Discover the Chia

This little seed packs a big nutritional punch!

You know chia pets, those terra-cotta pottery figures that sprout green “fur” in late-night TV commercials? Their secret is a paste made from the chia seed—and it turns out that this seed could be your secret too, nutritionally speaking.

The chia, a flowering plant in the mint family known botanically as Salvia hispanica, has a small oval seed about 1 millimeter in diameter and grayish brown in color. Its popularity is soaring, and for good reason.

Today’s foodies and health enthusiasts embrace the chia seed as a new trend, but it actually dates back to the civilization of the Aztecs. Sixteenth-century accounts tell us it was widely cultivated in Mexico and used as tribute to the gods. Today Australia leads the world in chia production, with Mexico, Bolivia, Argentina, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Guatemala also among commercial producers.

Don’t let its size fool you—this diminutive seed is packed with health benefits. A one ounce serving supplies 60 percent of your required daily fiber if you’re female, 40 percent if you’re male. The high-protein chia is also rich in magnesium. One big reason the seed is migrating from your local health-food store to the grocery store is its oil content—specifically omega-3 fatty acids. Consuming a serving of chia seeds can be a crunchy alternative to popping health-protective fish-oil pills, and the seeds are a good bet for both people with nut allergies and those who shun fish. Looking to protect those bones? Chia seeds contain more than twice the calcium of often-touted flax seeds, and more phosphorus too.

Many manufacturers sell chia seeds, and they can be a filling snack on their own, tasting a bit like poppy seeds. But they’re also a versatile ingredient to add to recipes, and when placed in a semi-liquid such as yogurt they tend to plump up, creating a pleasing bulk. Thanks to their high antioxidant levels, chia seeds can easily store in a cool, dry place for several years.

For active types, dissolving the seeds in water forms an energy gel that provides extra stamina. Try flavoring it with fresh citrus for a refreshing pre-workout drink. If you have extra gel left over, don’t toss it—the same mixture can be used as an egg substitute in just about any baked goods. And ground seeds make an excellent flour substitute; try them out on a chia-based batch of cookies.

For a break from the same old granola at breakfast, throw a handful of seeds into a bowl with some yogurt and a drizzle of honey. Blend a tablespoon or two into smoothies for an added boost of energy and texture.

By itself or in other foods, the trendy but unassuming chia seed is an efficient nutritional powerhouse.

Categories: Bergen Health & Life, Health & Beauty Features, Home & Style Features, Homepage Features