Ever heard of salba (Salvia hispanica), a cousin of mint that grows throughout southern Mexico? Youve certainly heard of another product derived from the same plant: chia, whose seeds you grow on silly-stupid, tacky Chia Pets.
What you may not know about salba is how utterly packed with nutrition it is. I certainly wasn't aware of this superfood until I came across it at the Natural Products Expo East in September. And now that summer's over and I'm back to cooking and baking lots of yummy comfort foods, this little grain will make an easy, healthy addition to lots of my dishes.
According to a 2007 study published in the journal Diabetes Care, salba is the highest source of dietary fiber and healthy fat alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) found in nature.
Whats more, say researchers at the University of Toronto, salba is an “exceptionally rich source of vegetable protein, calcium, magnesium, iron, and antioxidants,” all of which improve heart health.
The researchers set out to discover whether adding salba to the diet could protect the hearts of people with type 2 diabetes. In their small study, which included 20 otherwise healthy people with type 2 diabetes, half took about 37 grams of salba a day for 12 weeks; the other half took about 37 grams of wheat germ. All participants were put on a healthy diet and instructed to continue taking any medications they were currently prescribed.
At the end of the study, people in the salba group had lowered their systolic blood pressure (the top number) by an average of 6.3 millimeters of mercury, while blood pressure in the control group actually went up.
Salba also reduced levels of high-sensitivity C-reactive protein and other heart-health markers. The researchers concluded that taking salba regularly had a major impact on lessening cardiovascular risk factors. They also found that it can help people maintain blood sugar and control cholesterol.
I'm not suggesting you take 37 grams of salba each day, however. Core Naturals, the exclusive distributor of Salba products in the United States, suggests a 12-gram serving of ground or whole seed—about a tablespoon, which contains more than 2,500 milligrams of omega-3s. That's about eight times more omega-3 than salmon offers—although fish do have different omega-3s (DHA and EPA), which are also, if not more, important for overall health. (This is especially true if you're pregnant.)
In addition to its beneficial fats, salba boasts 30% more antioxidants than blueberries and 25% more fiber than flax. Whats more, unlike flaxseed, salba doesnt need to be ground up for you to reap its benefits.
As far as taste goes, its neutral. Im munching on the seeds right now, and I get this mild, slightly nutty flavor. Theyre tiny and white, and even smaller than flaxseed. As you chew them, they turn into sort of a gel. This process also takes place in the stomach, which could slow the absorption of sugar into the blood stream, suggests natural medicine guru Andrew Weil, MD, in a piece about chia seeds on his website.
You can easily add salba seeds to cereal, toss them into casseroles, or stir them into yogurt. To smooth out the crunchy texture, you can buzz them in a coffee grinder, just as you would flax.
Salba is packaged whole or ground, and it comes in single-serve packets as well as new fruit-flavored Salba Life Whole Food bars. Find salba at your local Whole Foods Market or health-food store, or online at Salba.com. A 16-ounce jar of whole seeds sells for $27, while the bars retail for $3.29 each.