06/28/2012 12:43 EDT | Updated 08/28/2012 05:12 EDT

Guide extols nutritional superpower of chia seed, including omega-3 fatty acids

Turn the clock back to the 1970s when chia planters were all the rage. Each Christmas shoppers could find the terra cotta pots in which moistened chia seeds sprouted so that the green leaves formed the shape of various animals. They made great stocking stuffers.

Who would know the same seeds would be found to have health benefits beyond imagination?

Wayne Coates, an agricultural engineer originally from Edmonton, became part of a team in 1991 from the University of Arizona who visited South America in order to research alternative crops that might grow well in Argentina.

“We worked with growers and planted a number of different seeds and one of those was chia,” he says.

Once harvested, he and his colleagues discovered that chia seed contains a high amount of omega-3 fatty acids (4 grams per 30 millilitre/2 tablespoon serving).

“In fact, chia has more omega-3 fatty acids than any other known plant,” Coates says.

Besides this discovery, he says omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce inflammation in the body and help lower the risk of chronic disease such as heart disease, cancer and arthritis as well as being important for everyday cognitive function (such as memory and performance).

So amazed was he by the chia seed and its health benefits, Coates has written “Chia: The Complete Guide to the Ultimate Superfood” (Sterling Publishing, $17.95, paperback).

The book covers the history and health benefits of chia and offers a daily plan for weight loss, meal and exercise plans and recipes for every course.

Coates, a long-distance runner, carries a film canister of chia and consumes the little seeds with water when he's doing a marathon.

“My wife and I sprinkle it in our salads and in orange juice in the morning.”

Coates says the tiny seed has been used by humans since at least 3500 BC, when the Aztecs relied on it to keep their civilization healthy.

It is pronounced chee-ah and each seed is the size of a poppy seed.

He explains that consumers should be aware that there are two seed colours, white and black. “Both contain essentially the same amount of omega-3, protein, fibre and other nutrients,” he says.

But Coates warns that people should avoid purchasing brown seeds as they may contain weeds or immature chia seeds.

“Brown chia seeds are low in omega-3 and protein content, indicating that the quality of the chia is poor,” he says.

The wonder seeds can be purchased in health-food stores and specialty alternative shops as well as online.

For more information, visit Coates’ website at

Here from the book is a recipe for a breakfast sandwich using chia seed.

Chia Breakfast Sandwich

Use two slices of whole-grain, non-gluten or rye bread.

Spread one slice with almond butter or sunflower seed butter, tahini, peanut butter or cashew butter.

Sprinkle 10 ml (2 tsp) of chia seeds over the nut butter.

Spread remaining slice with honey, maple syrup, agave or a low-sugar jelly and place on top of the nut butter to form a sandwich.

Makes 1 serving.