Chia oil: valuable nutrients and health benefits

Important nutrients and well-being applications make chia oil an ideal addition to any diet

As far back as the days of the Mayans and the Aztecs, chia seeds were a staple food. And by the time of Christopher Columbus, the seeds of the sage plant — Salvia hispanica — were already regarded as a superfood consumed, for example, as an energy rich food by travellers.

These little powerhouses contain above average amounts of antioxidants, proteins, fibre, vitamins and minerals — but that’s not all. Chia seeds also boast 10 times more omega-3 than salmon, four times more antioxidants than oranges, four times more iron than spinach, five times more calcium than whole milk, 15 times more magnesium than broccoli and four times more fibre than linseeds.

Furthermore, chia seeds contain potassium, boron, zinc, folic acid and vital amino acids. And, they comprise about 40% oil, which contains more than 60% vegetarian omega-3, mainly in the form of alpha-linolenic acid.

As a plant that loves a warm and moist climate, chia grows mostly in Mexico, Bolivia and Paraguay. Many different variations and species exist, with the quality of the seeds being dependent on the species as well as on the optimal climate. The best quality seeds grow in Bolivia.

Patented technology

The Japanese company Taiyo has worked exclusively with Benexia for many years to produce chia seed ingredients for the food and beverage industry. Based in Chile, Benexia is a world leader in the growth, harvesting and processing of high quality chia seeds, which it farms in Bolivia.

Working closely together, the two companies develop and distribute XiaPure products made from high quality chia seeds to customers around the world. Benexia has also developed XiaPure Ox Blocker, a patented technology that gives its high-quality, 100% natural seed oil improved oxidative stability and a longer shelf-life.

The entire supply chain, from Bolivia to Chile, is strictly controlled, ensuring that the quality of the oil is maintained from cultivation to harvesting and throughout processing.

To begin with, Benexia works with only the best Bolivian farms to grow, harvest and process the seeds for its oil production … because only the seeds with the highest oil content will produce the best results. Once they are harvested, it is important to purify and separate the seeds from those of other plants, as well as from stalks, stones and foreign particles.

Commercially available chia seeds are often insufficiently purified at this stage and can contain up to 5% foreign materials. If such low-quality seeds are processed into oil, the quality of the oil will also be substandard. Benexia, by contrast, purifies its seeds to 99.6–99.8% before shipping them to its own factories in Chile for processing into chia oil and other chia by-products.

In chia seed and oil production, there are many challenges to overcome. Chia seeds are a natural product, which means that they are always going to be contaminated with micro-organisms that develop naturally when moisture levels become too high in the seeds during storage.

These micro-organisms can then produce mycotoxins such as aflatoxins, which are harmful to human health. Benexia’s triple strategy guarantees top quality as well as the purest and safest seeds. After vigorous cleaning, microbes are reduced in a 5-log kill process by a factor of 100,000 or more. The moisture content is also minimised in XiaPure Chia Seeds LM for a longer shelf-life and improved safety.

XiaPure products are available for direct consumption and for use in food production. To ensure safety in all cases, Benexia extracts its oil using a gentle, purely physical process that involves no additional solvents or chemicals.

After preparing the seeds for pressing, a slow and careful cold pressing process begins. Once pressed, three-stage filtering takes place in plates, mesh and fabric, thus achieving a higher level of purity. Although the temperature is kept low at all times during production, no chemical thinners are used.

This allows the original biological characteristics of the seeds to be preserved and means that XiaPure Chia Oil is an “extra-virgin” cold pressed oil that is guaranteed to be 100% pure, natural and free from pollutants.

After the oil has been extracted from the seeds, the remaining chia “cake” is purified and converted into two different fractions: a higher fibre version, which is sold as XiaPure Chia Fiber, and a higher protein version, sold as XiaPure Chia Protein.

Increased antioxidant levels prolong shelf-life

Benexia’s chia oil is very rich in the essential omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). ALA contains three double bonds that are very sensitive to oxidation, which can lead to rancidity. However, thanks to the newly patented Ox Blocker technology, which helps to keep the natural antioxidants from the seeds in the oil, XiaPure Chia Oil retains its natural tocopherols, which are commonly referred to as antioxidant “superheroes.”

In fact, XiaPure Chia Oil can be kept for up to 2 years at normal ambient temperatures, during which time the antioxidant ORAC-level of 962 µmol/TE/100 g remains constant.

The high percentage of antioxidants in XiaPure Chia Oil protects the body’s cells against attack from harmful free radicals. These substances are formed naturally in the body by our metabolism during the digestion of food and as a result of the respiratory chain.

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They attack and damage important proteins such as cellular DNA and RNA, which can lead to erroneous replication and cancer, and they are also known to damage many other cellular structures, including cell membranes, which leads to silent inflammation.

Silent inflammation is a leading cause of the main civilisational diseases: atherosclerosis, diabetes, rheumatism, asthma, allergies, arthritis, neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, and many more.

The human body needs a certain number of free radicals for normal metabolic function. However, the excessive formation of radicals accelerates the ageing process and can cause permanent damage to cells and organs, as well as to the metabolism.

Antioxidants chemically bind to free radicals or stop radical-chain reactions, thus preventing their harmful effects. In the body, antioxidants contribute to healing processes, cell protection and cell regeneration, and they prevent or slow down the ageing process. Additionally, the natural antioxidants in chia oil also act as preservatives.

Health benefits and claims

Valuable minerals and trace elements such as calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, zinc and copper are present in chia seed oil and its by-products. Both also contain polysaccharides, or multiple sugars, which are able to inhibit and slow down carbohydrate metabolism in the intestine to deliver a “time-shifted” energy supply, at the same time as stimulating intestinal activity.

These properties help to prevent sudden energy crashes and subsequent cravings.

Whereas chia-enhanced superfoods have been growing in popularity during the last few years, chia oil is still relatively unknown among the general population. Providing vegans and vegetarians with the important and essential ALA, this highly nutritious oil also has a positive effect on the cardiovascular system, as well as lowering cholesterol levels and imparting anti-inflammatory and blood-thinning properties.

Even the risk of atherosclerosis and heart attack can be kept at bay with its help.

Cardiovascular diseases are the number one cause of death in many countries worldwide. Therefore, preventing them is one of the greatest challenges of our time. Since the 1980s, when the relationship between fat in the diet and cardiovascular diseases was first established, numerous studies have shown that diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids, especially ALA, can reduce the incidence of these diseases. ALA is a type of plant-based omega-3 fatty acid and is considered to be essential because the human body cannot produce it, so it must be obtained through the diet.

ALA has achieved EFSA-approved health claims at a consumption dosage of 2 g per day. The approved health claim for the use of ALA in food products is: “ALA contributes to the maintenance of normal blood cholesterol levels.” The nutritional claim that can be used for ALA is: “High in omega-3.”

Various studies have also demonstrated the beneficial effects of omega-3 fatty acids in chronic inflammatory diseases such as psoriasis, asthma and rheumatoid arthritis, among others, by inhibiting pro-inflammatory events in the cellular endothelium. Interestingly, almost all study results on chia seeds can be easily transferred to the intake of chia oil — given that the concentration of the actives is slightly higher.

Important during pregnancy

Omega-3 fatty acids perform very important functions during gestation, breastfeeding and infancy. The high concentration of omega-3 fatty acids in the retina (60%) and in the brain (40%) suggests that they play an important role in neural and visual function.

A deficiency of essential fatty acids may seriously affect growth, the learning process, the development of postural and motor functions, as well as visual acuity in newborn babies. During gestation and the first year of life, there is an increase in the accumulation of omega-3 fatty acids in the foetal brain and retina.

These fatty acids are transferred from the mother to the foetus through the placenta and, postpartum, through breast milk. Therefore, there is a positive relationship between maternal consumption of essential fatty acids and their status in the neonate.

Scientifically confirmed to be safe and bioavailable

In a study conducted by Valenzuela et al. in 2015, 40 young and healthy pregnant women aged 22–35 received either 12 g of XiaPure Chia Oil daily for 9 months — from the third trimester of pregnancy to the first 6 weeks of nursing — or a placebo.

It was shown that the ALA content in the erythrocyte membrane increased by around 770% (almost 8-fold) in the chia oil group compared with the control group and significantly reduced the incorporation of saturated linolenic acid.

The entire supply chain, from Bolivia to Chile, is strictly controlled, ensuring that the quality of the oil is maintained from cultivation to harvesting and throughout processing.

Moreover, the EPA content in the erythrocyte membrane increased by 290% (almost 3-fold). This was the first study to analyse the effects of such a high intake of chia oil during pregnancy. It shows that chia oil is very safe and can be consumed in high amounts, even by pregnant women.

The study also showed that it’s possible to increase the intake of ALA as omega-3 fatty acids into the human erythrocyte membrane simply by consuming high amounts of chia oil per day. The total omega-3 content increased from 6.8–15.6%, although the overall content of unsaturated fatty acids remained constant.

This means that the ALA omega-3 from the chia oil replaced some of the omega-6 fatty acids in the membrane, so that the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 improved from 4:1 to almost 1:1 (1.3:1). This study showed the highest ever measured content of omega-3 fatty acids in the human erythrocyte membrane. It also found that the consumption of chia oil during the last trimester of pregnancy and the first 3 months of nursing transiently increases the amount of DHA in human breast milk.

Neuroprotective properties

The nature of the fatty acids that compose the cell membranes of the brain has great metabolic importance. The higher the proportion of polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids, the greater the plasticity of the membrane. The body’s neurotransmitter receptors are found in these membranes, and if the membrane is rigid, the spatial coupling of the membrane receptor and the neurotransmitter can be compromised or even nullified.

It has been demonstrated that omega-3 fatty acid deficiency alters the course of neuronal development and disturbs the physicochemical composition and properties of the cell membranes and neurons of the brain. This explains why the omega-3 fatty acids that compose neural membranes play a key role in brain development, in the chemical communication between neurons and, probably, how these cells respond to damage.

Healthy and versatile

Owing to its valuable ingredients, chia oil is the ideal dietary supplement. XiaPure Chia Oil is almost colourless and tasteless, with a slightly nutty note. It can be used in fatty products to replace up to 10% of the fat content or as a rapeseed or olive oil substitute in dressings.

Taiyo and Benexia also offer chia oil in the form of a powder — XiaPure ALA Powder — that can be used in dietary supplements such as protein shakes, instant beverages and nutritional bars. Today, as in the days of the Mayans and the Aztecs, chia is a true superfood with multiple uses and health benefits.

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