Chia and Its Fatty Acids - dummies

By Barrie Rogers, Debbie Dooly

The fatty acids contained in chia seeds are mostly these essential fatty acids that are required for good health. Fat has been the victim of some bad press the last few decades. But what the news articles often fail to mention is that there are different kinds of fat, some of which are good for you!

The general public didn’t know the differences between these types of fat, so all fats got a bad name and people thought they needed to drop fat from their diets completely. Dropping fats completely from your diet would be detrimental to your health — certain fats are needed for brain and hormone function and keeping your heart healthy.

What omega-3 fatty acids are and where you can find them

Omega-3 fatty acids help build new cells and regulate various processes of the body. Human bodies can’t make omega-3s, so you need to get them from food or supplements. In addition to boosting heart health by lowering cholesterol and reducing blood pressure, omega-3s are key to healthy skin, hair, and nails.

Everything from depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) to increases in chronic diseases and lack of concentration has been blamed on the lack of omega-3s in the modern diet. This is why so many governments, dietitians, and nutritionists are recommending that people increase their intake of omega-3s.

Numerous studies into the effects of omega-3s on the body — for example, improvements in heart health and circulation, reduction in inflammation, and improved brain function — have led to this increase in demand for omega-3s as more people continue to realize its benefits. Chia is the best plant-based source of omega-3s in the world, making it a fantastic way to get enough of this all-important nutrient.

There are a variety of different types of omega-3 fatty acids, but three you should know about are

  • Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)

  • Docosahexaenoic (DHA)

  • Eicosapentaenoic (EPA)

The omega-3s found in fish and fish oil are DHA and EPA. Although fish can be a healthy part of your diet, the omega-3s found in fish and fish oil aren’t without problems:

  • If the fish you eat is farmed instead of wild, it doesn’t contain omega-3s naturally — the fish has to be fed omega-3 supplements in order to contain omega-3s, which means you’re better off opting for wild fish than farmed.

  • Not all fish oils are good sources of DHA and EPA. Even though you get good levels of these omega-3s, you may be getting more than you bargained for. Fish that has been primarily in polluted waters can contain pollutants that are bad for health, so fish oil capsules may not be the best option for getting omega-3s.

  • In recent years, there has been some concern about the sustainability of fish that are harvested for omega-3 fish oil. Overfishing worldwide has become a cause for concern — certain species of fish that are used for fish oil production are becoming endangered. Plant-based omega-3s are a sustainable source for human consumption.

The omega-3 fatty acid found in chia seeds is ALA, which is derived from plants and, when eaten, converted to DHA and EPA. Your body will convert the ALA to as much DHA and EPA as it needs and excrete the rest, so you don’t have to worry about eating too much ALA.

Omega-6 and the omega-3–to–omega-6 ratio

Omega-6 is another essential fatty acid that the body can’t produce. It’s found in many vegetable oils and animal fats. In the typical modern diet, people consume plenty of omega-6s. This makes it easy to get your fill of omega-6s. The problem is that we eat too much of omega-6 and not nearly enough of omega-3.

Back when modern people were evolving from hunter/gatherers, the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids that they typically ate was 1:1. These days, people eat an average of 1:20 (omega-3 to omega-6). This imbalance increases the risk of coronary heart disease and other modern-day chronic diseases.

Consuming enough omega-3s can help restore the proper balance. The ratio of omega-3s to omega-6s in chia is 3:1, helping you restore balance in your diet.