Monday, July 16, 2012

The New Superfood: Chia Seeds

This superfood is a great source of fiber, protein and heart-healthy omega 3s.

chia seeds in green bowl
Chia seeds are believed to have been staple of the ancient Aztec diet
Photos by Bob Summerford.

If the word “chia” conjures thoughts of animal-shaped terracotta figurines that seem to sprout fur when watered, you’re on the right track. The chia seeds that have become popularized by the Chia Pet have a hidden secret: They are a superfood!

What you might not know about the chia seed is that it has long nourished people dating back to the days of the Aztecs. The origin of the chia seed, derived from the Salvia hispanica plant of the mint family, is believed to be in Central America where it was a staple of the ancient Aztec diet. Chia seeds were thought to sustain Aztec messengers on long runs and therefore dubbed “running food.” Only in recent years have chia seeds been rediscovered for their health-promoting properties.

At only 40 calories per tablespoon, these mildly nutty-flavored seeds pack a lot of nutrition in such a small package. They are an excellent source of fiber, high-quality protein and free radical-fighting antioxidants, and they also are loaded with heart-healthy omega 3s. In addition, there is good scientific evidence linking chia seeds to a reduction in risk factors for heart disease.

So Get Your Chia On!

  • Sprinkle them on: oatmeal, yogurts and salads. Their pleasantly mild, nutty flavor works well to complement these foods.
  • Stir them in: soups and stews. Chia seeds absorb liquid well, making them a good choice to thicken up soups and stews.
  • Toss them in: muffins, cookies and cake breads. Use them in place of poppy seeds, too, when baking.
  • Mix them with: your favorite beverage! Try stirring 1 tablespoon of chia seeds into 4 ounces of chilled lemonade. Let it thicken for 10 minutes, then garnish with a mint leaf and enjoy!

— Bob Summerford, dietetic intern, and Debra A. Boutin, MS, RD, chair and dietetic internship director, Department of Nutrition and Exercise Science at Bastyr University.

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