Who can forget all those windowsills in the 80’s beautifully adorned with various clay formations covered in some sort of green substance? From cats, to Tweety Bird, to Mr. T, they all had one thing in common: a green, afro-like growth. These quirky, if somewhat immobile, “pets” were all the craze until they quickly fell by the wayside when kids across America realized that clay pets were not all that exciting. But I think we can all agree this strange phase in American pop-culture left us reeling with one pressing question. What in the heck is chia?
It turns out that chia is more than just green hair for clay figurines. Chia is actually somewhat of a super food. While most people probably know chia as the green growth on Chia Pets, the chia seed is actually the star when it comes to health. Chia seeds seem to be the new darlings of the health world, and with good reason. They blow even flax seeds out of the water when it comes to their omega-3 fatty acid content.
Chia seeds come from the flowering plant, Salvia Hispanica, part of the mint family. It is a desert plant that is native to Central and Southern Mexico and Guatemala. In fact, the Aztecs and Mayans incorporated chia seeds as a main component of their diets and even used them medicinally. So even though it may seem like chia seeds are a new-found health craze, doomed to suffer the fate of their well-known pet counterpart, they have actually been around for centuries as staples in a healthy diet.
Chia seeds are packed with health benefits. According to Wikipedia, a 1-ounze serving (think shot glass) of chia seeds contains 9% of your recommended daily protein (4 grams) and a whopping 42% of your daily fiber (11 grams), based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Additionally, chia seeds are loaded with Omega-3 fatty acids, which are proven to help lower risk of heart disease, heart attack, high blood pressure, and high triglyceride levels. They even have more Omega-3s than the highly touted flax seeds, and unlike flax seeds, they don’t have to be ground to get the most nutritional value. Another potential health benefit, according to Dr. Andrew Weil, M.D., is that the chia seeds may actually slow the body’s process of turning carbs into sugar. When chia seeds are soaked in water, they form a gel-like substance. Some doctors and experts believe this same reaction happens in the stomach, leading to the aforementioned slowing, which would help regulate blood sugar levels.
Finding Your Inner Chi-a
Chia seeds can be eaten in a variety of ways to gain the health benefits. They have a nutlike flavor that would be a good addition to many meals. You can sprinkle them on breakfast cereal, salad, yogurt, or even mac n’ cheese. Try this healthy snack: whole wheat tortilla with almond butter, banana, and a sprinkle of chia seeds. It’s delicious and healthy!
As mentioned previously, chia seeds form a gel-like substance when soaked in water. If you add them to water and add lime with a bit of sugar (or agave nectar for a healthy alternative), you would be drinking what the Mexicans and Central Americans call Chia Fresca.
Finally, you can ground them and add them to whole-wheat flour when making muffins, pancakes, or bread. Or add the ground seeds to your smoothies.
If you visit this site frequently, you know that I usually do not promote the food fad of the moment. I usually devote my time and energy to revealing those food fads as food farces. However, in the case of the chia seed, I do believe that it has some great health advantages and can be easily incorporated into a healthy diet on a level that can be sustained. So if your kitchen windowsill is still rockin’ your Chia Pet pig, you might want to reassess your decorative style choices; however, if your kitchen pantry includes a bag of chia seeds, I think that’s a smart, healthy choice.