The Hemp Connection + vegan

Revisiting chia

I was asked to clarify some comments I recently made about chia, as they were questioned for their accuracy. I'm all for revisiting and making sure my information is accurate, so here is my response.

First of all, while the information on this blog should be helpful to anyone regardless of whether or not they have PCOS, it IS targeted toward women who have this hormone imbalance. So some of the information I provide is more geared toward their specific nutritional needs and not the apparently healthy population. This should always be kept in mind when reading what I write.

One of the questions about my post was that I stated that taurine is an essential amino acid. There is actually some debate about this. Some experts say no, we can synthesize it. Others call it a conditional amino acid, meaning in some situations it may be essential.

Women with PCOS seem to have something going on in their brain and nervous systems that interferes with everything from mood and appetite regulation to speech and language function. (Simply read the responses to my question last week about the symptoms I listed and you will see what I mean.) Much of the dietary protocol we have developed is actually derived from epilepsy research at Johns Hopkins University, with the premise that calming nervous system excitability makes it easier for the brain and nervous system to function as they should when not under duress. Taurine is an amino acid showing promise as an anti-seizure compound, which makes me wonder whether or not a hyperexcitable brain blows through available taurine much more quickly than a brain that does not have to live under these conditions.

That being said, I am more comfortable with the premise that for the population for whom this blog is written, as well as anyone living with any kind of condition that places stress on the brain (migraines, epilepsy, OCD, anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, PTSD, schizophrenia, etc.), taurine may actually be an essential amino acid. Research to support my claim still needs to be done, but I am more comfortable being conservative on this one, especially given the responses to last week's questionnaire and the severity of some of the diagnoses I just listed. Better to be safe than sorry.

Secondly, even if the amino acid profile of chia is complete, the total protein content of chia is relatively low. So if we're advocating for a 30% protein diet in a woman who is being advised to consume 1500 calories a day, she is going to need to consume about 113 grams of protein. That translates into your needing, at this protein level, to consume 700 grams of chia per day, just to get your protein needs. That is also 3,430 calories' worth of chia, more than twice your daily calorie needs. And while its amino acid profile is nearly complete, its nutritional profile is not. It contains no vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin K, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, folate, or iron, to name a few.

From an omega-3 standpoint, I did invert the numbers. There is no consistent order by which omega-6 and omega-3 ratios are reported, and though I usually check to be sure I did not flip them, I did not this time. I do apologize for that.

According to, chia seed contains an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of 3.03, which is actually quite good.

The caveat is that the omega-3 this food contains is alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), not EPA or DHA. Most omega-3 experts will contend that in the most perfect of conditions conversion of ALA to DHA is at best 5%. Again, the women this blog serves seem to need a much higher level of DHA than average for a variety of reasons. We find that they seem to do best on 1000 mg DHA daily, the level recommended by Dr. Artemis Simopolous for treating depression. Calculated out, if you are depending on chia seed to get all of your omega-3 fatty acids, from ALA through EPA and DHA, you're going to need to consume about 115 grams of chia seeds per day. Just be forewarned.

Bottom line, I actually think chia is a healthy food--as part of a varied diet. I especially think that for vegans reading this blog it can be a great addition to your diet. However, I do not believe in superfoods. There seems to be a trend toward wanting to find one perfect food that has it all. I have yet to find it. It's understandable when we're surrounded by a lot of confusing information and we live in a culture where over 10,000 new products hit the grocery shelves each year (I saw half of them in Anaheim last month and it was overwhelming!) that we'd want to have just a few foods and a small nutritional comfort zone. Unfortunately that is not really how human nutrition works.

This is an especially important philosophy to stick to on this blog, given the fact that we're learning that a very high percentage of the women we're helping have some kind of history of"veganism gone wrong"…in other words, overzealous veganism with a focus on eliminating foods rather than on learning how to eat to be nutritionally complete with no animal products on the menu. We discourage fanaticism and encourage food curiosity and variety!

We were designed to be omnivores and to eat a variety of foods from a variety of sources. I encourage you, rather than arguing for why you should narrow your choices down to feel more comfortable around food, to learn to negotiate a wider variety of foods you are willing to include in your diet.

Gaby AR. Natural approaches to epilepsy. Altern Med Rev. 2007 Mar;12(1):9-24.

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Revisiting chia + vegan