Power Food: Chia Seed, Part I
Copyright 2017 by Joseph Ben Hil-Meyer Research, Inc.
By Bruce Berkowsky, N.M.D., M.H., H.M.C.
Dr. Berkowsky's Fall 2016 Natural Health Science Webinar Course
of the central focal points of my Natural Health System is proper diet. In this
era of fast foods, processed foods, genetically modified foods, microwaved
foods, corner espresso stands and long work hours, proper diet has become a
rarity. So much so, that most people do not have a clear idea about what to
eat, proper food combining and healthful food preparation.
from the grip of disease is invariably linked to the pursuance of a dietary
course navigated by well-charted guidelines such as high water-, alkaline
mineral- and fiber- content, the laws of optimal food combining and raw
food/cooked food balancing.
fundamental dietary principle of my Natural Health Science System is: Eat a
diet dominated by fresh, whole, high water-content, alkaline ash foods that
prominently features a variety of nutrient-dense, power foods.
of these nutrient-dense, power foods is chia seed -- a food that is an
important component of my daily diet. In this article: Part I of two-parts, I
will present a detailed discussion about the nutritional bounty and healing
potential of chia seed.
Part II, I will provide details of how to use chia seeds and incorporate them
into specific recipes.
Chia Seed (Salvia
hispanica): Power Food for 5,000 Years
For many individuals,
their only experience with chia seeds is restricted to having owned a Chia Pet (clay
animal figurines covered with chia sprouts that represent the "pet's" fur). The
majority of Chia Pet owners do not realize that the seeds which give rise to
their "pet's" green "fur" is one of the planet's foremost superfoods.
many centuries, chia seeds (indigenous to Mexico and Guatemala) were a staple
food of the Native American tribes of the American southwest and Mexico. Humans
began using chia seeds as a food more than 5000 years ago. Chia (Salvia
hispanica), a member of the mint (Lamiaceae) plant family, was first cultivated
by the Aztecs in pre-Columbian times. For them, it was as important a food crop
as maize. The Aztecs and Mayans ground chia seeds into a flour, drank a mixture
of chia seeds added to water, and also pressed the seeds to express their oil.
Unfortunately, the Spanish conquistadors introduced their own foods into the
territories they invaded and prohibited the farming of chia. Nevertheless, chia
seed is still widely used today in various
parts of Central America and South America as an essential source of vital nutrition.
seeds are small (approximately 0.04 inches or 1 mm in diameter), oval, and mottled
black, brown, gray and white in color. One of the most notable characteristics
of the seeds is that they are hydrophilic, meaning that, through the
mechanism of hydrogen bonding, they have a strong affinity for water.
Hydrophilic molecules typically have polar groups. Polar groups are chemical
groupings in which electron distribution among the molecules is uneven. This
enables them to take part in electrostatic (relating to static electricity)
interactions which, in turn, facilitate their absorption of water. When soaked,
chia seeds are capable of absorbing 12 times their own weight in water.
the seeds are soaked or otherwise mixed with water, they develop a mucilaginous
gel-like coating that thickens sauces and lends them a distinctive texture.
This hydrophilic quality is one of the reasons chia seed can soothe the mucosal
lining of the gastrointestinal tract and help alleviate constipation.
the Aztecs, chia seed was a concentrated high-energy food which greatly increased
the endurance of warriors who ran long distances or were engaged in the Aztec's
lengthy campaigns of conquest. Similarly, certain tribes of the American
Southwest relied upon the stamina-sustaining quality of chia seeds during their
migrations. Native American runners who ran the entire roundtrip from the
Colorado River to the Pacific coast of California (for the purpose of trading southwestern
turquoise for seashells) often carried only chia seeds to sustain them during
Chia Seeds: A Nutritional Powerhouse
Chia Protein vs. Soy Protein
In order for a food to be able to provide and help sustain the type of stamina
alluded to above, it must be a nutritional powerhouse. In this reference, chia
seed consists of 20% highly bioavailable, complete protein (protein that
contains all the amino acids essential for human health). Chia seed has 3 to 10
times the oil content, and approximately 150% to 200% the protein concentrations,
of most grains. In fact, chia seed contains more high-quality protein than
soybeans. Soy protein is also a problematic nutrient that commonly elicits
food sensitivity reactions.
sensitivity is different than a food allergy. Whereas a food allergy elicits an
immediate, readily perceptible reaction, such as swelling, rashes or difficulty
in breathing, food sensitivities are less acute and immediate in nature. Food
sensitivities result from difficulty in digesting certain foods. Many people
have difficulty digesting soy protein, especially when ingested in a highly
experienced food sensitivity symptoms include: fatigue, lethargy, sleepiness
after eating, mood swings, depression, restlessness, headache (including
migraine), flatulence, bloating, dyspepsia, rheumatic pain.
contain protease inhibitors (e.g., trypsin) – substances that suppress some of
the key pancreatic enzymes necessary for proper protein digestion. The soybean has
also become one of the most prominent genetically modified (GMO) foods. Ninety-three
percent of the soybean crop in the United States is genetically modified (GMO).
GMO soybeans contain more protease inhibitors than organic soybeans. Notably, protease
inhibitors are resistant to deactivation by cooking or other processing
In contrast, the
chia seed is easy to digest and (at the time of this writing) has not been genetically
tampered with by big agribusiness.
soy products such as miso, tempeh and natto are actually health-building foods.
The earliest writings concerning soybeans appeared about 5000 years ago when
the emperor of China discussed the virtues of soybean plants for regenerating
the soil for future crops. Significantly, he focused his praise upon the plant's
root rather than its seeds (i.e., its beans). This suggests that the Chinese of
that era already recognized the problematic nature of soybeans (regarding human
consumption) in their natural form. Modern nutritional science now highlights
the soybean's anti-nutritive qualities, with the understanding that soybeans
should be eaten only in their fermented form.
years ago in China, it was discovered that certain molds (Aspergillus oryzae
for miso; Rhizopus oligosporus for tempeh) when allowed to grow on
soybeans, destroyed the toxins present and made the nutrients in the beans bioavailable.
A bacterial species called Bacillus subtilis var. natto is used to
prepare another traditional soybean food called natto. Fermentation releases
the nutrients within soybeans and transforms them into a nutritious food.
are naturally ocurring compounds that occur in legumes. Genistein is an
isoflavone found in soybeans. The discovery that genistein could regulate
cell division drew interest to it as a substance that had potential in
inhibiting cancerous growth. However, most of the isoflavones in soy
products, including genistein, are bound to carbohydrate molecules called glucosides.
In this bound form, genistein is called genistin. It is only via fermentation
that genistin is transformed into genistein.
unfermeneted soy products in the U.S. do not distinguish between genistin and
genistein on their labels. Thus, those who consume soy milk and other commercial,
non-fermented soybean products for their isoflavone content generally do not
realize that the isoflavones they contain will not be available to their
shown that isoflavones such as genistein have significant clinical potential.
However, they also have significant downside potential if overconsumed. I will
discuss isoflavones at greater length in a future issue of Nature's
like other seeds or nuts, are a concentrated source of calories. Three
tablespoons of the seeds contain 179 calories (approximately 11% of a
2,000-calorie-per-day diet), 6 grams of protein and 15 grams of carbohydrate.
at the University of Alabama (as reported in the January 2011 issue of the
Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research) compared chia seed to the sports
drink Gatorade to determine whether the former could be as effective regarding
carbohydrate loading (for sustained energy) prior to athletic activity.
determined that the substitution of chia seeds for Gatorade can enable athletes
to decrease their intake of refined sugar, while increasing omega-3 content,
without decreasing performance results.
there are some serious issues with Gatorade. The sports drink contains:
filtered municipal water; brominated vegetable (soybean) oil (added to certain
beverages that contain citrus oils to prevent them from rising to the surface
and thus ensure the stability of the flavor mixture); sucralose (used in
sugar-free varieties of Gatorade; an artificial sweetener marketed
commercially; high fructose corn syrup (Among the wide array of problems with
this ingredient is that it may lead to an accumulation of fat in the liver
because the liver converts fructose into fat.); citric acid (added for flavor
and to act as a preservative); refined salt; sodium citrate; monopotassium
phosphate; glycerol ester of wood rosin; artificial colors.
(actually a type of carbohydrate called polysaccharides) derives from
the edible portions of plant cell walls that are resistant to digestion.
Dietary fiber is found only in plant products.
which plays a crucial role in the prevention of many diseases including heart
disease and colon cancer, has also been shown to assist weight loss in
overweight individuals by reducing food intake at meals. High-fiber foods take
longer to digest, thus producing an increased feeling of fullness and satiety. This
slower digestive time leads to more gradual uptake of glucose into the blood,
thereby discouraging large blood glucose and insulin spikes.
approximately 40 grams of fiber per 100 grams (3.38 ounces) of seeds. The
recommended fiber intake for adults is 25 to 38 grams per day. Among Americans,
the average daily intake of fiber is 12 to 17 grams per day. Ideally, fiber
intake should be a combination of soluble and insoluble fiber. While neither
soluble nor insoluble fiber is absorbed from the gut into the blood, they exert
different physiological effects when mixed with water.
(including pectins, gums, mucilages, and certain hemicelluloses), so-called
because it is soluble in water, swells and forms a gel-like substance when
mixed with water. Soluble fiber helps moderate blood glucose levels and lower
blood cholesterol levels by binding to the cholesterol in the semi-digested
food mass moving through the digestive tract. The soluble fiber in chia seeds
has a relatively long transit time through the intestinal tract. This is one
way it bulks up the stool (counteracting the tendency toward constipation) and
provides the desirable slower rate of glucose absorption.
fatty acids aid in the absorption of vital minerals. Short-chain fatty acids
production in the gastrointestinal tract helps to maintain the integrity of the
intestinal wall through which minerals are absorbed. The acids lower the
intestinal pH (i.e., makes it more acidic), thereby helping to facilitate the
ionizing and solubilizing of minerals required for their optimal absorption,"
chia seeds, good soluble fiber sources include fruits and vegetables (oranges,
apples and carrots are notable in this reference), barley, oats (Both of these
grains contain gluten, and so, those with gluten sensitivities will need to
avoid them.) and legumes (beans, lentils and peas).
On the other
hand, insoluble fiber (including cellulose, lignins, and certain
hemicelluloses) does not absorb or dissolve in water. Thus, it passes through the
digestive tract close to its original form. The primary value of insoluble
fiber is that it helps maintain a healthy environment within the intestines, in
part, by helping to prevent constipation and hemorrhoids. Aside from chia seeds,
the bran layers of unrefined grains are good sources of insoluble fiber.
fiber content of chia seeds is approximately 38%, with the soluble fiber
content being approximately 5%. Two tablespoons (about 1 oz. or 28.35 grams) of
chia seeds contain about 9.6 grams of total fiber.
with water, the particular soluble fibers in chia produce a soft, fibrous gel
that cleans intestinal walls as it passes down the intestinal tract; it can
also help relieve diarrhea by serving as a bulking agent that solidifies stool
is generally not absorbed as a carbohydrate, some of it, particularly the more
easily fermented soluble fiber, is transformed via bacterial fermentation
(by probiotic bacteria that normally colonize the colon) in the colon into
short-chain fatty acids (acetate, propionate and butyrate) that are both well
absorbed and nourishing to the lining of the colon. Butyrate is the preferred
energy source for the epithelial cells that line the colon. Short-chain fatty
acids also exert an important anti-inflammatory action which can be of critical
importance for those suffering from inflammatory bowel diseases such as
ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease. It can also discourage the development
of colon cancer.
acids have important consequences for metabolism, serving as a source of fuel
for the rest of the body, especially the liver. Thus, a crucial distinction
among non-digestible polysaccharides is their fermentability. As fermentation
is a product of bacterial feeding, fermentable fiber serves as a vital food for
probiotic intestinal flora.
beneficial bacteria that colonize the intestinal tract serve a pivotal role in
maintaining the health of the entire digestive system, and thus, of the body as
In large part,
chia seed, because of its relatively high content of soluble fiber, is a rich
source of fermentable fiber (as are fruits and vegetables). On the other hand, whole
grains are rich in cellulose which is relatively resistant to bacterial
The 3:1 ratio
between insoluble and soluble fiber in chia seed is the ideal one. In general,
dietary fiber lowers the risk (among other things) of acid reflux, diabetes,
obesity, cardiovascular disease, colon cancer, diverticulitis, hemorrhoids and a
variety of other disorders. While a balance of insoluble and soluble fibers is
required to exert these effects, fermentable soluble fibers specifically reduce
LDL cholesterol, high blood pressure, the glycemic and insulin response
associated with glucose metabolism, and colon-cancer risk.
are a very good dietary source of vitamins A, C and K as well as various
B-vitamins, including B1 (thiamine) and B3 (niacin). It also contains
significant amounts of B2 (riboflavin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B6 (pyridoxine),
folic acid, choline, inositol and PABA.
are an unusually rich source of calcium with a 3-tablespoon serving of the
seeds containing 233 milligrams of calcium (compared to 299 milligrams in 1 cup
of milk). Milk has long been considered to be one of the leading sources of
calcium. In terms of quantity of calcium, this is true. However, milk is a
highly problematic food that generates mucus and congestion in the body and, in
many cases, elicits a food sensitivity or food allergy response.
also contains significant amounts of boron, copper, iodine, iron (one serving
of chia contains 2.8 milligrams of iron), magnesium, manganese, molybdenum, phosphorus,
potassium, selenium, silicon, sodium, strontium, sulfur and zinc. The combined
presence of boron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and strontium qualifies chia
seed as a bone-building food.
regarding my above discussion of chia seed and fermentable fiber, the
production of short-chain fatty acids in the gastrointestinal tract aids in the
absorption of minerals into the blood. Said fermentation lowers pH to a level
of acidity that is optimal for ionizing and solubilizing minerals.
investigations performed by Dolores Alvarado of the University of the Valley of
Guatemala, chia seeds are a better source of antioxidants than blackberries,
grapes, mango, noni fruit and pineapple. Chia's antioxidant capacity is
attributable to its content of vitamins C and E, flavonoids (including
quercetin, myricetin and kaempferol), phenolic acids (e.g., caffeic acid) and
contain a broad spectrum of antioxidants including chlorgenic acid, caffeic
acid, and coumaric acid all of which may play a role in cancer prevention.
Source of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
fatty acids are essential for normal glandular activity, including adrenal, thyroid
and reproductive gland functions. They nourish skin cells, mucous membranes and
nerve tissue. Unsaturated fatty acids collaborate with vitamin D in the assimilation
of calcium and phosphorus as well as in the conversion of carotene (pro-vitamin
A) into vitamin A. The long-chain triglycerides in chia seed can help to reduce
the deposition of cholesterol on arterial walls.
Chia seed is
also an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids. In fact, chia is the richest
known non-marine whole food source of omega-3 fatty acids. The word chia
derives from chian, the Nahuatl (the Aztec language) word for oily.
The seeds yield 25–30% extractable oil, 55% of which is the omega-3 fatty acid alpha
linolenic acid (ALA). Chia contains approximately 18 grams of
omega-3 fatty acids per 100 grams of seeds. Chia oil contains approximately 55
grams of omega-3 fatty acids per 100 milliliters (3.38 ounces) of oil. By
weight, chia seeds contain more omega-3 fatty acids than salmon. Chia seeds
are often fed to livestock and chickens to enrich their meat and eggs with
omega-3 fatty acid.
Omega-3 is an
essential fatty acid (EFA), necessary for cellular growth and development
throughout all stages of human life. It is referred to as an "essential" fatty
acid because the body does not produce sufficient quantities of them, and so,
depends on dietary sources for its supply.
fatty acid intake is required for cellular, heart and metabolic health. Aiding
in the prevention of cardiovascular disease is one of the roles for omega-3
fatty acid that has been best substantiated by research studies. Omega-3 fatty
acids can help reduce high blood pressure as well as LDL ("bad") cholesterol
levels, thus promoting cardiovascular health.
As noted, chia
seed is an excellent source of the omega-3 fatty acid alpha linolenic acid
(ALA). Much of the ALA assimilated by the body (as much as 85%) is used for
cellular energy production. ALA, an omega-3 fatty acid found in plants, is
similar to the omega-3 fatty acids that are in fish oil, called
eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Your body can
convert ALA into EPA and DHA.
men and women can convert ALA (a short-chain omega-3 fatty acid) to EPA and DHA
(long-chain fatty acids), women may be able to do this more efficiently. Notably,
diabetics and schizophrenics have a reduced ability to convert ALA into EPA and
DHA, Thus, it may be necessary for some of those individuals to obtain omega-3
fatty acids from foods such as cold-water fish, which are rich in EPA and DHA.
cardiovascular and nervous systems require adequate amounts of EPA and DHA for
their normal functioning. Unless pre-formed EPA and DHA are ingested from foods
such as cold-water fish, a shortfall of ALA intake results in a shortfall of
the production of those two fatty acids as well.
ALA has been
shown to reduce fatal cardiovascular episodes. It can help to reduce the
thickness in the carotid artery's tunica media: the innermost two
layers of an arterial wall. Greater-than-normal arterial wall thickness is
an indicator of atherosclerotic disease.
ALA also exerts
anti-arrhythmic effects (arrhythmia is a condition in which the heart beats
with an irregular or abnormal rhythm) and reduces risk of fatal myocardial
ischemia. Myocardial ischemia refers to a dangerous decrease in oxygen supply
to the heart muscles that results from a partial or complete blockage of blood-flow
in the coronary arteries (which deliver blood to the heart). Myocardial
ischemia damages the heart muscle, thus impacting its ability to efficiently
pump blood to the body tissues. Chronic myocardial ischemia can cause
threatening arrhythmia. Of course, sudden and severe coronary artery blockage
often results in a heart attack.
The Nurses' Health Study (reported
at the American Heart Association 2004 Scientific Sessions) found that women
who consumed the highest levels of ALA (approximately 1.5 grams or1500 mg. per
day) had a 46% lower risk of sudden cardiac death than women who consumed the
least amount (just over half a gram or 500 mg. per day) of ALA.
While fish oil has received a
great deal of attention regarding the reduction of cardiovascular disease risk
factors, many researchers in preventive cardiology (including Sidney Smith, MD,
Director of the Center for Cardiovascular Science and Medicine at the
University of North Carolina) believe that ALA can be as beneficial as the omega-3
fatty acids found in fish (reported in Medscape Medical News, November 11,
acid can help lower blood pressure in people with hypertension. One population
study found that eating a diet rich in alpha-linolenic acid reduced the risk of
high blood pressure by about 30% (NHLBI Family Heart Study. Hypertension.
suggests that alpha-linolenic acid may decrease bronchial inflammation and otherwise
improve lung function in asthmatics (International Archives of Allergy and
Chia seeds have
been shown to increase blood levels of HDL ("good") cholesterol, while lowering
triglycerides, LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels. Therefore, ALA-rich chia seed
oil is an excellent alternative to fish oil as a source of omega-3 fatty acid for
treatment of dyslipidemia (an abnormal amount of cholesterol and/or
other fat in the blood). Chia seed also improves long-term cardiovascular risk
factors (including high blood pressure, arterial inflammation and clotting
proneness) in those with Type 2 diabetes.
Health Organization suggests a daily intake of at least 1200 mg of dietary ALA
omega-3 for a healthy diet. Two tablespoons (20g) daily of chia seeds contain
more than 4000 mg of omega-3 fatty acids.
Chia seed also contains a large quantity of uniquely valuable insoluble
fiber. The highly hydrophilic fiber in chia seed can absorb more than 12-times
its weight in water. In comparison, flaxseed, also a hydrophilic food, absorbs
only 6-to-8 times its weight in water.
seed is soaked in water for about 30 minutes, the seed/water mixture will
transform into a mucilage gel. When eaten with high water-content foods such as
fresh fruits and vegetables, this mucilage formation takes place in the stomach.
Once in the small intestine (the site of the completion of the enzymatic
digestion of carbohydrates), the gel then acts as a physical barrier between
carbohydrates and carbohydrate-digesting enzymes, thus slowing the conversion
of complex carbohydrates into glucose.
This slower absorption of glucose into the blood benefits both
diabetics and those with reactive hypoglycemia. Prolonging their conversion
into glucose helps to stabilize metabolism and reduces the peaks and valleys
associated with abnormal glucose metabolism. The filling, bulking effect of the swollen fiber also
reduces appetite (important for those who need to lose weight). Additionally,
the lengthier conversion of carbohydrates into glucose serves as a time-release
mechanism that enhances physical and mental endurance—helping to explain
the popularity of these seeds with the ancients, as set out above.
In the intestines, chia seed's insoluble fiber, swollen with water, increases
peristaltic action, which reduces digestive stool transit-time and assists in
the removal of toxins via the colon. Due to its ability to absorb water, chia seed can prolong
hydration of tissues such as the mucosal membranes that line the
Clearly, chia seed, a fount of diverse nutrition, is indeed a power food.
In a future issue
of Nature's Therapies Journal, I will present Part II of my discussion of chia
seeds, with the focus being the use of chia seeds as both food and medicine.
Dr. Berkowsky's Fall 2016 Natural Health Science Webinar Course
Written by Dr. Bruce Berkowsky, a registered naturopath, master herbalist and classical homeopath—is President of Joseph Ben Hil-Meyer Research, Inc. He is the founder/teacher of both Spiritual PhytoEssencing (deep, soul-level healing work with essential oils) and the Natural Health Science System which he designed following many years of research and clinical practice, and includes traditional naturopathy, herbology, nutrition, homeopathy, aromatherapy, exercise, as well as East/West healing arts/bodywork.
Dr. Berkowsky teaches in-depth webinars and workshops to health-conscious, spiritually aware individuals.
Disclaimer: This publication is intended as an educational tool, and not as a prescription. Seek the advice of your health-care provider before discontinuing any medication and/or trying any new remedy or technique.