Sunday, 16 March 2008

What's Salba?

I first heard about Salba® through an email my mom received from a colleague of hers about a month ago. A few weeks later, a colleague of mine asked me if I had heard about Salba®. And since then, I've been hearing, and seeing, Salba® everywhere. A few weeks ago, while I was in Loblaws, I saw a cereal called Omega 3 granola, from President's Choice. It caught my eye and I looked at the ingredient list to find out what the omega-3 source was and lo and behold, it was Salba®!

What is Salba®?

Salba® is a trademark name for a very old seed called Chia (the white seed, not the black seed). Yup, chia as in the seeds used in Chia Pets!

Chia is a very ancient grain that was once a staple in the Aztec diet and is derived from the plant called Salvia hispanica L.

On the Salba® website, they compare Salba®, gram for gram, to normal foods. Below are their claims but it makes more sense to compare real measures. Chances are you wouldn’t consume much more than 2 Tbsp Salba® per day (12g), so let’s compare 12 g Salba® to real portions of other foods.

Salba® health claims on Salba® website.

Salba® has....

Salba® (12g) nutrients

Nutrients of real portions of foods

1.5 x more magnesium than broccoli


18mg for ½ cup broccoli

1.1 times more fibre than All Bran


12g for ½ cup

2.5 times more protein than kidney beans


7g for ½ cup kidney beans

8 times more omega 3 than Salmon


2.58 g for 4oz salmon

3 times more iron than spinach


1.6 mg 1cup raw spinach

2 times more potassium than a banana.


454mg for 1 banana

7 times more vitamin C than an orange


70mg for 1 orange

6 times more calcium than milk


319 mg for 1 cup milk

As you can see, the nutrition claims aren’t as dramatic when compared this way!

It’s also important to remember that the omega 3 is in the alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) form and not the more beneficial DHA form that’s found in fish or algae.

The website further claims that Salba® is the only type of Salvia hispanica L. that has undergone intensive clinical examination. To my knowledge though, there has been only one study done on Salba® (see below) and only 20 people participated in it!

They also claim that: “In acute and long-term clinical studies conducted on individuals with Type 2 Diabetes, Salba® reduced after-meal blood glucose and plasma insulin levels, thereby improving insulin sensitivity, reduced blood pressure, and was effective in reducing risk factors of heart disease, such as body inflammation (C-reactive protein (CRP) and coagulation factors (aspirin-like effect)”. Let’s look at this study:

For some reason ($?), a Toronto doctor, Vladimir Vuksan, and his team at St. Michaels decided to uncover the magic behind this seed and have published their results in Diabetes Care last year. Their research is the only one done on Salba® and, interestingly, Dr. Vuksan holds the patent on Salba®. Wouldn’t you say there’s a bit of conflict of interest involved? I would!

Their study was meant to determine if people with Type 2 diabetes that took Salba® along with conventional treatments had improvements in the cardiovascular risk factors.

27 eligible subjects were enrolled in the study but only 20 people with Type 2 diabetes were included in the final analysis.

The participants were randomly given either 15g/1000 calories of Salba® or the same amount of wheat bran (which, supposedly, has little effect in glucose tolerance). They were also instructed on following a diet recommended by the Canadian Diabetes Association that focuses on low glycemic foods, a 55% carb, 15% protein and 30% fat diet and 25-35g fibre diet. They were also told to maintain their normal medication therapies (which varied between participants). They stayed on the ‘treatment’ for 12 weeks. Then there was a ‘washout phase’ of 6-8 weeks and then the participants switched treatments (the Salba® people now took wheat bran and vice versa).

Interestingly, despite the claim that Salba® reduced after-meal blood glucose and plasma insulin levels and therefore improved insulin sensitivity, fasting blood glucose, AIC and fasting insulin were not significantly different at the end of the treatment phase OR when compared to the control (wheat bran) group!

Blood lipids were also not different between the Salba® group and the control group. As for the claim that Salba® is effective in reducing risk factors of heart disease, such as body inflammation (C-reactive protein (CRP)); the control wheat bran phase compared with the end of the Salba® phase. However, omega 3- both DHA found in fish and ALA found in ground flaxseeds have been shown to decrease inflammation.

The claim that Salba® has an aspirin-like effect is a bit deceiving because although the Salba® group did experience thinning of the blood, so did the wheat bran group- so there was no significant differences between the 2 groups.

A couple of other problems with the study:

Very small study group and relatively short study period. Physical activity during the study was not quantified, which might bias the results.

So, all in all, there is very little research to back up the health claims behind Salba® and any result is marred by the fact that the main researcher owns the patent on Salba®!

Not worth the cost, in my opinion. But if you want to try it, click here to order a sample:

According to the website, Salba® does not have to be ground up to get the benefits. It should be stored in a dry cool place, like flaxseeds. Because of its thinning effect on the blood, talk to your doctor before trying it.

Sources: ; ; ;


Anonymous said...

interesting. I used this in my planting season last year. Only based on the label claims. Guess it's not as great as they say.

Naznin said...

So the bottom line is it is always better to eat natural foods and a healthy balanced diet than all these "replacement"foods.
Thank you sybil for the info.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, Nazin & anyone else,
Before you take Sybil's word or anyone else's for that matter as gospel, you might want to investigate a little more for yourselves. Personally, I have been looking into this grain for the last 18 months or so and even though I am a laymen, the information uncovered from various sources is impressive. But then again, why listen to me, there is plenty of documentation and more coming out every day. Happy researching....