Salvia hispanicaSpecies of flowering plant in the mint family (Lamiaceae), grown for its edible seeds. Chia seeds are touted for their health benefits, being high in fibre and omega-3 fatty acids, and are now grown commercially in several countries.
Chia is an annual herbaceous plant that can reach nearly 1 metre (3 feet) in height. Its lime-green leaves are oppositely arranged and have serrated (toothed) margins. The plant bears spikes of small blue, purple, or white flowers that have a high rate of self-pollination. The small oval seeds are about 1 mm (0.04 inch) in diameter and feature a shiny, mottled, or speckled seed coat that ranges in colour from dark brown to gray-white. The seeds produce a mucilaginous gel when soaked in water. Chia is a desert plant requiring little irrigation and grows well in sandy loam soils, but it is sensitive to frost and day length. The plant resists insect pests and disease and is a good candidate for organic production.
PRELIMINARY HEALTH RESEARCH
Nutritionally, chia seeds are one of the most-concentrated sources of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a plant-based omega-3 fatty acid. They are also high in dietary fibre, protein, calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc, and antioxidants. Although other seeds, such as flaxseeds, must be ground to enhance their nutritional benefits, chia seeds are easily digested and thus can be eaten whole. They are commonly sprinkled on salads, sandwiches, hot or cold cereals, or yogurt and can be an ingredient of baked goods. The seeds can be mixed with water, juice, or milk to form a thick beverage or pudding and can also be sprouted and eaten fresh in salads and sandwiches. Given chia seeds’ high fibre content and ability to expand as a gel, there is some evidence that they may work as an appetite suppressant. They also show promise in reducing the risk of heart disease, cancer, and stroke, though further studies are needed.
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