I want to be the first to tell you about a new superfood that you’re likely to start hearing a lot more about. It’s called chia and is the richest source of omega-3 fats from the vegetable kingdom, plus many other valuable nutrients.
While you may be unfamiliar with chia, you are probably aware of the health benefits of flax seeds. At one point, this golden seed was pretty unknown too, but now you can buy it in every supermarket. Chia, however, is nutritionally superior to flax. It also tastes better and stores and remains fresh for longer.
The first record of chia’s human consumption is 3500BC and by 1500BC, it had become a cash crop in Mexico. But chia dropped out of the Meso-American diet because it was banned by the Spanish conquistadores as it was considered a sacred food.
An ideal staple
However, chia is now making something of a come back – and rightly so. Along with the South American grain quinoa, chia is a highly-nutritious food that should become a daily part of our diet, going a long way to restoring our essential fat intake back towards more omega 3 than omega 6.
Like flax, chia is a very good source of protein – about 20%, which is much higher than grains, including quinoa. However, chia is richer in soluble fibre than flax – and also contains more omega 3 oils (65% compared to 58% for flax) and omega 6 (19% compared to 15%); three times as much calcium; 25% more magnesium; and a lot less sodium than flax.
Get half your daily antioxidant quota at breakfast
I have a 15 gram serving of chia every day (a heaped dessertspoon), which gives me 100mg of calcium and 70mg of magnesium, a really decent amount. A 15g serving also has an antioxidant rating of 1,335 ORAC points. Ideally, you want to achieve over 6,000 ORAC points a day, so 15g represents more than a fifth of your daily target. Having a quarter of a cup of berries is another 1,000, as is four walnuts or pecans. So all three with breakfast is more than half your ideal daily antioxidant intake.
None of the anti-nutrients of flax
Flax has some disadvantages, which have probably stopped it becoming a staple food. Historically, it was used more for clothing and for oil. Unlike chia, is has quite high levels of anti-nutrients such as glycosides, trypsin inhibitors, phytic acid and others. I don’t want to put you off eating flax but these anti-nutrients don’t make it the ideal food in large quantities, while you could literally live off chia. Being very high in antioxidants, chia also stores for longer.
Taste-wise, chia has a much nicer, slightly nuttier flavour than flax and tastes good on its own, added to cereal, bread or cakes and in salads or soups.