Consuming chia seeds may reduce blood sugar after eating a meal (postprandial glycemia), according to a study. Salvia hispanica is an annual herbaceous plant of the Lamiaceae (mint) family. Its origin is believed to be in Central America, where the seed (historically called “chian” or “chia”) was a staple in the ancient Aztec diet. The seeds of a related plant, Salvia columbariae (also called “golden chia”), were used primarily by Native Americans in the southwestern United States.
The roots of another relative, Salvia miltiorrhiza (danshen), are used medicinally in China and other countries. The oval-shaped seeds of Salvia hispanica are approximately 1mm in diameter and are dark-brown to grayish-white in colour.
According to historians, the cultivation of chia reportedly ended with the fall of the Aztec civilization; however, chia was rediscovered in the late 1900s and is now grown commercially. Salvia hispanica seeds are thought to be high in omega-3, 6 and 9 essential fatty acids and fiber; thus, it is promoted for various health benefits.
Studies have suggested that incorporating common chia into chicken feed may improve the nutritional value of chicken products by increasing the omega-3 content and decreasing the cholesterol content of the meat and eggs. Rodent studies have shown that Salvia hispanica may lower serum cholesterol, LDL (low density lipoproteins), and triglycerides while increasing HDL (high density lipoproteins).
Furthermore, Salvia hispanica has been demonstrated to exhibit anti-tumor activity. Salba® is the only registered variety of Salvia hispanica, marketed by Core Naturals, LLC., which claims to be selectively bred to maximize nutrient value. Light in colour, Salba® reportedly contains a more stable content of omega-3 fatty acids than generic dark-coloured chia seeds. Recently, human study suggested that Salba® may decrease cardiovascular risk factors in type 2 diabetics. Thus far, Salba® is the only variety of Salvia hispanica supported by clinical evidence.
In a study, researchers set out to blood glucose levels, which may affect an individual’s risk of heart disease. They recruited 11 subjects with diabetes and randomly assigned them to consume white bread baked with zero, seven, 15 or 24 grams of chia seed. Participants’ blood samples were collected after eating. The results showed that subjects who had eaten bread baked with chia seed had lower postprandial glycemia.
Eur J Clin Nutr. 2010 Apr;64(4):436-8.