EAT RIGHT

See how chia seeds can benefit eyes

Various types of chia seed pudding.
Various types of chia seed pudding. PHOTO: ST FILE
Ophthalmologist Daphne Han says she recommends omega-3 fatty acids to many patients. Chia seeds are rich in these fatty acids.
Ophthalmologist Daphne Han says she recommends omega-3 fatty acids to many patients. Chia seeds are rich in these fatty acids.

Fatty acids in seeds help maintain healthy ocular surface, improve dry eye conditions

If you have been resisting the recent hype over chia seeds, consider this: Chia seeds can help to keep your eyes healthy.

Chia seeds, which became a popular health food in the past few years, have been linked to weight loss and heart health.

But there is more. Its high omega-3 fatty acid content helps to maintain a healthy ocular surface, said Dr Daphne Han, medical director and consultant ophthalmologist at the SMG Vision Centre at Gleneagles Medical Centre.

These fatty acids can often "dramatically improve dry eye conditions" too, she added.

"I highly recommend omega-3 fatty acids to many patients, particularly those who have undergone Lasik and cataract surgery."

If you are unsure how to prepare chia seeds, fret not - it does not have to be complicated.

In this chia seed dessert recipe by Dr Han, you just have to mix the ingredients and leave the mixture in the fridge overnight. The mixture then has to be chilled for at least 12 hours for the chia seeds to swell up and soften.

Almond milk is used here, but it can be substituted with milk or, for the lactose-intolerant, partially sweetened soya milk.

These milk products contain vitamins A and D and calcium, which are also important for the eyes and nervous system.

"Our visual system comprises not just our eyes but also the visual pathways, such as the nerves that connect to the eyes within the brain," said Dr Han.

The idea for this dessert came from her cardiologist husband, who often recommends chia seeds to his heart patients.

"What is good for the heart is generally good for the eyes," said Dr Han. Poor circulatory health can adversely impact the retina, contributing to diseases like retinal blood vessel occlusions, she explained.

Ms Jaclyn Reutens, a clinical dietitian at Aptima Nutrition and Sports Consultants, added that chia seeds promote a healthy digestive tract.

"When the chia seeds become gelatinous, they help propel food along the intestinal tract, keeping your bowel movements regular."

However, she noted that chia seeds are "not a definite weight loss food", despite marketing claims.

Overall, this dish is a solid source of protein and carbohydrates. It has the same amount of protein as an egg, and the same amount of carbohydrates as a slice of bread, she said.

"It is very high in good fats and is an excellent source of dietary fibre, particularly insoluble fibre."

Ms Reutens noted that chia seeds have a blood-thinning effect, so people on blood-thinning medication should be aware of the possible interactions. Those with swallowing difficulties, such as dysphagia, may wish to avoid eating chia seeds.

To put your own spin on the dish, add green tea powder or substitute one-third of the milk with store-bought yuzu juice, said Dr Han. Fruit-lovers may want to swop a third of the milk with freshly blended strawberry or mango juice.

"This dessert is a breeze to make, even in large quantities," said Dr Han.

"Any leftovers can double up as breakfast - just swop the berries with a banana and add a slice of toast to provide you with enough 'oomph' for an entire morning."


FRUITY CHIA SEED DESSERT


Various types of Chia Seed pudding. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

INGREDIENTS

• 1/4 cup of chia seeds

• 11/2 cup of unsweetened almond milk

• 2 tbs of maple syrup (adjust to taste)

• 11/2 tsp of vanilla extract

• A few fresh pitted cherries or berries, for garnish (optional)

• A small handful of toasted nuts, such as almonds or crushed pistachios, for garnish (optional)

METHOD

• Combine the chia seeds, almond milk, maple syrup and vanilla extract in a container that can be sealed, such as a glass mason jar. Stir well and keep refrigerated overnight.

• Top the pudding with the berries or nuts before serving chilled.

SERVES 2-3

NUTRITIONAL INFORMATION

(Per serving, based on three servings)

Energy: 280kcal

Protein: 7.6g

Total fat: 21.7g

Saturated fat: 1.6g

Cholesterol: None

Carbohydrate: 13.6g

Dietary fibre: 6.2g

Sodium: 8mg

Nutritional information provided by Aptima Nutrition & Sports Consultants

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 22, 2016, with the headline 'See how chia seeds can benefit eyes'. Print Edition | Subscribe