The presentation “The Nutritional Benefits of Chia” made at the official launch of ProChia during SIAL Paris last November highlighted that one way to improve our nutrition and health is to consume more foods high in omega-3 fatty acids. Chia seeds offer a high 3:1 ratio of omega-3 compared to omega-6 fatty acid.

With cheaper industrially produced foods in the market, our diet shows a lack of nutrients. We are eating too much food rich in empty calories and the wrong (saturated) fat. We do not consume enough complex carbohydrates, fiber, and protein. And the most available fresh fruits and vegetables, show a vitamin deficiency because the soil is depleted of many nutrients.

A consequence of poor nutrition and unhealthy habits is the metabolic syndrome, a group of risk factors including the rise of obesity rates, and elevated blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar, said Dr. Dietrich Paper, who made the presentation during the launch of ProChia.

Dr.  Paper is the head of R&D at AcanChia UG&Co.KG and at Anoxymer GmbH in Germany. He said that to feed a growing population, “we need better foods that help stop and prevent the proliferation of allergies and chronic conditions such as neurodermatitis, diabetes, celiac and cardiovascular disease. We need nutritious cereal substitutes.”

“Chia has a high concentration of protein, soluble and non-soluble fiber, carbohydrates, vitamins A, B1, and B6, and minerals such as calcium, potassium, and magnesium, and it is low in sodium,” said Dr. Paper. Chia is also a great source of Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids.

There are three types of Omega-3s: α-linoleic acid (ALA), an essential fatty acid found in plants such as chia seeds; Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), both present in fish oil and algae.

Two fatty acids are essential for the human body: Linoleic acid, which converts to the longer chain omega-6 fatty acid, arachidonic acid, and ALA, which converts to the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA.

Dr. Paper pointed out that the content of fatty oil in chia seeds is around 30 percent. "During the Stone Age the omega-3: omega-6 ratio probably was 1:1, while modern diets are low in unsaturated fats and high in omega-6, showing an omega 6 to omega 3 ratio 20:1. The optimal ratio is 3:1," he said.

Conversion of ALA in humans is around 5 percent on average, but can reach 40 percent in a balanced ALA-LA diet,” said Dr. Paper. The ALA conversion can be improved when the omega-6: omega-3 ratio is improved. Important to note that “a high intake of EPA and DHA block the ALA conversion,” he added.

Why is ALA so essential to optimal health? “ALA is stored in the adipose tissue. It reduces chronic disease by converting to EPA and DHA; it is necessary for proper function of the cell membrane and the brain and nervous system; it increases the cell membrane flexibility improving its function, and it attenuates inflammatory reactions,” said Dr. Paper.

ALA has a key role preventing cardiovascular disease, decreasing the cardiac rhythm and the risk of stroke.

Chia seeds are rich in α-Linolenic acids (ALA), which contribute to the stabilization of the cholesterol level in the blood.

Dr. Paper said that the problem that arises when a diet contains too many omega-6-fatty acids compared to omega 3s is the accumulation of arachidonic acid. This omega-6 unsaturated, essential fatty acid helps regulate neuronal activity and is also involved in the inflammation process.

"A sufficient intake of ALA leads to reduced production of arachidonic acid and an enhanced production of EPA & DHA (long-chain omega-fatty acids)," he said.

According to Dr. Paper, the recommended dosage for omega-3 is 10 to 15 g of chia seeds per day (one or two spoonfuls). Three grams of ALA (15 g of chia seeds) can be converted to 150 mg of EPA, which represents 60 percent of the recommended daily intake.

And what is the benefit of the fiber in chia seeds? "A decrease in the blood cholesterol level, the slow breakdown of sugars and decrease level of glucose in the blood. The fiber also activates digestion and the gut microbiome to help it work right inducing the formation of butyrate," Dr. Paper said. This type of fatty acid plays a role in gut-related diseases such as obesity, autoimmunity, and colon cancer.

An interesting property of chia seeds is the high capacity of water absorption and retention. When chia seeds are left in water, there is a gel formation. Ingestion of chia seeds provides satiety, a good signal for weight management.

Dr. Paper pointed out that chia seeds are a regenerative food and energizer that provide sustained release of glucose and balance of electrolytes. They decrease the blood cholesterol level, assist with constipation and other digestive problems. Chia seeds are an ideal ingredient for snacks, breakfast cereals and energy bars.

ProChia is an association of chia producers from Bolivia. Chia, the tiny seed cultivated first in Mexico and some parts of Central America, is now grown in Bolivia, Paraguay, Argentina, Ecuador, Peru, and Colombia. It also grows in Australia. Production will probably continue to expand to other countries. The little seed has become a superfood that is in high demand because of its benefits. It is a gluten-free food with no starch, no known allergens, and with nutritional density. It will be interesting to find out in which soil and region the chia seeds show the best nutritional content.

Dr. Dietrich Paper has over 15 years of experience in industrial and academic research in the field of carbohydrate-based compounds with antiangiogenic activity for the prevention and treatment of chronic diseases. He has acquired in-depth knowledge of the isolation, analysis and pharmacological profiling of bio-actives from different natural sources and has authored over 40 publications.