Imagine a plant food that is naturally rich in protein, an excellent source of dietary fiber and, according to Dr. Andrew Weil, has more omega-3 fatty acids than flax seeds. Just a small amount of this food provides energy for long periods of physical exertion (think marathon running). What is this magical food? Chia seeds, of course.
Chia in History
While it may be strange to think of these little seeds (which are about the size of sesame seeds) as a serious source of nutrition and even the foundation of a meal, they were an agriculturally important crop to the ancient Aztecs, even as important as corn, beans, and amaranth, according to the USDA Agricultural Research Service. The state of Chiapas in Mexico is even named after the seed.
Chia seeds, or Salvia hispanica as they are scientifically known, were a highly valued food source in their endemic region of Mesoamerica for thousands of years. Chia was all but forgotten until it made a brief appearance in American pop culture the 1980s as the least responsive companion pet ever.
Chia is now making a huge comeback in a way the Chia Pet could have never dreamed of. In an interview recently published on Forbes.com, Health Warrior co-founder Dan Gluck was quoted as saying, “I couldn’t be more certain that in two years, chia is going to be everywhere.” Gluck and his business partner Nick Morris were inspired to invest in their line of chia products after reading Born to Run, the NY Times best seller by Christopher McDougall about the endurance running of the Mexican Tarahumara tribe. One of the Tarahumara's secrets to running up to 100 miles? Chia.
According to Dr. Melina Jampolis, a CNNHealth expert, chia seeds “are an excellent source of fiber and antioxidants, a good source of calcium, a good source of plant based protein and an excellent source of the plant derived omega 3 fatty acid.”
But remember that chia seeds, like protein bars or any other health supplement, work best as part of a well-rounded diet. As Dr. Jampolis recommends, “as with any 'superfood', they work as part of an overall balanced diet that includes a variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, healthy fats . . . not as a replacement for or supplement to a poor diet.”
Chia seeds can be eaten whole or ground into a flour. They are often soaked in water or juice and drunk as a refreshing beverage. A new combination of kombucha with chia seeds is now available commercially, combining the best of two nutrient-dense worlds. When the seeds are soaked, they absorb seven to ten times their weight in liquid and acquire a jelly-like covering around each seed which makes for an interesting drinking experience, somewhat similar to small boba balls. Ground, the chia flour can be added to other foods as a nutritional supplement. They have no flavor of their own and so lend themselves to most dishes. If you really want to have fun in your kitchen, chia seeds can also be sprouted and eaten as micro-greens.