You may remember receiving a Chia Pet in the 1980s – a ceramic head that grew green hair after being watered. Those green hairs were actually sprouts from chia seeds that had been planted within the ceramic head.
Although Chia Pets have lost their popularity as gifts over the years, chia seeds have been gaining in popularity in North America as a food source due to their low calorie content and relatively high nutritional offering.
The chia plant is native to Mexico and Guatemala, where according to historical records dating back thousands of years, chia seeds acted as a food staple along with beans and corn. Currently, chia seeds and flaxseed are considered equally nutritious. However, since flaxseed needs to be ground or milled for the body to use it and chia seeds can be absorbed whole, chia seems a more convenient addition to your diet.
The mild, nutty flavour of chia seeds makes them easy to add to foods and beverages, whether eaten raw, soaked in juice, or added to porridges and puddings.
They can be sprinkled on cereal, sauces, vegetables, rice dishes, or yogurt or mixed into drinks and baked goods.
Because they absorb both water and fat, chia seeds can thicken sauces or smoothies and can even be used as an egg substitute in recipes.
Mixed with water, they become gel; stirred into fruit puree they become an overnight jam.
Each time you add chia seeds to a food, you add nutritional value with very few calories.
One ounce of chia seeds (around two tablespoons), only 139 calories, delivers these vital nutrients: four grams of protein, nine grams of fatty acids, including Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, 12 grams carbohydrates and 11 grams of fibre, plus vitamins and minerals, but no cholesterol or gluten.
Because chia seeds contain good amounts of the eight essential amino acids, they are considered a complete protein.
Around 14% protein by weight, chia delivers a very high protein ratio compared to most plants.
Of the nine grams of fatty acids found in an ounce of chia seeds, 5.1 grams are Omega-3 fatty acids.
The Omega-3 in one ounce of chia seeds equals that in 15 ounces of salmon.
You would need to eat 1,000 ounces of salmon to get the same amount of Omega-6 as in one ounce of chia seeds.
Gram for gram, chia seeds do contain a high ratio of Omega fatty acids, but they are in the form of ALA (Alpha Linolenic Acid), which your body must convert into a more active form before it can be used. Fish sources can be used immediately. However, milling chia seeds is recommended to allow your body to more readily process ALA.
If you count carbohydrates, you may be concerned that one ounce of chia seeds has 12 grams of carbohydrate.
However, 11 of these grams are comprised of fibre, which will not be digested or absorbed by your body, so it will not raise your blood sugar or require insulin to break it down.
For this reason, one ounce of chia seeds only contains one ‘true’ gram of carbohydrate, which makes it appropriate for a low-carb diet and beneficial for people with Type 2 diabetes.
Since chia seeds are 40% fibre by weight, they can absorb up to 10-12 times their weight in water. Just one ounce of chia seeds provides 42% of the recommended daily value of fibre, helping prevent constipation, diverticulitis, elevated blood sugar, and high cholesterol.
One ounce of chia seeds also delivers highly concentrated amounts of vitamins and minerals.
To get the same amount of calcium, you’d need to drink six ounces of milk. To get an equal amount of iron, you’d need to each two ounces of spinach. For magnesium, you’d need 14 ounces of broccoli.
For potassium, you’d need 1.5 ounces of bananas.
For Vitamin C, you’d need to eat seven whole oranges! Chia also contains zinc, niacin, folate and Vitamin A. Chia seeds are high in antioxidants, too, which fight free radicals and avoid molecular cell damage that can lead to cancer, coronary disease and Alzheimer’s.
If you have celiac disease or are gluten intolerant, chia seeds can be used as a grain substitute.
Cholesterol- and gluten-free, ground chia seeds can be used alone, or mixed with other gluten-free flours as a wheat-flour substitute.
Even with all these potential health benefits, consult your doctor before adding chia to your diet if you take blood thinners, blood pressure or diabetes medications, or if you are scheduled for surgery.
If you want to try them out, go to a health food store and choose either a consistent sized black or white seed.
Avoid low-quality smaller black seeds, and red seeds which were harvested too early.
Re-gift the chia seed – start a trend to your better health.