Compilation by Armando Gonzalez Stuart, PhD.
Other Common Name:
Chía del campo, chía del monte, romerillo
Where is it found?
This plant is native to Mexico and parts of Central America. Salvia hispanica belongs to the Mint family and has been cultivated in Mexico for many centuries. Chía seeds were a very important staple food for the Aztecs before the arrival of the Europeans (González-Stuart, 2014).
Parts of the plant used:
How is it used?
Chía seeds may be eaten raw as a source of dietary fiber and omega-3, 6, and 9 fatty acids. Chía seeds contain approximately 25% to 40% oil with 60% of it comprised by omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid and 20% by omega-6 linoleic acid (Mohd Ali, et al., 2012). In Mexico, the seeds are added to various fruit juices or beverages (aguas frescas) (González-Stuart, 2014). The sprouted seeds can be consumed in a similar manner as alfalfa sprouts in salads and other dishes. The seeds macerated in water are used as a substitute for Basil (Ocimum basilicum) (Quattrocchi, 2012). Chía seeds can also be a good nutritional supplement for various farm animals, including pigs, rabbits, and poultry (Coorey et al, 2015; Peiretti, 2012; Coates and Ayerza, 2009).
What is it used for?
Chía seeds are a source of various important nutrients, including omega-3 fatty acids, especially alfa-linolenic acid (ALA), as well as omega 6 and 9 fatty acids. The seeds are also a source of antioxidants, fiber and protein, and do not contain gluten (Valdivia-López and Tecante, 2015; Coehlo and Salas-Mellado, 2014; Mohd Ali et al., 2012). Chía seeds are sold in various health food stores, alone or combined with flaxseed and certain grains.
Within the food industry, chía seeds are used as a replacement for a certain percentage of eggs or oil in certain cake formulations, as well as added to frankfurters to improve their nutritional quality, without affecting the foods’ sensory characteristics (Borneo et al., 2015; Pintado et al., 2016).
A randomized, placebo-controlled clinical study by Guevara et al (2012), assessed the effects of a diet consisting of soy protein, nopal (prickly pear cactus pads), chía seeds, and oats on the biochemical parameters of metabolic syndrome. The positive results of the study included a decrease in the levels of serum triglycerides as well as glucose intolerance, and therefore offer an important tool for facilitating the development of personalized dietary strategies for people with metabolic syndrome who are at high risk of developing complications such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
A study investigated the mechanisms regarding the altered lipid metabolism in the heart of dyslipemic insulin-resistant rats fed a high sugar diet. Furthermore, the researchers assessed if chía seeds could improve or reverse cardiac lipotoxicity. The results of the study demonstrated that adding chía seed to the rats’ diet normalized blood pressure and also improved or reversed cardiac lipotoxicity (Creus et al., 2016).
A study reported the effects of adding chía seeds to laboratory rats’ diet on the morphological and metabolic aspects involved in the dysfunction of fat tissue, as well as the mechanisms related to impaired glucose and lipid metabolism in the skeletal muscle of rats fed a diet rich in sugar (sucrose). The results of the study showed that chía seeds reversed the impaired insulin stimulated glycogen synthase activity, glycogen, glucose-6-phosphate and GLUT-4 protein levels as well as insulin resistance and dyslipidemia (abnormal fat or lipid levels in blood) (Oliva et al., 2016).
Safety / Precautions
- There are no known health concerns regarding the consumption of chía seeds as a nutritional supplement (Mohd Ali, et al., 2012).
- The safety of consuming chía seeds during pregnancy and lactation has not been established (Gardner and McGuffin, 2013).
Before you decide to take any medicinal herb or herbal supplement, be sure to consult with a health care professional first. Avoid self-medication and self-diagnosis: Always be on the safe side!
Borneo R, Aguirre A, León AE.B. Chia (Salvia hispanica L) gel can be used as egg or oil replacer in cake formulations. J Am Diet Assoc. 2010; (6):946-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jada.2010.03.011.
Coates W, Ayerza R. Chia (Salvia hispanica L.) seed as an n-3 fatty acid source for finishing pigs: effects on fatty acid composition and fat stability of the meat and internal fat, growth performance, and meat sensory characteristics. J Anim Sci. 2009; 87(11):3798-804. doi: 10.2527/jas.2009-1987.
Coelho, M S, Salas-Mellado MM.. Chemical Characterization of CHIA (Salvia hispanica L.) for Use in Food Products. Journal of Food and Nutrition Research 2 (5); (2014): 263-269.
Coorey R, Novinda A, Williams H, Jayasena V. Omega-3 fatty acid profile of eggs from laying hens fed diets supplemented with chia, fish oil, and flaxseed. J Food Sci. 2015; 80(1):S180-7. doi: 10.1111/1750-3841.12735.
Creus A, Ferreira MR, Oliva ME, Lombardo YB. Mechanisms Involved in the Improvement of Lipotoxicity and Impaired Lipid Metabolism by Dietary α-Linolenic Acid Rich Salvia hispanica L (Salba) Seed in the Heart of Dyslipemic Insulin-Resistant Rats. J Clin Med. 2016; 5(2). doi: 10.3390/jcm5020018.
Gardner Z, McGuffin M (Editors). Botanical Safety Handbook 2nd ed.
Boca Raton, FL; CRC Press; 2013; p.77.
González-Stuart A. Eating Well with Fruits, Vegetables, Legumes, Grains, and Spices.
El Paso, TX: BPG printing; 2014.
Guevara-Cruz M, Tovar AR, Aguilar-Salinas CA, Medina-Vera I, Gil-Zenteno L, Hernández-Viveros I, López-Romero P, Ordaz-Nava G, Canizales-Quinteros S, Guillen Pineda LE, Torres N. A dietary pattern including nopal, chia seed, soy protein, and oat reduces serum triglycerides and glucose intolerance in patients with metabolic syndrome. J Nutr. 2012; 142(1):64-9. doi: 10.3945/jn.111.147447.
Mohd Ali N, Yeap SK, Ho WY, Beh BK, Tan SW, Tan SG. The promising future of chia, Salvia hispanica L. J Biomed Biotechnol. 2012;2012:171956. doi: 10.1155/2012/171956.
Oliva ME, Ferreira MR, Chicco A, Lombardo YB. Dietary Salba (Salvia hispanica L) seed rich in α-linolenic acid improves adipose tissue dysfunction and the altered skeletal muscle glucose and lipid metabolism in dyslipidemic insulin-resistant rats. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 2013;89(5):279-89. doi: 10.1016/j.plefa.2013.09.010.
Peiretti PG. Effects of Dietary Fatty Acids on Lipid Traits in the Muscle and Perirenal Fat of Growing Rabbits Fed Mixed Diets. Animals (Basel). 2012; 2(1):55-67. doi: 10.3390/ani2010055.
Pintado T, Herrero AM, Jiménez-Colmenero F, Ruiz-Capillas C. Strategies for incorporation of chia (Salvia hispanica L.) in frankfurters as a health-promoting ingredient. Meat Sci. 2016 Apr;114:75-84. doi: 10.1016/j.meatsci.2015.12.009. Epub 2015 Dec 19.
Quattrocchi, U. World Dictionary of Medicinal and Poisonous Plants, Vol 5.
Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 2012; pp. 137-138.
Valdivia-López MÁ, Tecante A. Chia (Salvia hispanica): A Review of Native Mexican Seed and its Nutritional and Functional Properties. Adv Food Nutr Res. 2015;75:53-75. doi: 10.1016/bs.afnr.2015.06.002. .