Anyone remember Chia Pets from the 90s? Today those same chia seeds have exploded in popularity as a trendy food to add to your diet. Folks interested in healthy eating have added the seeds to cereals, breads, smoothies and more. But why are chia seeds so good for your health?
The use of chia can be traced to the pre-Columbian era. It was a main food source for the ancient Mayans and Aztecs. Chia means “strength” in the Mayan language, and it was known as “running food” because runners and warriors would use it for sustenance while traveling long distances and during battle.
Chia seeds are tiny black seeds from the Salvia hispanica plant and are related to mint. According to Dr. Andrew Weil, who is a world-renowned pioneer in the field of Integrative Medicine and director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, “Chia is undergoing something of a renaissance after centuries of neglect. I expect we will soon be hearing much more about chia and its benefits.”
Chia seeds are a whole grain loaded with fiber and protein. Just an ounce contains 11 grams of fiber and 5 grams of protein. A serving of these little power seeds also offers 17 percent of your daily calcium needs (as much calcium as a glass of milk), 12 percent of your daily iron, 23 percent of your daily magnesium and as many antioxidants as blueberries. Chia seeds also contain a good amount of zinc, vitamins B1, B2, B3 and potassium.
Chia seeds are an easy way to eat your recommended daily allowance of omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for brain health and inflammation. An ounce contains 5 grams of omega-3 (more than a serving of walnuts, which are famed for their omega-3 properties). And unlike flaxseeds, you don’t have to grind chia seeds.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is cautiously in favor of adding chia seeds to your diet. Its website says, “The emerging research suggests that including chia seeds as part of a healthy diet may help improve cardiovascular risk factors such as lowering cholesterol, triglycerides and blood pressure,” although the organization cautions that more studies are still needed to fully understand chai seed benefits.
Chia seeds are easy to digest and easy to use. There are many recipes with creative ways to use chia. You can sprinkle them on various dishes, you can soak and sprout them to create smoothies, and you can add them to baked goods like breads, muffins and cookies. The chia seeds are small (about the size of poppy seeds) and are mildly nutty. The flavor is subtle though, so they can be used in a variety of ways without altering the flavor of a dish. One word of caution: taking more than an ounce serving might cause some gastrointestinal distress, so don’t overdo!
Some great uses for chia seeds
- Add to a smoothie
- Sprinkle on top of yogurt
- Add to stir-fry
- Add to your salad
- Bake seeds in breads, cakes and cookies
- Use as a crispy coating for meat or fish
- Use as a replacement for flour in gravies and when thickening soups
- Add to dips
For more recipes, go to the website for The Dr. Oz Show.