Eat Smart

Ch, Ch, Ch, Chia

by Debra Mimaroglu, NEPA

chia pet

(Courtesy of inventors.about.com)

What is chia?

It’s not just for growing green “hair” on terra cotta planters anymore.

Chia, or Salvia hispanica L., is a member of the mint family and is native to southern Mexico. According to ancient folklore, Aztec warriors were able to survive on water and a small amount of chia seeds for up to 24 hours at at time.   In his book, Born To Run, Christopher McDougall writes of the Tarahumara, a lost tribe with the superhuman ability to run 50 to 100 miles at a time while consuming only water, pinole and chia seeds.  Chia, which is high in soluble fiber, has the ability to absorb anywhere from 9 to 12 times its volume in water.  Thus, it may be its hydrophilic property that helps to maintain hydration during these long runs the Tarahumara are known for.

So now you’re saying to yourself, “That’s great, but I have no intention of running for hours on end. So what benefits are there for us mere mortals?”

Well, the benefits are plenty. According to the nutritional profile on a 1 pound package of Bob’s Red Mill Chia Seeds, 1 tablespoon (13 g) contains 60 calories, 5 g of fiber, 3 g of protein and 2282 mg of Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acid (alpha-linolenic).  Omega-3, has been reported to have anti-inflammatory properties and may reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke and other chronic health conditions.  Many people are familiar with flax seeds which happen to be another plant source high in this same acid.  But unlike flax seeds, chia seeds do not need to be ground in order for the body to digest them.  If they are ground though they do not deteriorate at a rapid rate like ground flax seeds do.  The seeds need no refrigerated and have a long shelf life.

Chia seeds, which once were only found in local health food stores or online,  can now found in the health food section of some major grocery stores.  People have mentioned they seem to have a mild nu- like taste, though I’ve never noticed that they had a taste.  They can be added to many things such as yogurt or oatmeal.  Toss them in the mix when you’re making baked goods.  Now that the weather is getting warmer you may even want to try a refreshing chia fresca.  Or if you’re looking for crunchy snack to take the place of your favorite chip you may want to try Mary’s Gone Crackers, Stixs and Twigs or Shiloh Farms, Sprouted Whole Wheat Pretzels with Chia, both of which contain chia seeds.

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