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Chia Seeds – FAQs

At AZChia, we constantly provide the most up-to-date chia information available. Below are some chia seeds frequently asked questions (Chia Seeds -FAQs). If you have a question that isn’t answered here, please feel free to contact us.

Section I – History of Chia
Section II – Essential fatty acids and omega-3
Section III – Chia Consumption and Storage
Section IV – Chia and Safety
Section V – Chia & Health
Section VI – Chia Production
Section VII – Growing Chia
Section VIII – Chia and Pets

Section 1 – History of Chia

Q) Where does the name “chia” come from?

There are several versions of this story. The Aztec word for chia was “chian”, but when translated from Nahuatl, the native language of the Aztecs, it was shortened.

Q) How is chia related to the Aztecs?

Chia was the third most important crop of the Aztecs. They had four main crops: corn, beans, chia, and amaranth. The Aztecs knew about chia’s many properties. They used it as a food, for medicinal purposes, in their religious ceremonies and fed it to their animals. This was documented in the codices written 500 years ago when the Spanish conquered the Aztecs. The Aztecs grew a number of different types of chia, each selected for its specific properties.

Chia was virtually lost for five centuries after the Spanish conquest (due to both religious and agronomic reasons). This changed in the 1990’s because of an effort lead by the University of Arizona to establish new crops in northwestern Argentina. This project led to successful commercialization of chia as a crop, making it more widely available today.

Q) Given the importance of chia to the Aztecs, why did it disappear for 500 years?

Based on the research Dr. Wayne Coates has done, it appears that since chia was used in the Aztec religious ceremonies as an offering to the gods, much like communion, the friars essentially outlawed chia. Additionally, the Spanish were interested in producing crops they were familiar with and since chia couldn’t grow in Europe, they considered it to be of no value. The only reason it survived is because a few people took the seed into the mountains where they continued to grow it for their own use.

Q) How was chia rediscovered?

Dr. Coates was working on a project in the Northwest of Argentina looking for alternative crops for farmers. Chia was one of a number of seeds he and his team planted in test plots. They found it grew well, so they started looking at how it might be used and also how to produce it commercially. From that research effort they went on to produce it commercially, market it, and to educate the public on its wonderful health benefits.

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Section II – Essential fatty acids and omega-3

Q) Does chia have essential fatty acids?

Chia seed is the highest known plant source of omega-3 fatty acids.

Q) What is an essential fatty acid?

Essential fatty acids are so called because they cannot be synthesized in the body and therefore have to be obtained from foods. Omega-6 and omega-3 are the essential fatty acids for humans and other animals. They are precursors of powerful hormones that affect many biological processes; they help maintain a healthy skin, and are involved in cholesterol metabolism.

Q) What is the appropriate omega-6/omega-3 ratio?

The ideal ratio is from 1:1 to 3:1. During our evolutionary period, humans ate an omega-6/omega-3 ratio of 1:1. Modern diets are very rich in omega-6, derived primarily from vegetable and animal fats. Typically today’s diets are greater than 15:1 omega-6/omega-3. This imbalance increases the risk of coronary heart disease and also heightens the body’s natural inflammatory processes.

Q) What are the other sources of omega-3?

In general, omega-3 is present in wild fatty sea fish and in green vegetables. Most oil crops have very little of this fatty acid. Sea fish will only have the omega-3 if they are wild and get if from the marine source. Farm-raised sea fish must be feed the omega-3 in order for them to have the omega-3 present.

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Section III – Chia Consumption and Storage

Q) How can I eat chia?

Chia seeds can be consumed directly and do not need to be ground. Most people mix them with foods such as yogurt, juices, broths, salads, omelets, cereals, etc. In addition, they can be mixed (ground or whole) with flour and used for making breads, pizza, etc.

Q) How much chia should I eat each day?

There is no definitive answer to this question. As chia is a food, really there is no limit to how much you can eat. One of the main reasons a person eats chia is to obtain omega-3. The obvious question is how much gives sufficient omega-3. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans states that an adequate intake of ALA (the form of omega3 in chia) ranges between 1.1 and 1.6 grams/day for adults. Since12 to 18 grams (2 to 3 teaspoons) of chia contain between 2.5 and 3.6 grams of ALA, this is more than a sufficient amount to meet this recommendation.

Q) I am a vegetarian or vegan. Should I eat chia?

A recent study showed that vegetarians, and vegans in particular, typically have low levels of omega3 fatty acids in their plasma. This can lead to serious coronary problems. Hence it is especially important for these two groups of individuals to increase their omega3 consumption. Chia is the highest plant source of omega3, making it an excellent choice to meet this need.

Q) Which chia product is easiest to eat on a daily basis, whole or milled?

Really it is a personal preference and depends on what you are adding it to and whether you like the crunchy aspect of the whole seed or want it to essentially disappear in whatever you add it to.

Q) Although chia is known to contain about 20% protein, is it a high quality protein?

Yes it is and has been given an amino acid score of 115 by one source. Any amino acid score over 100 indicates it is a complete or high quality protein.

Q) Should the chia seeds be washed?

Chia seeds do not need to be washed. Furthermore, if the chia seeds are placed in water, their high level of soluble fiber will absorb moisture and form a gel (of up to 9 times their volume).

Q) Is it necessary to grind the seed?

Chia seeds do not need to be ground for absorption, unlike flax, which must be ground prior to consumption.

Q) Is it necessary to soak the seed?

Chia seeds do not need to be soaked, some people like to make a gel (this is the soluble fiber) by placing the seed in water, but this is not necessary. If you make a gel, this should be refrigerated and will keep for about a week.

Q) Is it better to eat the seed or the chia oil capsules?

It depends on what you want to achieve. People who are interested in a rich source of omega-3, but also want a good source of fiber, proteins, minerals and vitamins will prefer to eat the seed. If the only interest is for increasing omega-3 in the diet, then the oil capsules will provide an excellent source. In terms of value, the seed is a much better option.

Q) What is chia fresca?

This is a drink that is consumed in some parts of Mexico. It is considered a refreshing summer drink, made by adding chia, lime juice and a bit of sugar to water.

Q) There is so called “ground” chia available. What does this refer to?

Grinding as it applies to wheat, for example, cannot be used to break open chia seed. This is due to the high oil content of the seed, and grinding it would essentially turn the seed into a paste. Such a process would also heat the seed and lead to oxidation, the result being decreased oil quality and a rancid flavor/smell. There are several processing methodologies that can be used to open chia seed and all use similar techniques. These processes are similar to those that are used to produce ground flaxseed, none of which are patented as far as I am aware. Personally I prefer to use the term “milled” rather than ground.

Q) How should the seed be stored, and for how long can it be stored?

Whole chia seed will stay in good condition at room temperature for several years. There is no need to keep the seed in the refrigerator, whether kept in sealed bags or not. The seed’s natural antioxidants provide this stability. In the case of milled chia seed it can be left on the countertop for approximately a year. Keeping the container it is stored in will help to extend the shelf life.

Q) What does bio-availability mean?

This is a term used to describe availability of nutrients in a food to the body. The more bio–available a food is, the more complete and faster the body can absorb the nutrients.

Q) In theory how do you increase bio-availability?

Basically you increase the surface area that the stomach digestive processes have access to. In the case of chia, this means opening the seed using an appropriate process. In the case of chia, no studies have confirmed that this takes place, although intuitively it makes sense.

Q) We love lightly toasting chia seeds in a pan, will this degrade the omega3?

Just like baking, there is no evidence that the omega3 content will be reduced in terms of quantity or quality. Temperature is the key aspect here. For example you could not fry the seeds as this could lead to degradation, however baking or lightly toasting should not cause a problem.

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Section IV – Chia and Safety

Q) Is chia safe?

Chia has been consumed by humans for thousands of years. It was one of the main foods of the Aztecs and Mayas. The FDA has stated that chia is a food, rather than a supplement, and can be consumed without restrictions.

Q) Is your chia seed a Genetically Modified Organism (GMO)?

The products that we offer are not Genetically Modified (GMO).

Q) Is the chia seed organic? Are there insecticides or fungicides used?

Our chia seed is not certified organic. However, its production can be considered environmentally friendly because:

  • • Soil fertility is maintained due to crop rotation and other conservation practices.
  • • Weed control is mechanical.
  • • Chemical pest control is not needed since the plant is a member of the mint family and insects never bother it. Furthermore, it would be counter productive since the chia plants need insects for pollination, and its stems and leaves have essential oils that repel damaging insects.
  • • No fungicides are used.
  • • No biologic control is carried out.

Q) Why aren’t you offering certified organic chia yet?

Commercial chia production needs to expand to new regions and farmers in order to make it more widely available, and lower its cost. This requires very complex agronomic projects which are underway in several countries. Given that chia seed production is actually non-intrusive and that the product is safe, we think that it is not yet necessary to have a reliable source of certified organic chia seed. Additionally, such a program will increase production costs, which must be passed on to the consumer.

Q) Is the chia oil in the capsules expelled from seeds with chemicals?

To obtain the oil, the chia seed is cold pressed. No chemicals are added.

Q) What is the history of flaxseed use and chia, are there differences?

Chia has a long history of use as a food in Central America, not only for humans but for animals as well. On the other hand, flaxseed and flax do not have a long history as a food. Flax’s history of extensive use is for fiber (linen), paper products and oil for paints, preservatives, etc. For example, where do the words linoleum and linseed oil come from? It is derived from the word lino, which is the word used for flaxseed in other countries. See also Composition of Flax and Chia Seed and Chia Seed Compared to Flax Seed.

Q) I have heard that because chia contains omega3 fatty acids, it can thin the blood, lower blood pressure to a dangerous level and promote increased bleeding.

Studies have shown that DHA in particular, and EPA to a lesser extent, can lower blood pressure. These long chain forms of omega3 fatty acids come from fish or algae oils. Chia contains the short chain form of omega3, ALA. There has been no reports that this form of omega3 fatty acids causes such problems.

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Section V – Chia & Health

Q) Can I lose weight eating chia?

Chia has high levels of fatty acids, which are high in calories, but essentially equivalent quantities of fiber, which is low in calories. It is not a dietary food, however the volumetric expansion of the seeds in the stomach can help give a feeling of satiety or fullness, thereby making one feel less hungry.

Q) Is chia good for persons with arthritis?

Omega-3 acts as anti-inflammatory agent.

Q) Can chia be eaten by people suffering celiac disease?

Chia seed is gluten free and can be eaten by people suffering from celiac disease.

Q) Could chia cause problems in people with diverticulitis?

In general, the chia fiber protects the intestine walls and improves the process of digestion. People with specific digestive problems should consult with their doctors to see what is best for them.

Q) Have any health issues arisen when consuming chia?

Although not extensively studied, limited trials have not found any allergic reactions, even in nut sensitive individuals. Chia is gluten free, so individuals suffering from celiac disease can safely consume chia. Additionally individuals with diabetes should have no issues consuming chia, in fact the soluble fiber in chia appears to reduce glycemic spikes.

Q) I have heard chia causes stomach cramps, is this possible?

In some cases, stomach cramps have been reported but these are due to a natural body reaction. This happens if a substantial amount of chia is eaten, and insufficient fluids are consumed with it. The reason for this is that chia is hydrophilic, meaning it absorbs 7 to 9 times its weight in water. The cramping is caused because the chia absorbs liquid from the stomach, placing it in a stressful state. The solution is to drink more liquid or reduce the amount of chia consumed.

Q) I have heard chia causes diarrhea, is this true?

Some individuals have experienced diarrhea, but this has generally been reported with individuals that have been on a low fiber diet, and then suddenly increase the amount of fiber consumed. This problem can easily be avoided, simply introduce chia to the diet slowly.

Q) I have been eating psyllium for fiber, can I eat chia instead?

Definitely. The advantage with chia is that in addition to the fiber, you also get omega3, antioxidants and protein. To obtain the same amount of fiber as found in a gram of psyllium, however, you need to consume approximately two grams of chia. With a recommended daily amount of 15 or more grams of chia, you would get as much fiber as what is generally recommended for daily consumption of psyllium.

Q) Some people have heard that chia is addictive, is this true?

I know of no addiction to chia. The one site that I found claiming this seems to be a site set up to direct people to various chia sellers and contains a number of statements which are not factual, addiction being one of them.

Q) Is chia good for pregnant women, since it thins blood and these ladies are more likely to be on prenatal supplements prescribed by their doctors? If a woman has an emergency C-section, is she not likely to bleed out?

There is no evidence that I know of that chia thins the blood. All patients should share their concerns and consult with their doctors.

Q) I look forward to any comments you have about the anti-nutrient properties of chia cited by Dr. Cordin, promoter of the Paleo Diet.

I do not want to get into a long discussion about Dr. Loren Cordain’s negative comments regarding chia, but would like to make a few comments.

In his article, Table 1 gives the nutrient profile for chia seeds. Interestingly he does not give the source of the data, and furthermore, he says it gives the “entire” nutrient profile of chia seeds. In no way is it complete, and since the source is not identified, one can easily question its value as a reputable source.

He talks about anti-nutrients in chia, yet he promotes flaxseed. The anti-nutrients in flaxseed are well-documented for both humans and animals. He criticizes the gel (which is soluble fiber) as possibly impairing fat absorption and the high fiber content as protein to be poorly absorbed. In some cases, there may be some negative effects, but the positive effects of consuming fiber in the diet in terms of bowel function and prevention of Coronary Heart Disease are well-documented.

He also does not like the fact that chia contains phytic acid. Phytic acid has been shown to have antioxidant, anticancer, hypocholesterolemic and other beneficial effects. So again, it is unclear why he states this is a negative aspect of chia.

He also discusses the study by Nieman et al. and cites the author’s statement that inflammatory markers increased. That is well and good, but even he notes that “other confounding factors may have influenced the results.” In another study, which the authors listed as a preliminary study, he cites the results and states that IgE levels increased dramatically. The issue here is that the results were not statistically significant and if you look at the standard deviation of the chia seed treatment, it was almost as large as the mean. In other words, the study should not be cited as being relevant.

In a follow up to his first article, he talks about a study in which people “refused to continue because of gastrointestinal side effects” yet he never discusses the reason for such an effect. I have always advised people of two issues they should be aware of when consuming chia. First, if you start eating this and have been on a low fiber diet, diarrhea is possible since fiber is frequently used to promote increased bowel movement, simply back off on the amount and let your body adjust. The second issue is if people consume a lot of chia, but do not drink sufficient fluids. Chia is very hydrophilic, meaning it will absorb a lot of water – 7 to 9 times its weight. It only stands to reason that if you put a lot of chia in your stomach it will absorb the liquid in there and cramping could result.

It is disappointing when someone cites articles that are not conclusive or utilizes part of studies to promote their own beliefs and biases. Until there are definitive studies that prove chia is unhealthy to consume, which I do not believe will ever be the case, I feel confident in saying there are no known negative or anti-nutritional issues when consuming chia.

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Section VI – Chia Production

Q) Where does the chia come from?

Chia is grown in most countries of the Americas, from Mexico to Argentina. Our seed comes from South America, with the seed stock originating in Mexico.

Q) Which varieties of chia do you sell?

We only offer Salvia hispanica L. There are several chia species, but the only one that has high omega-3 levels is the Salvia Hispanica L.

Q) Are there different varieties of chia?

Yes and no. Technically there are no different varieties of chia; claims are being made to the contrary, but these are just claims. In actuality, they are selections. For example, if you pull the white seed out of the common chia and plant it, you will get white seed. Plant the black and you get black. As stated earlier, oil content, omega-3 content, protein and phytonutrients vary somewhat, but not significantly.

Q) What factors affect chia quality?

Harvesting is one key factor. Harvesting the crop before it is mature leads to lower total oil and omega-3 contents and this can affect other components as well.

Q) Does climate and location affect composition?

As with any oilseed crop, cool climates increase oil content. In the case of chia this also means that the omega-3 content increases. Amount of rainfall, time of rainfall, soil conditions, etc. will also affect composition.

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Section VII – Growing Chia

Q) Do you have chia seed that will grow?

With appropriate conditions (soil, water and heat), the chia seeds will sprout.

Q) Can it be grown in little pots outside, or under lights indoors?

It can be grown inside or outside. Growing the seed is easy; it will sprout in pots outside, or on a paper towel kept wet.

Q) Will they produce edible seeds in an average growing season?

Producing edible seeds requires not only appropriate conditions (soil, water and heat), but also sufficient agronomic know how and experience. To flower and produce seeds, the plant needs tropical or subtropical weather, sandy soil and a relatively stable supply of water. Chia will flower only when the days are short, hence if planted outside the tropics, frost will damage the flowers and prevent the formation of seed.

Q) Does the book give information on how to grow the seed?

The book has some information regarding seed production, although it focuses on the history of chia and its benefits for human health.

Q) Can your chia grow on my chia pet planters?

Yes it can.

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Section VIII – Chia and Pets

Q) Why is chia seed good for pets?

The omega-3 in chia is good for your pet’s skin and fur and will make the coat soft and shiny.

Q) How do you feed it to animals?

You just add the chia seeds directly to the regular food of dogs, cats, birds, horses, etc.

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