April 29th, 2011
10:58 AM ET

Are chia seeds a 'superfood'?

Every weekday, a CNNHealth expert doctor answers a viewer question. On Friday, it's Dr. Melina Jampolis, a physician nutrition specialist.

Question asked by Julie S. of Chicago, Illinois

What do you know/say about chia seeds? Are they really a "superfood?"
Expert answer:

There is no actual definition for a 'superfood', this is really just a marketing term, but foods mentioned in this category often contain above average amounts of health promoting nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants, and especially phytonutrients (plant based nutrients). Based on this definition, chia seeds would certainly qualify.

They are an excellent source of fiber and antioxidants, a good source of calcium, a good source of plant based protein and an excellent source of the plant derived omega 3 fatty acid (alpha-linolenic acid) ALA similar to walnuts and flax. As with any nut or seed, they are low in saturated fat and contain no cholesterol, but like all nuts and seeds they are more calorie dense, 139 calories per ounce, so it is important to watch serving sizes and consume in moderation.

When chia seeds are combined with liquid (like water, milk, juice or yogurt), they form a gel due to the soluble fiber that they contain. This may have some benefit in terms of weight loss (although the research in this area is scant) by helping you feel fuller longer and also by delaying the increase in blood sugar of foods that you consume which contain chia seeds.

As with almost all foods, to get the most health benefits, chia seeds are best consumed in their whole state rather than consuming them as an oil or supplement (grinding them is ok too since it retains all the components of the seed). If you want to give them a try as part of your healthy eating regimen, they work well as a yogurt or oatmeal topping, tossed into a smoothie, or used as a binder and healthy fat in baked goods (particularly vegan or gluten free baking).

But as with any 'superfood', they work as part of an overall balanced diet that includes a variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, healthy fats and lean protein, not as a replacement for or supplement to a poor diet.

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.