I'm here today with Ricardo Ayerza, an advisor to the Omega Tree.
Ayerza: That's right. We are advising people where to find good seeds, and, of course, our main job is to advise the grower on how to produce the seeds.
Mike: And for the readers and listeners, we're talking about chia seeds, right?
Ayerza: That's right. Chia seeds are more normally used for pets, but they're for human consumption, really.
Mike: So, in terms of omega-3 fatty acids, people typically don't think of chia seeds right away, but tell us about why they should.
Ayerza: Well, chia seeds are very important right now because there is a problem in the world with food that has no omega-3 at all. That produces an imbalance that increases the risk of heart attacks. People are starting to find sources of omega-3, and of course fish is one, but many people have allergies to the omega-3 from fish, and other people don't like fish. Another source is flax, but flax has some nutrient problems. Then, chia becomes one of the few sources with omega-3. It has 64 percent of omega-3 in its oil – that's the highest content of omega-3 – and for that reason we are saying that it's not for pottery, it's for human consumption, and that's the use of it.
Mike: Another reason people might not want a marine source of omega-3 is because of the mercury poisoning in the fish and the heavy metals, right?
Ayerza: You are right. And that is a problem that is coming up and increasing every year. Unfortunately, there are few solutions we have for that, and fish still has that problem. You know, the USDA is warning us that pregnant women should avoid fish – not all of them, but the main ones – and it's a big problem how we will find our omega-3 source.
Mike: So chia seeds are a wonderful solution to the omega-3 problem. Are you seeing more and more interest in chia seeds?
Ayerza: Oh yes. In the conference, there was an amazing quantity of people interested in that. And in this conference you can see how many people are coming, but it's not just from the USA; it's from Europe and, of course, from Mexico. They say, "I know that." Of course, this is originally from Mexico. And you're discussing it, but you need to come back – and the book will help a lot, I think – because it's a forgotten crop of the Aztecs. I mean, we didn't have one thing that wasn't used for centuries by the Mexicans before the Spanish came to discover us.
Mike: Right. And now the Western world is rediscovering the ancient treasures of South America, whether it's chia seeds from Mexico, or -- as I was discussing with another person – quinoa from Bolivia and Ecuador.
Ayerza: That's right. Right now the University of Arizona is working with an Argentinean publisher that is going to publish in Spanish – not just for Argentina, but for Spain and other countries. Also, at this moment, the translation has already been started into French for a Belgian publisher and into one of the Chinese languages to be published next year.
Mike: Wonderful. So the company we're talking about here is the Omega Tree.
Ayerza: This is interesting because these people are working with the Argentinean and Bolivian growers to help expand the chia. They brought the chia to the USA, in Phoenix, an Arizona-based company. And they extract the oil by corn press and encapsulate and send the oil because it's easier for some people to eat the omega-3 capsules than to eat the chia seeds.
Mike: I'd rather eat the seeds, personally.
Ayerza: Me too, but there are some people that prefer just the oil. And this is an option; it's an alternative that you can choose. This is good. Some time ago, chia was just for pottery. Now, chia is for omega-3 and you can have chia seeds and capsules.
Mike: So the web address is TheOmegaTree.com, and do they also sell chia seeds in bulk or just the oil?
Ayerza: They can sell what you want, but they don't sell in small quantities. For small quantities, you need to contact Dr. Wayne Coates. Dr. Wayne Coates can tell you where you can find it. I don't know really where you can find it in Tucson or in Phoenix or in other places, but Dr. Wayne Coates can tell you; he knows the addresses and the web pages of other companies that sell in small quantities. [Ed. Note: the address is www.EatChia.com]
Mike: I do know that people can mostly go to health food stores and food co-ops right now and find chia seeds. Can you talk about the nutritional content now, in terms of macronutrients, of the chia seed?
Ayerza: Okay, we've talked about the omega-3 up to now – that came from 34 percent of oil, of which 64 percent is omega-3. But in addition to that, it's very rich in protein; it's got 21 percent protein, which is very high for an oil crop, and this protein is very high in important amino acids. It's perfect for adults; it's even rich in lysine, one of the amino acids that is not in corn, and not in many things, and it's a very good source of fiber. It has 39 percent of its weight as fiber. And five to six percent is soluble fiber. The Indians were very smart, because they used corn and chia. Corn was low in lysine, and chia was high in lysine. A comparison that the World Health Organization made, for example, showed that the Aztec diet was more complete than the actual Mexican diet.
Mike: Wow. So if people would just go back to these ancient food sources, they would be much better off.
Ayerza: That's right, not just because of omega-3, but it's good for certain people because it's very high in iron and very high in calcium, too.
Mike: A lot of people don't know how to use chia seeds in their foods. I like to sprinkle it on oatmeal, I put it in cereals and sometimes I just eat them raw, but what else can people do with chia seeds?
Ayerza: At www.eatchia.com, you will find a number of recipes. But I can tell you something very easy. It depends on the person, but, for example, my father loves chia, and he eats it with yogurt. He puts two spoonfuls in the yogurt, shakes the yogurt and eats it. In my case I prefer it with lemonade or with orange juice in the morning. I love orange juice, and I put it into the orange juice and eat it wit the beverage. My wife uses it over a salad. There are people who love hamburgers – you know, "hamburger" is a bad word today -- and they like to spread it over the hamburger before cooking. They find a way.
Mike: Chia hamburgers.
Ayerza: Yes, it's funny but it's true. There are many ways to do it.
Mike: Well, those are good suggestions. Because it's a nutty taste, and it's crunchy but it's not too hard. It's not like chewing on stones or anything.
Ayerza: And it's very interesting. If you choose chia capsules, you will find the taste of the oil is like the chia seed – it's a good one. Then you can get omega-3, because some people say, "Oh, I don't want fish." Some people like it, but some people hate fish. Well, it doesn't taste at all like fish.
Mike: Right, because some people take fish oil supplements, and you get that fish taste.
Ayerza: Some people like it, like in Finland, Swedish people, but in Argentina or the United Kingdom or in many states in the U.S.A., people don't like fish. They like fish once, twice per week, but they don't like to take pills all day long. This is an option.
Mike: Wonderful, Ricardo.
Ayerza: It was a pleasure to talk with you and all of your audience. If they have any questions or need any help, they can contact Dr. Wayne Coates or they can contact me. It's our job to try to tell the people about chia.