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Chia Seeds

Chia Seeds on plants

Chia seeds make a comback, but this time as a food ingredient! Chia is commonly known as the quirky sprout of Chia Pet fame, but Chia (specifically the seed) is reclaiming its centuries-old status as a healthful food. Native to Central and South America and the south-western U.S., this edible seed comes from the desert plant, salvia hispanica, a member of the mint family. It's rich history dates back 3,000 years when it became known as the "running food" by the Aztecs and Mayans, who hailed its many uses as food, medicine and religious offering. Chia belongs to the salvia family, with the name coming from the Latin 'salare' which means to save, referring to its curative properties.

Salmon, acai berries, spinach and blueberries all fall are all commonly known "super foods" but soon chia seed may top the list. Super foods are foods that are loaded with phytonutrients, including antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids and essential vitamins and minerals. Also, any super food worth its weight should be a good source of protein, healthy fats or fiber.

Chia Nutrition

Chia Pet The chia seed makes up for its diminutive stature with sizeable nutrition. No bigger than a poppy seed, chia supplies a large amount of omega-3s and protein, compared with other grains. When you feed chickens and cattle chia, their meat is higher in omega-3s (as are the chicken eggs). The chia seed is also very high in antioxidants and delivers a hefty portion of important minerals like calcium, phosphorus and manganese.

Including Chia in your diet can be a healthy habit. Chia is 16 percent protein, 31 percent fat and 44 percent carbohydrate. The latter is 38 percent fiber (both soluble and insoluble), and most of the fat content is the heart healthy essential omega 3 fatty acid. And as a complete vegetable protein with nine essential amino acids, you've got enough protein for a health boosting, low cholesterol snack or meal.

Fiber. Two tablespoons of chia packs over 42.5 percent of your daily recommended fiber intake and three to four times what you'll find in a competing dietary supplement. Considering that most Americans get less that half of their recommended fiber each day, chia's a fast and convenient way to boost your fiber intake and minimize digestive problems.

With enough protein, healthy fats and fiber content, chia is a convenient way to supplement the average diet. In fact, it's packed with enough nutrients to have extensive and far reaching health benefits for those from all walks of life and degrees of health. Benefits include:

  • more energy
  • better digestion
  • reduced food cravings
  • increased lean muscle mass
  • better sleep
  • healthier skin

Chia and Diabetes

A study published in an issue of Diabetes Care found that chia supplementation compared with wheat bran supplementation for 12 weeks resulted in the reduction of cardiovascular risk factors in people with type 2 diabetes.

Chia seed creates a physical barrier between carbohydrates and the digestive enzymes that break them down, thus slowing the conversion of carbohydrates into sugar. The human body is able to digest chia seed easily. As the seeds are able to absorb more than 7 times their weight in water, and form a thick gel, the result is a slow release of carbohydrates facilitating an equally slow conversion of carbohydrates into glucose (blood sugar) for energy.

Nutrient Content of Chia Seeds

Chia Seeds

Per 1 tablespoon dried seeds, 10 grams:

  • Calories: 49
  • Protein: 1 gram
  • Carbohydrates: 4 grams
  • Fat: 3 grams
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: 1755 milligrams
  • Dietary fiber: 4 grams
  • Calcium: 63 milligrams
  • Phosphorus: 95 milligrams
  • Manganese: 0.2 milligrams

A Byte of Chia History

An ancient recipe. Pinole, a type of gruel, was one of many dishes the Aztecs made with chia. To prepare it, the seeds were roasted, milled into flour, and then combined with corn flour and water. This porridge was eaten as-is, or shaped into cakes and cooked over an open fire.

Recipe: Berry and Chia Seed Yogurt

Satisfying, nutritious, and delicious, this tasty yogurt will ward off your hunger for hours!

8 ounces Greek yogurt
1/4 cup fresh blueberries
1/2 cup sliced fresh strawberries
2 teaspoons chia seeds
1 tablespoon chopped walnuts

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and enjoy! Makes 1 serving.

Chia Super Smoothie

Green smoothies are a great way to get a bold dose of veggies, fiber, and nutrients in a healthy, convenient, low-calorie way. Here, a tablespoon of chia seed creates an even more super-charged drink. This treat is best made in a high-powered blender. A Blendtec or Vitamix brand power blender is ideal.

1 tablespoon chia seeds
1-1/2 cups pear juice, coconut water, water, or a mixture
3 romaine lettuce or kale leaves
1 small cucumber, peeled
Parsley sprigs

Add all ingredients to a blender and liquefy using the most powerful setting. Blend until smooth. Drink immediately. Makes 1 serving.

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