Week of June 11, 2012
Contact: Alice Bender, (202) 328-7744

AICR HealthTalk
Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN
American Institute for Cancer Research

Q: Is it true that chia seeds are heart healthy? If so, what do people do with them?

A: One ounce (about two tablespoons) of chia seeds contains about 10 grams of dietary fiber and about five grams of linolenic acid (the plant form of omega-3 fat). The fiber is almost entirely the insoluble type that helps promote healthy bowel function (not the type that helps lower blood cholesterol). The omega-3 fats in chia seeds differ from omega-3 fats found in fish, such as salmon. The EPA and DHA in salmon seem to be the active forms for some of the healthy metabolic effects in our bodies. The linolenic acid in Chia seeds is somewhat inefficiently converted to those more active forms. In a study with rats, chia seeds improved several blood test markers of health, but we don’t know how those results translate to humans. In one placebo-controlled study, people added about 4 tablespoons of chia seeds daily to their normal diet. Among these overweight and obese men and women, blood levels of the omega-3 fat ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) increased, but after three months, there was no difference from the placebo group in weight, body fat, markers of inflammation, blood sugar or blood levels of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. With or without chia seeds, it’s how you put together an overall healthy diet that will help you reach and maintain a healthy weight that matters. Keep in mind that two tablespoons contain about 140 calories, so if you’d like to use them, be sure to replace another food and not just add them to your current diet. Chia seeds don’t need to be ground before using, and their mild flavor makes them a nice addition sprinkled on salads, cereal or yogurt, or added in baking.

Q: What are flavonoids? Are they really a big deal or just something hyped up?

A: Flavonoids are a group of natural compounds found in many vegetables, fruits, whole grains, dried beans, tea and wine. These substances are powerful antioxidants, which means they can prevent damage to our cells’ DNA by stabilizing highly reactive free radicals. By preventing damage to blood vessel walls and keeping cholesterol carriers in less damaging forms, they may help protect against heart disease. Flavonoids may also inhibit cancer development, both as antioxidants preventing DNA damage and possibly through direct effects on cell growth and reproduction. You don’t need special flavonoid supplements; just aim to eat vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans abundantly each day. The specific flavonoids each food contain vary; choose a variety so the different compounds can work together synergistically.

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