Health-food fans have been talking up chia seeds for years. Now some studies show benefit for these seeds in diabetes. Possibly, chia seeds could help you.
Chia is an herb in the Lamiaceae plant family, related to mint and sage. It grows in Mexico and Central America. It is the same plant that became a fad a few years ago as a “Chia Pet.” When you water a Chia Pet, it grows a “fur” and becomes kind of cute. But we’re talking here about eating the seeds and their health benefits. Why is chia getting so much media buzz now?
Writing on Diabetic Connect, Jewels Doskicz, RN, explained: “Chia seeds are a total protein” (which not many plants are). “They are high in fiber, rich in healthy omega-3s (actually higher than salmon), and are also high in calcium and antioxidants.”
A report in Harvard Health Blog highlights studies of animals in which a high-chia diet led to lower LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, and higher HDL, the good cholesterol. Eating a lot of chia also lowered triglycerides (blood fat levels). In a study of 20 humans with diabetes, one variety of seed called Salba helped participants control blood glucose, reduce blood pressure, and lower C-reactive protein, a major marker of heart disease risk. The study was published in the journal Diabetes Care.
The omega-3 oils and antioxidants in chia are healthy, but the fiber content may be a bigger benefit. Chia seeds seem to slow glucose passage into the blood. They fill you up and so reduce appetite. The oils are a good energy source — Aztecs used to carry bags of them to keep going on long walks at high altitude.
If you want to try chia seeds, how do you take them? A reader on the American Diabetes Association online support group asked that question and received many answers from fans of chia. One user posted a list of 40 ways to use them. You can add them to water, juice, or milk to make a thick liquid, which can be drunk or used in baking as an egg substitute. You can add them to soups, salad dressings, or smoothies as a nutritious thickener.
Actually, you can add chia seeds to almost anything — barbecue sauces, stews, and rice are suggested. You can also eat them straight, although some people don’t like the texture. Because they are so small, they do not have to be ground up as other seeds do. According to the Cleveland Clinic newsletter, the only risk factor is if you are taking blood thinners or blood pressure medicines. Chia doesn’t react well with them (and should not be eaten by people on blood thinners).
One user on Diabetes Forum commented that the seeds last over two years without going bad, “longer than some processed foods. I find it stabilizes my blood glucose. I use it in all of my baked goods. I make a hot cereal in the morning with it. It is also great when making chocolate pudding. When you mix it with any liquid it will gel. It as close to a miracle food as you can find.”
Chia seeds are widely available in stores. I’m not sure how one verifies that the seeds in the package are high quality, or even that they’re really chia. They can cost up to $10 a pound, but are much cheaper ($3 to $4 a pound) at places like Costco — not too high for seeds, in my opinion. If our readers have more information or experience with chia seeds, please let us know.