The following is an edited version of an interview with Dr. Wayne Coates, who is perhaps the world’s foremost educator on chia seeds. Dr. Coates was among the first to grow chia seeds experimentally and later for commercial purposes. An expert in the field of new crops such as chia and jojoba, his career as a research professor at the University of Arizona spanned over twenty-five years. Dr. Coates holds a Doctorate in Agricultural Engineering from Oklahoma State University, Stillwater. He is the co-author with Ricardo Ayerza of Chia: Rediscovering a Forgotten Crop of the Aztecs 2005.
Dr. Coates continues his research and publication of articles about chia seeds. Chia seeds have become very popular in recent years because they offer balanced omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, soluble and insoluble dietary fiber, high-quality protein, antioxidants and many other nutrients.Dr. Fred Liers: It is my pleasure today to be speaking with Dr. Wayne Coates. Welcome, Wayne.
Dr. Wayne Coates: Thank you, Fred. Great to be speaking with you today.
Fred: You’ve probably done more than anyone to raise awareness about chia seeds as a functional food for health. I’ve enjoyed your book and the articles on your websites. To start, what do you tell people who have never heard of chia before? What do you tell people when they ask you how to use chia?
Dr. Coates: I tell people they can use chia seeds in any way they want. Chia is an incredibly versatile seed. I sprinkle it on my salads every day. You can mix the seeds into foods, sprinkle them onto foods, and include them when you’re making any kind of dish. You can be as creative as you want to be with chia because there’s no specific way it is meant to be used. Plus, there are no limitations to using chia in your diet. You can’t eat too much of it. You can even put it in orange juice, whatever works for you. It’s that simple!
Fred: People often ask about the nutritional value of chia seeds versus flax seeds. After they try chia, they’re almost always much happier with it than flax.
Dr. Coates: We absolutely see this happening. It’s about education. People are switching to chia because it is a lot easier to use than fla and it doesn’t have the problems associated with flax.
Fred: I used to grind flax in a nut grinder and store it in the refrigerator. I had to grind it fresh daily. Now I use chia seeds both whole and ground, and I’ve noticed they remain fresh longer than flax seeds.
Dr. Coates: Yes, chia seeds can stay fresh for a very long time, especially when stored in a cool, dry place.
Fred: I see more bars with chia seeds lately. What’s coming next?
Dr. Coates: Many companies are creating bars with chia now. There are going to be all kinds of other chia products coming out. I know so many people who are working on products, and they’re rolling them out, even as we speak.
Fred: That is wonderful.
Dr. Coates: Yes, it absolutely is wonderful because so many things can be done with chia. There are more people looking at it seriously and we are beginning to see the results. One of these days it will absolutely take off. That will happen as general public awareness gains critical mass. Very soon you will see a Trader Joe’s or a Whole Foods Market, or a company like that, start selling it. Then it’s going to go crazy. Everyone will know about it.
Fred: What has contributed most to the rise in popularity of chia seeds?
Dr. Coates: Believe it or not, much of the increased interest is happening by word- of- mouth. For example, people call who tell us they heard about chia from friends or neighbors. And, if someone hears something about chia and searches the Internet, they find lots of information and many stores selling it.
So interest is spreading and that’s the whole goal. That’s why Ricardo Ayerza and I wrote our book Chia: Rediscovering a Forgotten Crop of the Aztecs. We wanted to get information about chia seeds out there. That’s been our entire aim from the beginning.
Fred: Your book is a major resource and has lots of good information about chia. I enjoyed it and often refer to it.
Dr. Coates: Thank you. It is readily available in many stores. The paperback edition costs about $10.
There is also another book, James Scheer’s The Magic of Chia: Revival of an Ancient Wonder Food. It doesn’t provide the most up-to-date or the most accurate information. But the recipes in it are very good.
Fred: The Magic of Chia was the first book I read about chia. I remember thinking, ” Wow, I’ve got to learn more about chia seeds!” I later discovered your book, which kick-started my interest in chia seeds as a super food.
Dr. Coates: I’ve spoken to Scheer. He called us after our book was published seeking information about chia.
Fred: He did an excellent job of raising awareness about the health benefits of chia.
Dr. Coates: That’s very true. Give him credit. His book raised awareness and helped people get started on the path looking for chia, and they found it! We have great appreciation for anyone who spreads the word about chia. It’s good for everyone.
Fred: Is more scientific research being done on the benefits of chia?
Dr. Coates: There is certainly more chia research happening. I’ve seen some good studies lately.
Fred: Do you and Ricardo Ayerza remain the primary researchers of chia?
Dr. Coates: We certainly have the most history studying chia. There are now a few other people. But in terms of who has published the most articles in refereed journals, we are by far the ones who have written the most.
Nutritional Benefits of Chia Seeds
Fred: Do you get much feedback from your customers? What do they tell you about their experiences with chia?
Dr. Coates: Yes, we get a fair number of calls. They tell us what chia seeds have done for their health. I always tell them to post their comments on our website.
Fred: I frequently hear from people about their experiences with consuming chia seeds. People have reported major benefits from chia seeds for their health and healing. Benefits like increased energy, better digestion, improved skin tone, and help for blood sugar issues.
People also report that chia helps their pets. Dogs and cats have experienced remarkable results. Pet owners will grind the chia, and serve it to their pets mixed with food. Pets with blood sugar control issues have been helped in particular. Diabetic pets can receive lower insulin dosages, and some go off it altogether.
Dr. Coates: We receive similar reports from customers. We’ve heard some truly amazing things, but generally we don’t go into much detail telling people about what to expect from chia. Everyone has their own perception of what chia seeds can do. Call it mind over matter. If nothing else, you can believe what you want, and if you really believe it, then that’s what it is. There’s no arguing against or changing a belief.
Let’s assume that chia affects a certain person in a specific way, and honestly it does. That is only the experience of that particular person because different people have different experiences with chia. Or, it can depend upon the conditions they may have, because then there can be different effects. For example, one person’s results using chia could depend upon how effectively their digestive system is working, but another person’s results could be entirely different.
Fred: Another person may reap a different set of benefits?
Dr. Coates: Exactly. So we’re not promoting chia for any particular purpose. We do say what it contains, like the balanced essential fats, and let customers decide whether chia may be helpful for them.
Now, what is true is that the nutrients in chia seeds have been shown to have certain effects. Fiber has been shown to have certain effects. Antioxidants have been shown to have certain effects. Essential fats have been shown to have certain effects. And so on. We say, “These are the nutrients chia has in it.” Then people can decide.
Fred: I know that for myself, consuming chia seeds has given me a lot more energy. I take chia daily in my favorite super food smoothies, green super foods or vegetable juices. I usually grind it first because it goes better in smoothies that way. I definitely notice that I become energized, have more endurance and more brainpower. If I consume chia two or three times per day, then the effects are greater.
I find that a chia gel smoothie is a major power-up “lunch” or afternoon pick-me-up. I like to include green super foods like chlorella, spirulina or Rejuvenate right into my smoothies. I use a Vita-Mix machine, but any blender or shaker jar works. If I’m on-the-go, I may shake up some chlorella with my chia gel smoothie in a mason jar.
Chia to me is very exciting because it is a super food that truly makes life better. Almost anyone can eat chia and improve their health and their quality of life. In this regard, I think super foods like chia can change the world for the better. Is that too big of a statement?Dr. Coates: No, not at all. That’s the whole thing. If people were eating super foods like chia, they would be a lot healthier and have a lot fewer health problems. It certainly would help their health situation, let’s put it that way, in one way or another. I’m not saying exactly how it would help any particular individual, but it would definitely help them.
Fred: I agree. You know, I try to do a lot of good things for myself, and chia is a major component of my health regimen. I consume plenty of chlorella, fresh vegetable juices, salads and nutrient-dense foods like chia seeds. My nutritional supplement regimen is based around several core supplements, which include a high-quality multivitamin, a vitamin C formula and essential fats. Those are basics. Then I can add herbs or other supplements, depending on more immediate requirements.
Dr. Coates: That is interesting! Well, we know that chia is a food that has no known limits on its consumption, and it definitely combines well with many other foods.
Fred: With respect to chia seeds as a super food and the growing level of awareness of it among people interested in health, it is evident that many individuals are awakening to a greater understanding of the role of foods and nutrition in human wellness. I consider it a great awakening, since we, in modern civilization, have in many ways destroyed our health during the past century, mostly through mass surrender to junk foods, health-damaging lifestyles, stress and extremely dysfunctional systems of medicine.
I definitely see changes happening, mostly for individuals who are seeking healthier ways of being, and who are willing to look way past conventional models of nutrition, the food pyramid and all that propaganda. Given such positive changes in awareness, what do you see as the future of chia?
Dr. Coates: That is not so easy to predict because there are so many companies simply talking about it right now. As I said, when a player finally comes along like a Whole Foods Market or a Trader Joe’s , or a similarly-sized company, and they are selling chia and doing some promotion for it, that’s when we will see it take off.
Fred: We are not quite there yet?
Dr. Coates: Well, it is happening. But think of how many other products companies want to sell. I’m so busy with my projects, I don’t have the time to visit stores to make the case for chia.
Fred: That’s not part of your mission.
Dr. Coates: Well, it is my job in a sense. But actually, it won’t be necessary for me to go to stores and persuade them to sell chia. Demand is becoming great enough that people are asking for it. Store owners and managers hear questions, such as “What is chia?” and “Do you carry chia?” That’s how it is happening.
Fred: Demand for chia is speaking for itself.
Dr. Coates: Yes, and soon larger companies will start seriously investigating it. Part of their reservation has been ensuring adequate supply. If they decide to go for it, but they have only 2,000 bags when they need 20,000 bags, then they get into trouble when their customers can’t be supplied.
Fred: Is the chia supply rising?
Dr. Coates: Yes, the supply is rising, and we can ramp it up, if we want. But until buyers purchase large quantities, the question becomes who is going to produce chia if there is a likelihood that it will sit around waiting for a buyer? It’s always a chicken and egg question. What’s there: demand or supply?
That’s one of the basic issues with any of these “new” crops like chia seeds. That is, achieving a balance between demand and supply. Demand may be there, but then they say there’s no supply. Or the supply might be there, that is, we can grow the chia, but then the question will be who is going to buy it. The issue of supply and demand remains until we can work it out and currently is fundamental with chia production and distribution.