Anyone who hasn’t yet heard of the ‘superfood’ chia is sure to soon - amid claims the plant’s small seeds can boost energy markedly and even improve sexual health.
According to research firm Nielsen, the chia market is growing at 239 per cent, while Sheffield-based firm Chia UK - one of the country’s leading distributors of the product - says its turnover has doubled since May.
Chia - a plant from the mint family that develops black and white seeds - is mainly grown in central and south America and Australia, and is recognised as a good source of Omega-3 fatty acids, protein, dietary fibre, B vitamins and minerals.
Because they have no taste chia seeds can be added to anything and, when hydrated, can also turn into a gel to plump up porridges and puddings and fill people up.
Chia UK’s managing director is 42-year-old Nick Gledhill, from Woodseats, who founded the company and recently brought on board entrepreneur Peter Jackson, of Greenhill, as the business’ trading increased.
Nick said he first tried chia following treatment for a pituitary gland tumour, which he was diagnosed with in 2011 after his doctor noticed he had suddenly begun losing weight.
“I can still remember sitting in front of my doctor like it happened yesterday,” he said.
“My doctor calmly explained that I have a tumour on my pituitary gland. Although benign, my tumour was situated in such a place that it was having terrible effects on my body, mind and moods.”
Surgery was recommended but Nick chose medication instead to raise his low testosterone levels - a symptom of the tumour - and said he was unimpressed with the results.
“I had to apply a testosterone gel to either my stomach or back daily, the effects of the cream lasted just three to four hours, and then I would start to feel dreadful again.
“By February 2012, I’d lost a lot of weight and weighed just 11-and-a-half stones. I looked and felt dreadful.”
A month later Nick read an article about chia describing its benefits, and decided to get hold of some seeds for himself.
“When I first started adding the chia to my diet, I’d simply add some to a protein shake. Within four weeks, I was eating again and I had gained half a stone. I felt more energetic - I’d even go so far as saying lively.
“I started to add chia to most of my meals and, if I was feeling a bit down or lethargic, I’d have a shot of chia with a glass of water. As a result, my energy levels soared, my moods were much improved and I had started to experience a tremendous feeling of wellbeing.”
Nick started Chia UK in July last year, and brought in Peter in April.
Chia is brought to the company, based on Duchess Road in Sheffield, in large sacks which are then decanted into smaller containers for purchase.
Peter said: “Nick’s tumour is still there, but it’s under control and the scarring associated with it has gone.
“He is still being monitored. While he would not make any claims that it caused his tumour to disappear, he went from somebody who really wasn’t very well to improving his health massively.
“The chia helped him regain his strength. The last thing we want people to think is, even though chia has lots of nutrition, that it is a cure for all. That’s not the case. It’s a dietary wholefood supplement.
“It can be beneficial in areas such as inflammatory diseases, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.”
But Peter added: “We do tell people that, if they are taking any medication such as Warfarin, it’s worth checking it out with their doctor, as chia has the potential to help with blood-thinning.”
Seeds were eaten in ancient times
- Chia is a small seed that has been used by humans since at least 3,500 BC, when it was eaten by the Aztecs. It is a mild, nutty tasting member of the mint family and has high levels of protein, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. Chia also contains more Omega 3 than any other known plant.
- Supporters of chia claim it has a huge range of health benefits, from easing cardiovascular conditions and diabetes, lowering cholesterol and high blood pressure, as well as boosting immune system function and improving skin, nails and hair.
- Chia seeds are approved for use in bread products in the UK, while in America dozens of new products containing the supplement are introduced every year. It’s in sweets, snack foods, seasonings, yoghurt and even baby food.
- Eating the seeds isn’t always without its side-effects. Unwanted results of chia can include gas and bloating, and people on blood-thinning medication are warned to take care.