miracle foods, and they are priced accordingly. Despite the fact that an apple is much cheaper, super foods still often draw our grocery dollars, especially because they appeal to our inner nutritional hipsters. That inner hipster, after all, does not always make the best decisions when it comes to overpaying for products by ridiculous amounts. You know what I’m talking about, fellow Mac users.
(disclaimer: my husband put that last line in, I love my Mac!)
So what about chia seeds? Well, nutritionally they are great. Flax seeds are also great, for similar reasons. However, chia seeds are six times the price of flax seeds. Do they offer good value for that price? The answer, based purely on nutrition, is no. The following info from www.nutrientdata.self.com shows that flax and chia seeds each have their strengths and weaknesses, but are essentially very similar.
Flax Seeds Chia Seeds
7 g omega 3 5g omega 3
71 mg calcium 177 mg calcium
110 mg magnesium Negligible magnesium
7.6 g fibre 10.6 g fibre
But chia seeds’ real claim to fame, which sets them apart from flax seeds, is their ability to bind nine times their weight in water. “OK,” you’re thinking, “Whoop-de-do! Tell me about the vitamins, the minerals, the antioxidants, the healthy fats… or whatever it is that’s going to cure me of every ailment!”
Here’s the benefit of the water binding: While in your digestive system, the seeds form a gel with the water and other foods you’ve eaten. Your body first has to break down this gel matrix before it can digest and absorb any food. The end result is a slow, sustained digestion. You feel fuller for longer and your blood sugar doesn’t spike as high.
I tested this water binding capacity by placing flax seeds and chia seeds in water in separate dishes. Within 15 minutes, the chia seeds had already started to form a gel, while the flax seeds were still just flax seeds sitting in water. After 10 hours, all the water in the chia seed dish was bound up in a gel. The flax seeds did form a gel, but half the water was still free.
My verdict: if you are focusing strongly on weight loss and you believe you’re overeating, chia seeds could really be a great addition to your diet. They have a lot of nutritional benefits and they really will keep you feeling full for longer. Additionally, if you have diabetes and would like to slow the rate of glucose absorption, this will help you achieve that goal. However, if you are using chia seeds solely for their nutritional super food power, or because they are The New Latest Thing, you’d be better off going with boring old flax seeds. Nutritionally there is no major difference between the two. Flax seeds are way cheaper, and they are also grown locally, so they really are an equally amazing super food that doesn’t have to break the bank, or your conscience.