When you think of chia seeds, you most likely think of the tiny seeds that were the joke of a generation as we slathered them on clay sculptures and gleefully watched the sprouting of 'green hair' on Homer Simpson and porcupines.
Chia seeds (salvia hispanica) are wild seeds with origins in Mexico and Guatemala dating back to pre-Columbian times and have a long history as human food. Domesticated by ancient Mexicans in 2600 BC, these tiny seeds were a staple food of both Native American and Mexican cultures.
Known to those cultures as 'the running food,' chia seeds and water were the main ingredients that fueled Aztec warriors in their conquests. Along with corn, beans and amaranth, chia seeds were a cornerstone in both the Mayan and Aztec diets. Tributes and taxes were paid to Aztec priests and nobility in chia seeds.
And what, you may be thinking, has this to do with you and changing your life? Last time you looked around, there weren't any Aztec nobles roaming the streets of your neighborhood, right? Well, they didn't know the science, but the ancient peoples who thrived on these tiny seeds were definitely on to something.
Extremely high in the essential fatty acid, omega-3, chia seeds are loaded with antioxidants (more than blueberries), vitamins, minerals (including more calcium than milk), fiber (more than most bran products) and protein. Christopher McDougall, author of Born to Run, the true story of the astoundingly fit and healthy Tarahumara barefoot runners in Mexico, (who take off on 50-100-mile running jaunts as if they were evening strolls) likened the nutritional value of chia to making a 'smoothie of wild salmon, spinach and human growth hormones.'
Eaten raw, chia seeds contain a rich concentration of essential fatty acids, with 30% of their fat coming from omega-3 and 10% from omega-6, considered the perfect balance for healthy human tissue.
But here's where it gets really cool. If you soak chia seeds in water for about 30 minutes, you will get a glass of almost solid gelatin. Science believes this is the result of the soluble fiber in the chia. These fibers, known as mucilages, may also form this gel-like texture in the stomach when you eat chia, creating a barrier between carbohydrates and the digestive enzymes that break them down, slowing the conversion of carbohydrates to sugar...so they can be a natural aid in controlling diabetes!
And chia can help you get skinny. Because they can help prevent the absorption of some of the food you eat (along with the calories), chia can be a great asset to any diet plan. And with their high fiber content and nutritional density, chia helps dieters feel fuller faster and remain sated for longer periods of time. No deprivation, no binges, no guilt.
It gets better. Chia seeds are considered to be hydrophilic, meaning they can absorb large amounts of water quickly. They can hold 10 times their weight in water making them a great enhancer in hydrating our bodies, a valuable tool for athletes or anyone looking to improve their day to day performance and endurance.
Finally, humble chia seeds can save your life. The University of Toronto has found that regular chia seed consumption can help reduce the risk of heart disease and lower blood pressure as a result of the balance of EFA's and the high concentration of fiber.
Oh...these same oils and fiber also help the body to discharge toxins...and they wax your car (kidding...just checking to see if you're paying attention).
Easy to digest and needing no grinding, chia seeds are pretty much the perfect food. You can simply sprinkle them on various dishes, like salads and whole grains; you can soak and sprout them to create smoothies, Chia Fresca (see recipe below) or morning porridges, like oatmeal; you can add them to baked goods like breads, muffins and biscuits. Small, like poppy seeds, chia are mildly nutty, but without a strong flavor, so they can be used in a variety of ways without altering the flavor of a dish.
With no cholesterol, simple sugar or gluten, high in the most prized nutrients we need, chia seeds could well be nature's perfect food. I personally have been using chia seeds in my diet for about three years. I was introduced to them by Wayne Coates, an ultra-marathoner from Arizona. Since then, I have seen incredible changes in my stamina and athletic performance, even day to day energy.
At 137 calories an ounce, I would have to say that I agree with Dr. Oz that, 'They just may be one of the healthiest things around.' In my view, they are some of the best calories I eat in a day. It doesn't get easier than chia. You can just sprinkle your way to better health.
Here are two of my favorite ways to use chia seeds.
The perfect before-the-gym endurance drink, I take this about 30 minutes before a workout.
1 cup spring or filtered water
1 tablespoon chia seeds
2 teaspoons fresh lemon or lime juice
2 teaspoons agave nectar or honey
Whisk the chia seeds into the water and allow them to soak for 10-15 minutes. Stir in lemon or lime juice and agave and whisk well. Drink immediately. Makes 1 serving.
Veggie Stir Fry with Chia
I love this as the main course to create an easy and nutritious dinner in a hurry.
2 teaspoons avocado oil
1 tablespoon fresh ginger root, finely minced
3 cloves fresh garlic, finely minced
1 jalapeno pepper, finely minced (keep the seeds and stems for more heat)
1 small red onion, thin half moon slices
1 carrot, fine matchstick pieces
1 red bell pepper, roasted, peeled, thinly sliced into ribbons
3 ounces fresh shiitake mushrooms, thinly sliced
4 ounces extra firm tofu, cubed
5-6 baby bok choy, split lengthwise, rinsed well
Brown rice vinegar
1 tablespoon chia seeds
3 cups cooked brown basmati rice
Place avocado oil in a wok or large skillet over medium heat. Sauté ginger and garlic with a pinch of salt for 30 seconds. Stir in jalapeno, onion and a pinch of salt and sauté until onion is translucent, about 2 minutes. Add carrot, a pinch of salt and sauté for 2 minutes. Stir in peppers and shiitake, a pinch of salt and sauté for 2 minutes. Stir in tofu and sauté for 2 minutes. Add baby bok choy; season to taste with shoyu, cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 2-3 minutes, until the bok choy just wilts. Do not overcook the veggies in this dish. Stir in chia seeds and spoon over brown rice to serve. Makes 3-4 servings.
Follow Christina Pirello on Twitter: www.twitter.com/christinacooks