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

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.

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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.

  • CalgaryDiabetic

    Dear Amy. Where do you get krill oil?

  • acampbell

    Hi,

    Check your local natural foods or health food store. You can also order krill oil (Source Naturals brand) on http://www.amazon.com. Most of the krill oil that’s produced is made by Neptune Labs in Canada.

  • jgeorge

    you can find krill at http://www.getkrill.com

  • seanh

    I just wanted to point out something regarding the Chia seeds. Chia is an awesome source of fiber, omega-3, protein, antioxidants and much more.
    Your article mentions awaiting FDA approval. I believe that you’re talking about the popular Chia pets however, Chia does not need FDA approval as it isn’t a supplement, it IS a food.
    I’d encourage everyone to learn more about the value of Chia at http://www.mykindofgrain.com

  • acampbell

    Thanks, Sean. My mention about FDA approval was in regard to Chia Pets, not chia seeds.

  • ken in st louis

    I get inexpensive food-grade chia seeds at my local specialty food stores that specialize in foreign foods from around the world.
    Also – in health-food stores are more expensive chia seeds but they are supposedly organic. BUT – does anyone know if in the chia-production business if that’s such a big deal? I eat most freuits and vegies organic because nearly all commercial operations use lots of pesticides, etc. But do chia seeds really need spraying?

    k…

  • acampbell

    Hi Ken,

    My understanding of chia seeds is that they are not sprayed with pesticides because insects don’t touch them. But if anyone knows differently, please share. Thanks.

  • Garin Kilpatrick

    Cool article Amy, I read about Dr. Oz mentioning chia on Oprah as well. I’ve done my research and there is a difference between Salba and chia.

    Salba has been studied and shown to be higher in protein, and omega 3 fatty acids. Salba holds a medical patent, and is more nutritionally consistent. Salba seeds are mostly white, whereas chia seeds are mostly black. Both have great nutritional benefits, so they are similar in that regard.

    This is the first I’ve heard of krill oil, do you know if it is superior to simple fish oil? I’m not sure what you mean by fish oil supplements that “repeat.”

  • acampbell

    Hi Garin,

    Thanks for the info on salba. Interestingly, though, Dr. Wayne Coates, the “expert” on chia seeds, claims that salba is merely white chia seeds and there doesn’t seem to be any significant nutritional advantage of the white seeds over the black seeds. Krill oil supposedly is better absorbed than fish oil and also contains more antioxidants. However, fish oil is fine, too. By “repeat,” I mean that sometimes fish oil can cause one to “burp” and bring up a not-so-pleasant fishy taste in one’s mouth!

  • Linda

    Let’s stop using fish oil and start using Krill oil instead !
    Too many fish need to be killed for a little bit of fish oil…………..

  • Jane

    Do you need or should you take both Chia seed and Krill oilor would you be getting enough omegas from Chia seed alone? Thanks?

  • acampbell

    Hi Jane,
    You don’t really need to take both chia seeds and krill oil. The omega-3 fatty acids from krill oil are in a form that’s more “available” to the body than those in chia seeds. But chia seeds are certainly fine to use in and on foods. Also, unless you have a problem taking them, regular fish oil supplements are fine to take, too.