Salba: Healthy for the Whole Family

Filed under: Nutrition: Health, Mealtime

Salba seeds have been gaining attention this past year as a "Superfood" due to new research and understanding of their nutritional value and therapeutic power.

To give you a little history, salba seeds come from the Chia family, also known as the Salvia hispanica plant, and are native to Mexico. The Aztecs were able to sustain energy on long hunting and trading expeditions hundreds of years ago thanks to the high energy in these little seeds, and commonly referred to them as "running food." In 1519 when Hernando Cortez of Spain arrived in Mexico, he discovered that these seeds were so valuable and meant a great deal to the Aztec people. Cortez then set all the salba fields on fire to hit the Aztecs where it hurt, leaving only a few plants to remain. After the Spanish conquest the plant was taken to Spain, where it gained greater recognition.

To date, salba seeds are the richest whole food source of fibre and omega-3 fatty acids than any other natural food source on this planet.

More health benefits of salba, after the jump...
When you compare food items gram to gram, Salba seeds exceed many other foods that are touted for their nutritional benefits. Consider these stats:
  • 8 times more omega-3 than salmon
  • 1.1 times more fibre than All Bran cereal
  • 6 times more calcium than milk
  • 2.5 times more vegetable protein than kidney beans
  • 15 times more magnesium than broccoli
  • 2 times more potassium than a banana
And the list goes on. One perk I particularly like is that it contains both forms of fibre -- soluble and insoluble -- as many food items are rich in just one. There is such a big misconception about fibre as many people think they are getting enough fibre by adding a 'bran-rich cereal to their day, but in truth, that only increases their amount of insoluble fibre. Insoluble fibre literally bulks up your bowels, while soluble fibre -- the kind many Canadians lack -- is the one that softens the bowels and helps with cholesterol.

One study published in Diabetes Care (in 2007) reveled how effective this little chia seed is on cardiovascular risk factors. In a period of 12 weeks, people with diabetes were studied to see the effects that salba had on them. In those subjects who took salba daily, there was a reduction in systolic blood pressure by 9.5 percent and drop in C-reactive protein (CRP) by 7 percent. CRP is marker used by many health care professionals to monitor inflammation in the body. A high CRP signals high inflammation in the body, which can determine disease progress.

If you would like to add these nutritious seeds to your family's diet, they are available in whole seed form (but don't forget to grind them yourself to absorb the nutrients from the inside), in ground form, in salsa, tortilla chips, and now also in grain bars and rice-crispy-like bars for school lunches. Most health food grocery stores across Canada carry salba-related products. My advice is to start with the seeds (ground is easiest) and start adding them to your shakes*, cereals or salads.

*One tip: keep in mind that salba seeds absorb a great deal of water (due to their fibre-rich properties), so if you let the shake sit it will become more like a gelatin.

Karla Heintz is a nutrition educator and author of Picky? Not Me, Mom! A Parents' Guide to Children's Nutrition.

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