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Chia Seeds and Krill Oil: Unusual Sources of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Amy Campbell

February 17, 2009

Last week (in "Essential Fatty Acids: What You Need to Know [Part 4]"), I said that I was wrapping up my series on essential fatty acids. However, I realized that there are two more "items" that I wanted to mention to you that have to do with omega-3 fatty acids.

Chia Seeds: More Than Just Green Hair
Chia seeds? You mean those Chia Pet things that you get at the drugstore? That you give as a joke? (I can just hear you thinking this!) Little did you know that the seeds used to grow green hair on clay heads are actually a valuable source of omega-3 fatty acids. (By the way, chia seeds were mentioned by Dr. Oz on Oprah, so you know they’ve made it big time.)

Chia seeds (Salvia hispanica) are related to the mint family and grow in the Southwest and in Mexico. Back in pre-Columbian times, before the Spanish conquest, chia seeds were a staple of the Aztec and Mayan diets. The Aztecs used to cut images of their gods out of dough made from chia and then eat them as part of religious ceremonies. Chia seeds were also used to treat joint pain and skin conditions. They were banned from use after the Spanish conquest. Only recently have countries in Latin America started to produce chia seeds commercially.

What’s the big deal about chia seeds? These tiny black seeds are an excellent source of the omega-3 fatty acid alpha linolenic acid (ALA). One ounce, or about two tablespoons, of chia seeds contains 4 grams of protein, 11 grams of fiber, 180 milligrams of calcium, and 5 grams of omega-3 fatty acids. Furthermore, chia seeds are rich in antioxidants, and the kind of fiber they contain is primarily soluble fiber, the type of fiber that can lower blood cholesterol. In fact, if you mix chia seeds with water, the water will become very gummy, thanks to the soluble fiber. These seeds apparently can absorb more than 12 times their weight in water.

Another benefit to using these seeds: Unlike flax seeds, chia seeds don’t have to be ground up before eating. This means you can readily sprinkle chia seeds on or into just about anything: salads, yogurt, bread and muffin batter…

Where can you find chia seeds? Don’t gobble down your chia pet seeds just yet — those haven’t been approved for human consumption by the FDA. Instead, head to your nearest health food store. You can buy them on the Internet, too. You may also come across white chia seeds, called salba. There’s no difference, nutritionally, between the two.

Only a small handful of studies have been done with chia seeds, and a few have found that chia seeds may help lower blood pressure. Another study, done with rats, found chia seeds to significantly lower triglycerides and increase HDL (”good”) cholesterol. Stay tuned — it’s highly likely we’ll be hearing more about chia seeds in the near future.

Krill Oil: What is a Krill, Anyway?
The word “krill” doesn’t sound all that appetizing, and chances are you don’t even know what krill is. Krill are tiny crustaceans that are related to shrimp, crabs, and lobsters. They live in the ocean, where they feed on phytoplankton. Krill are used as aquarium food or as fishing bait. In Japan, krill is served as food, called okiami.

The main benefit of krill is in its oil. Krill oil contains omega-3 fatty acids, just like the kind found in fish oil. Some scientists believe that krill oil is even better than fish oil, however, due to its unique structure. Apparently, the structure of the fatty acids in krill oil is such that they are more easily absorbed.

In addition, krill oil contains a powerful antioxidant called astaxanthin, the substance that gives krill, lobster, and shrimp their reddish color. Unlike other antioxidants, astaxanthin crosses the blood-brain barrier and by doing so, may help protect against certain eye diseases, such as glaucoma, and neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer disease.

A few studies have already looked at how krill oil might be helpful: In one study, krill oil was found to inhibit as inflammation and improve symptoms of arthritis. And in another study, 500 milligrams per day of krill oil helped lower LDL and increase HDL cholesterol.

Krill oil might be an option for you if fish oil supplements “repeat” on you. However, if you’re allergic to seafood, don’t take krill oil supplements.



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