omega- 3 fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic (EPA), which have been linked to various benefits,
including cardiovascular and neurological health (Cassiday, L.,
Chia contains a higher protein content than most grains
and cereals (Valdivia-López, M. Á. and A. Tecante, http://dx.
doi.org/10.1016/bs.afnr.2015.06.002, 2015). In addition, the
protein is more complete in terms of amino acid content.
However, chia cannot be used as a sole source of protein
because the seed lacks sufficient lysine. Chia also contains
more fiber than most other grains, with soluble and insoluble
fiber in a ratio of about 1: 5. The antioxidants in chia, mostly
polyphenolic compounds such as isoflavones, inhibit lipid
peroxidation in the seeds. On a per-gram basis, chia contains
more ALA, fiber, protein, and calcium than either flax seed or
salmon (Fig. 2).
The nutrient content of chia varies based on the region
where it is grown and the growing conditions. Reported ranges
of nutrient compositions include protein, 16–24%; total lipids,
26–34%; ALA, 57–65% of lipids; and fiber, 22–38% (Nieman,
D.C., et al., http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.nutres.2009.05.011,
2009; Ayerza, R. and W. Coates, Poult. Sci., 2000; Ayerza, R.,
http://doi.org/10.5650/jos.58.347, 2009). “The nutrient con-
tent of chia will vary depending on the area where it was
grown, the elevation, how much rain if got, when it got the
rain, was it very hot or cooler, and the soil conditions,” says
Coates, now professor emeritus at the University of Arizona,
in Tucson, Arizona, USA, and president of azCHIA in Sonoita,
Arizona ( www.azchia.com). “And that’s true with any crop.
There’s nothing magical about chia.”
According to Coates, he was one of the first research-
ers to study chia. In 1991, as an agricultural engineer with
the University of Arizona, Coates was working on a project in
northwestern Argentina. “We were working with a grower
there trying to find alternative crops to beans and tobacco, the
two main crops,” says Coates. “We planted a bunch of differ-
ent seeds to see what would grow there, and chia did pretty
well. So we started looking into what it might be good for.”
Coates and his colleagues analyzed the composition of chia,
helped the Argentinian growers expand to commercial produc-
tion, and examined possible health benefits of the seed.
At azCHIA, Coates sells whole and milled chia, both black
and white seeds. Chia is typically a mixture of 95% black and
5% white seeds. “If you pick out the white seeds and plant
them, you’ll get white seeds. If you plant only black seeds,
you’ll get black seeds,” says Coates. “But if you analyze the
nutrient composition of black and white seeds, there’s basi-
cally no difference.” So seed color is primarily a matter of con-
sumer preference, he says.
Chia seed maturity can also influence nutrient composition. For example, ALA increases 23% from the immature to
the mature stage of the seed (Mohd Ali, N., et al., http://dx.
doi.org/10.1155/2012/171956, 2012). “The mature seeds are
white or black,” says Coates. “You see pictures of chia on the
web with a lot of brown seeds in it. Those are immature seeds,
and they don’t have the same composition.” He also notes
that many commercially available chia sources contain weed
seeds and plant parts. “Everybody’s jumping on the chia bandwagon,” says Coates. “The problem is that there’s a number
of people selling very poor quality chia, and the public doesn’t
know good from bad.”
THE QUESTION OF CULTIVARS
Through the centuries, humans have modified chia, like all
crops, by selective breeding. While most commercially available chia is a mixture of different seeds, some companies offer
seeds derived from a single cultivar, which they claim boosts
the nutritional value and ensures consistency. Angelo Morini,
founder and CEO of Anutra, LLC ( www.shopanutra.com), developed the Anutra cultivar during a trip to a Mexican village
called Acatic in 2002. “I found out that there are literally hundreds of different types of chia,” says Morini. “I saw the opportunity to develop, through selective breeding, a new cultivar
that maximized the omega- 3, antioxidants, fiber, and protein.
It didn’t take us long because the people in Acatic had some
real good seeds that they had been using through the years.”
Morini says that unlike other chia brands, Anutra has a standard of identity as a result of its consistent nutrient profile.
FIG. 2. Chia (Salba brand) has more omega- 3 fatty acids, fiber, protein, and calcium than an equivalent amount of flax seed or
Salbachia Salmon Flax Salbachia Salmon Flax Salbachia Salmon Flax Salbachia Salmon Flax