My Favorite Superfoods: Chia, Flax, and Spirulina

There is a lot of hype surrounding these Superfoods, commonly known to me as WHOLE FOODS, so I thought I would do a literature review of the current research surrounding their health benefits.

Part 1: Salvia hispanica

Salvia hispanica, commonly known as chia seeds, are a nutrient dense seed native to Central and South America. Prior to reading Born to Run by Christopher McDougall 9 months ago I had never heard of them. Actually that’s a lie, I remember being quite young and having Chia Pets and little did I know that these little seeds were JAM packed with vitamins & minerals. A distinct portion of Born to Run describes how tribes in South America rely on chia seeds for endurance when running upwards of 100 miles. WOW. As a fairly new runner, I thought to myself about how truly amazing this seed must be and it intrigued me to integrate them into my diet.

Chia’s claim-to-fame is the high concentration of alpha-linolenic acid, an omega 3-fatty acid. It is essential to maintain a balance of omega 3/6 fatty acids. Generally we need to INCREASE the amount of Omega-3 fatty acids, and decrease our intake of Omega-6 fatty acids, which are in cereal grains ie. rice, wheat, and corn. (As a society we eat plenty of these)

For every one ounce of Chia Seeds there is 11 grams of dietary fiber, and the Institute of Medicine recommends 25 grams of fiber daily for a female between the ages of 19-30. SO adding chia seeds to your diet is a great start to boosting your fiber intake. (http://www.iom.edu/Activities/Nutrition/SummaryDRIs/DRI-Tables.aspx)

Furthermore, according to the USDA Food Search (http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/search/list) chia is a source of calcium, phosphorus, and manganese. Chia seeds even have 4 grams of protein per one ounce!

Notable clinical trials that demonstrated the benefits of Chia Seeds:

  • Patients with Type 2 diabetes that consumed Chia Seeds  (specifically in the form of Salba) resulted in:
    -a reduction in systolic blood pressure, and markers of inflammation
    -elevated blood levels of eicosapentaenoic & alpha-linolenic acid (Both Omega 3-Fatty Acids)
  • Evidence of a reduction in triglyceride and blood glucose levels, body weight, and post prandial glycemia (spike in blood sugar after a meal) in multiple clinical trials
  • In 62 overweight postmenopausal women there was a 58% increase in Omega 3-Fatty Acid levels, after ingesting 25g of Chia seeds daily for 7 weeks

Incorporation into your diet 

I put chia in my whole-grain oats every morning (w/ some fruit & almond milk), it could also be added to smoothies, or sprinkled into yogurt (dairy, goat, almond, coconut, or rice). My FAVORITE specialty with Chia, that I was recently introduced to by my nutritionist friend Liz, is Chia Pudding. You simply mix a few tablespoons of chia seeds with a 2/3-1 cup of your favorite non-dairy milk and let it sit in the fridge for an hour and bam you have a delicious dessert. You can even add berries, maple syrup, vanilla, or cinnamon….

References
Mohd Ali, Norlaily, et al. “The promising future of chia, Salvia hispanica L.”Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology 2012 (2012).
Sarah Schwartz, et al. “Chia Seed Supplementation And Disease Risk Factors In Overweight Women: A Metabolomics Investigation.”Journal Of Alternative And Complementary Medicine (New York, N.Y.) 18.7 (2012): 700-708.
Simopoulos, Artemis P. “The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids.” Biomedicine & pharmacotherapy 56.8 (2002): 365-379.
Vuksan, Vladimir, et al. “Supplementation of Conventional Therapy With the Novel Grain Salba (Salvia hispanica L.) Improves Major and Emerging Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Type 2 Diabetes Results of a randomized controlled trial.” Diabetes Care 30.11 (2007): 2804-2810.

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