Chia Seeds: Good Things Come in Small Packages

Chia seeds

By Theresa Berenato

Prior to this year, your first thought at the word “chia” was probably the pet plant from the ‘80s, right? The one where “Ch-ch-ch-chia!” rang across a slew of seemingly never-ending commercials, and where you’d spread the seeds on a ceramic cat or dog, water it, and watch it grow. “Ch-ch-ch-chia!” was everywhere.

Chia pets eventually faded out, but today, chia again has become ubiquitous – this time as an ingredient topping health food charts. Whether or not you’ve consumed the black seeds, likely you’ve heard about them via the news or in health magazines. So what’s with their reemergence and all of the sudden buzz?

To find the answer, we’ll delve into the health benefits they hold as well as some of their fun culinary usages. It’s pretty clear the cool factor of these little seeds goes far beyond their initial value in creating fast-growing Christmas gifts.

The Origins of Edible Chia

Chia, technically known as Salvia hispanica, is a traditional food in central and southern America. Here, it’s been a staple long before any sort of household chia pet, dating back to early Mayan and Aztec civilization. Originally, it was the chia seed oil that was used for cooking because of its widely-believed health benefits. Chia seeds produce little pretty white or purple flowers that can grow up to 1-1.5meters tall. The plant it produces is technically an herb.

It’s the seeds, however, that are all the rage at the supermarkets. You can generally find them anywhere that has a bulk aisle, near the other nuts and seeds. Although, there’s always the option to grow your own! Hubpages gives you step-by-step instructions on how to do so.

What makes chia seeds super-stars?

Chia seeds come in two varieties – white and black – and range in size from 1 to 2 mm. Both are equally nutrient-packed, and are praised for their high level of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s are an essential nutrient for human health that the body can’t make on its own – meaning, we must consume this nutrient through food in order to survive. When optimal levels are consumed, omega-3s help lower blood pressure, protect against autoimmune disease/cancer, and lower the risk of other heart-related diseases. These polyunsaturated fatty acids are the building blocks of our hormones and support our nervous system.

A whopping 20% of a chia seed is made up of omega-3s, making them a “superfood” for the brain and heart. As a result, studies show that adding them to your diet can aid in decreasing LDL, or “bad”, cholesterol levels and increasing HDL, or “good”, cholesterol. Another 20% of each seed is made up of protein. Bonus: they contain all eight essential amino acids, making this 20% act as a complete protein. They hold five times the amount of calcium as milk, seven times more vitamin C than oranges, three times as much iron as iron-boasting spinach and twice the potassium of bananas. It goes without saying, these little guys certainly pack a lot in.

Chia seeds also have a high fiber content. Fiber slows the rate that sugar is absorbed in the blood stream, which keeps your blood glucose levels from rising to quickly and creating sugar crashes. Aside from the health benefits chia’s fiber brings to the table, it also enables the seeds to create a gel-like substance when mixed with water. This gel can be generated within all sorts of foods, like oatmeal or smoothies, to add a unique texture that doesn’t compromise flavor. Gel yeah!

Speaking of food, I’m ready to eat…how should I use these little seeds?

Part of chia seeds’ quickly growing popularity stems from the fact that these health food stars can be used in virtually anything. They are mild in flavor, meaning they’ll add lots of nutrition without being overbearing or intrusive.

The US Dietary Guidelines recommends staying within 48 grams per day. Think of them like sesame seeds and throw them on top of:

–       Salads
–       Soups
–       Cereals
–       Yogurt
–       Baked goods (such as bread products)
–       Smoothies
–       Beverages (such as fruit juices)
–       Wherever your culinary imagination takes you!

If you’re curious about their gel properties, The Kitchn brings us a handful of recipes where you can test this out.

This is a no-brainer…

If you can’t already tell, the chia seed is a pretty resourceful food. Chia seeds have left their mark by benefiting our health in the past, and will continue to do so for the future. Start by adding chia seeds in your yogurt in the morning, your soups at lunch, and in your salad by dinner. These simple small steps can add a boost to your diet without you even realizing it.

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