Chia Seeds and Salba

This article was written by Doug Cook, RD MHSc CDE from Wellness Nutrition. He is a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Educator.

Imagine if you could, a seed, so tiny and yet so powerful that it could provide you with a daily dose of health promoting nutrients or better yet, could help those to manage a chronic disease like diabetes, would you eat it? Ya, I would too, in fact I do.

What is it?

This nutritional powerhouse is nothing less than Chia (yes as in the Chia Pet), or Salvia hispanica L, an ancient plant species belonging to the mint family. The chia plant produces two different colored seeds: black and white. Salba is the result of selecting out and only using the white seeds. You’ll find both chia and salba products on the shelves and while purest will suggest that salba is superior (research hasn’t supported this), it’s really nothing more than a new twist on an old favorite. I say an old favorite because chia was revered by the Aztecs who used it has a staple in their diets. They referred to it as the “running food” because it provided a lot of food energy and is purported to increase stamina.

What does it do?

Chia delivers a powerful nutritional punch. Clocking in at 70 calories per 2 tablespoons (15g) it has 6g carbs (6g fiber with 1.1g of soluble and 4.9g of insoluble and 0g of sugar), 5g fat (0.5g saturated, 4.5g polyunsaturated including 3.6g omega-3, and 952mg omega-6 with ideal ration of 4:1), and 3.7g protein. Not bad at all, and it has a decent amount of potassium, magnesium, calcium, folate, niacin, copper, fiber and antioxidants. A 2 tablespoon serving of chia has a whopping 103mg of magnesium, 79mg of calcium, 123 mg of potassium, and more omega-3 fat than an equal amount of ground flax seed. Move over flax, there’s a new player in town.

As well, unlike flax, chia has a better balance of omega-3 to omega-6 fats making it a great source of essential fatty acids (those that the body cannot make and therefore must be obtained from the diet). Chia is also a great example of a functional food which are foods that provide health benefits beyond their basic nutritional function (i.e. calories, protein etc).

What is also remarkable about this ancient seed; is that it can absorb much more water than flax. In this case, water retention is a good thing. By absorbing many times its weight in water, whole and ground chia seeds form a thick gel or bulking agent which results in slower digestion. Slower digestion results in a steadier rise in blood sugar and therefore insulin release. This helps to keep you feeling full longer, helps to prevent swings in hunger and may help to reduce your total food intake by moderating appetite – all this and a handful of vitamins and minerals. Chia was put to the test in a randomized clinical trial to see whether or not it could have a positive impact on some major and emerging risk factors as it relates to type-2 diabetes. Subjects who received 37g of chia per day (about 6 tablespoons) saw a significant decrease in cardiovascular risk factors including systolic blood pressure, CRP (a measure of inflammation which damages blood vessels), fibrinogen (increases blood clotting) and A1C (a measure of blood sugar control). Chia has the ability to help manage diabetes and possibly reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Chia is a very versatile and it can be added to a variety of foods such as oatmeal, yogurt, applesauce, smoothies, and cold cereals. It can be added to salads, dips such as hummus, homemade energy bars or baked into muffins.


There’s a reason the Aztecs grew this stuff and relied on it heavily as a stable of their diet. Chia is truly a winner when it comes to providing a lot of nutritional bang for your buck which is something that make dietitians very happy – in a world where our nutritional requirements haven’t change but the nutritional landscape has, dietitians are always looking for ways to make ‘every bite count’ and adding chia makes that a whole lot easier.


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