Diabetics: Eat your Chia Pet
The Ancient Aztec seed grains used in growing your Chia pet have been found to help diabetics and those with blood pressure and heart disease problems. Who knew eating your Chia pet may save you thousands in prescription drugs.
Simple grain offers health benefits to diabetics
Updated Thu. Nov. 15 2007 10:00 PM ET
CTV.ca News Staff
An ancient grain that was once the staple of the Aztec diet is not only surprisingly nutritious, it can also help regulate blood pressure and other risk factors for heart disease in diabetics, Canadian researchers report in a new study in the journal Diabetes Care.
The grain is called chia. If the name sounds familiar, it's because it is the very same seed used in Chia Pets, those novelty gifts that allow you to sprout "hair" on pottery figures.
But chia has a longer history. It was once revered by ancient Aztecs, who found it a powerful food that helped fuel village runners.
Dr. Vladamir Vuksan and a team at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto have been trying to uncover the medicinal magic behind the seed that derives from the plant called Salvia hispanica.
The chia seed is either white or black-coloured. Both are considered highly nutritious. Vuksan decided to focus just on the variety that provides white seeds, which has been trademarked Salba. Vuksan's team found that the seeds contain high levels of fibre, calcium, magnesium, more antioxidants than many berries, and omega-3 essential fatty acids.
Dr. Jack Bukowski, a professor of Internal Medicine and Rheumatology at the Harvard School of Medicine is impressed with how nutritious this "super grain" appears to be.
"It has a remarkable nutrient profile. We haven't seen anything like this before," he told CTV News.
Vuksan's team calculates that 3.5 oz of Salba contain:
* the same amount of omega-3's as 28 ounces of salmon
* as much calcium as 3 cups of milk
* as much iron as 5 cups of raw spinach
* and as much vitamin C as seven oranges
What's more, it's rich in dietary fibre and gluten-free. Just 12 grams of Salba provides more than five grams of dietary fibre - about the same as in 1-¼ cups of All-Bran cereal.
The grain's insoluble fibre allows it to absorb many times its weight in water. By doing so, it helps provide a feeling of fullness and slows digestion, which means a steadier rise in blood sugar and steadier release of insulin.
With some studies suggesting that a high-fibre diet can help control diabetes, Vuksan decided to test Salba on diabetics.
The study tracked 20 otherwise healthy diabetic patients for 12 weeks. His team ground the Salba seeds into flour and baked it into bread, which was served to the diabetics. They were also given additional amounts to sprinkle on food they ate at home. Their total intake was approximately 37 grams or four teaspoons of Salba a day.
The subjects then had their blood measured for a variety of changes. The researchers noted a slight drop in blood glucose, but more importantly, the Salba:
* made blood thinner and less prone to clotting - a risk factor for heart attacks and stroke
* lowered levels of internal inflammation as measured by C-reactive protein, a protein produced by the liver.
* and reduced blood pressure, lowering systolic blood pressure, on average, by six points mmHg (millimetres of mercury).
Dr. Amir Hanna, a diabetes specialist at St. Michael's who reviewed the data from the study, was impressed with the results.
"The interesting thing was the blood pressure," he says. "That's a very important reduction in blood pressure. Actually, some pills don't lower blood pressure that much."
While the study found no ill effects on the grain on any of the 20 subjects tested, Vuksan cautions that, because of Salba's ability to thin blood, those on anticoagulants, blood thinners other blood pressure medications should consult with their doctors before taking it.
Researchers plan further studies of the grain's effects on heart disease, arthritis -- and even weight loss, because of the grain's apparent ability to suppress appetite.
"I think it's a great thing to pursue because it is a food ingredient rather than a pill or injection," says Hanna.
In the meantime, Salba has already become a popular seller in health food stores, with many embracing this ancient seed as a modern nutritional wonder grain.