Chia seed was featured prominently recently in the book "Born To Run" as one of the staple foods of the Tarahumara indians of Mexico. Does it live up to the hype and stories?
The protein that chia seeds contain might be effective, but they contain comparatively little protein, like most seeds. Even if you ate only chia from dawn to dusk, you'd only get about 78g protein (on 2500 calories).
They're also not an ideal source of fats by any means. The omega-3 they contain is the plant form (ALA) which is substantially less useful and with it you get a substantial dose of omega-6. You could do without getting such a large (useless) dose of PUFA, which are highly oxidisable. They're an effective "source of fat" insofar that they contain lots of fat and fibre and so will be highly filling, but you'd do better to get your fats from SFA or MFA.
On paper they contain lots of nutrients, but given the fibre and antinutrients I can't testify as you how much you'd absorb. As a staple for a civilisation... well they might do better than a civilisation living on maize, but that's not saying much!
As a source of protein, chia seed is digested and absorbed very easily. This results in rapid transport to the tissue and utilization by the cells.
Chia seed is the richest vegetables source for the essential omega-3 fatty acid. It has approximately three to ten times the oil concentrations of most grains and one and a half to two times the protein concentrations of other grains.
Per a container of Nu-Greens Chia Pure: Serving size = 15g
Percent Daily Values (trace minerals):
I recently tried Chia Seeds before a workout. I'm not sure they held up to the Born to Run hype, which made them sound like some kind of herbal-crack, but I definitely felt a surge of energy. Similar to a cup of coffee, but it seemed to last a little longer. Over-all a good experience.
I have tried chia seeds before. There's no way anyone could rely on them as a staple food. They are similar to flaxseeds in that the seed coat is a thick mucilage that forms a gel when hydrated. The seeds are too small to effectively chew to release nutrition. In large amounts, the high PUFA load would cause liver disease.
Unlike flax, Chia seeds do not have to be chewed to release the nutrients, they absorb water and form a gel that is easily assimilated. Also, American and Mexican Indians ate a lot of them, thus they ARE Paleo. And yes, they live up to the hype.
My answer: I don't know, but I doubt that it (or any food) is a so-called "super-food".
Every year there are new, trendy "super-foods":
Noni juice Aloe vera juice Acai berries Mangosteen
Chia seeds may also contain the same sorts of substances that make grains unhealthy, things like phytic acid and/or gluten.