You know the cute little Chia Pets that seem to pop up every year around the holiday time? Spread the seeds, water, and watch them grow “hair” over a few short weeks. The hair is actually the sprouts of the chia seed. Yes, they’re edible, though I’m not sure I’d want to eat the ones grown on one of those clay figurines.
Chia seeds are one of the hot, new superfoods out there. Actually, they’re not so new, but thousands of years old. They date back to pre-Colombian times when the Aztec and Mayans are reported to have used them for both nutritional and medicinal purposes. Known as the “running food” for their ability to promote endurance, Spanish folklore has it that Aztec messengers could survive a whole day of running on just a handful of seeds.
Chia seeds have a pretty impressive nutritional profile:
- Omega 3: chia is a vegan source of Omega 3s in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). 1 tbs. of chia has 2,282 mg of Omega 3 fatty acids.
- Fiber: contains both soluble (cholesterol lowering) and insoluble (sweeps through the digestive system) fiber with 5 grams of fiber per 1 tbs.
- Minerals: Chia is a good source of Magnesium (promotes muscle relaxation), Potassium (reduces blood pressure and bloating), Calcium (promotes bone health), Iron (carries oxygen to muscles), and Folate (cardiovascular health and important for women of child-bearing age)
- Antioxidants: Both white and dark chia seeds score high in the ORAC scale (measures amount of antioxidants), including quercetin, which has been shown to aid in athletic performance and recovery. These high levels of antioxidants help prevent the chia seed from going rancid, allowing it to be shelf stable for up to 1 year when stored in an air-tight container.
- Gluten free: great for people with Celiac disease or Gluten sensitivity
- 15 grams of chia seed (approx. 1 tbs.) has 60 calories, 5 grams fat, 6 grams fiber, 3 grams protein, and 107 mg Calcium
Although there are a limited number of studies that have been conducted using chia seeds, some of those have had promising results.
- Blood sugar control – studies have shown that consumption of approximately 2 tbs. of chia seeds helps to reduce the rise in blood sugar that occurs after a meal and also helps to promote a feeling of fullness for a longer period of time.
- Blood pressure – studies show that participants who ate chia seeds, as compared to those who didn’t, exhibited lowered blood pressure, which can help to reduce risk of heart attack and stroke.
- Anti-inflammatory – Chia ranks highly in its antioxidant score, more than blueberries which are known to be one of the most powerful foods in terms of antioxidants. These antioxidants act to help combat the inflammation in the body that contributes to elevated cholesterol, high blood sugar, high blood pressure, and arthritis.
- Weight loss – because chia seeds help to promote satiety, you’ll likely eat less in the meals following, meaning you’ll likely take in fewer calories during the day, which can lead to weight loss.
- Boosts athletic performance – Chia seeds are a great source of energy, as they contain carbs, protein, and healthy fats. Take it from the Aztecs who could run for an entire day after eating just a spoonful of chia seeds, these little beauties can power up your workout and help you recover as part of a post-exercise meal.
How to use Chia
Ok, now that you’re interested in trying chia, you’re not quite sure how to use it. The most basic way to incorporate chia into your diet is to toss it into oatmeal and yogurt or mix it into your pancake, waffle, and muffin batter. One tablespoon adds 60 calories of a pleasant crunch. The other two popular ways of using chia are to make the long-used beverage known as “chia fresca” or to make a chia gel, which helps with blood sugar control and promotes satiety.
Chia gel: Place 2 tbs. chia seeds into a mason jar and add 8 oz of water. Place the lid on the jar and shake well. Place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to allow the gel to form. The gel can stay in the fridge for 2 weeks. Add the gel to your oatmeal or try adding 2 spoonfuls to mashed fruit as a “jam” to go on toast.
Chia Fresca: Place 1 tbs. chia seed in a mason jar and add 10 oz. of filtered water. Cover, shake, and allow to sit for 15 minutes. Then add the juice of 1-2 lemons or limes. I also like to add the juice of 1 orange. Cover and shake again before drinking. It’s very refreshing and will help to give you a boost in energy.