It’s a little seed with a lot of staying power. The chia seed was once an important food source for Native Americans in the West and Central America. It was actually prized by Aztec warriors who ate the seeds for energy to sustain them during long periods of battle.
Most of us don’t have to worry today about doing battle. But chia’s staying power can help you, me and everyone. Laurie Steelsmith, ND, who practices in Honolulu, explains why chia seeds are a great addition to everyone’s diet…
It’s hard for other seeds to even compete with chia. They are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, fiber and antioxidants. In fact, by weight, they contain almost twice as much omega-3 fatty acids and dietary fiber as flaxseeds!
About three tablespoons of these nutty-tasting whole seeds provide almost five grams of alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid known to reduce inflammation…and just over 10 grams of fiber, including six grams of insoluble fiber (the kind that helps the body remove excess cholesterol and promotes regularity) and four grams of soluble fiber (which regulates blood sugar and insulin levels). Because they are so high in fiber, they often are used by people who are detoxifying to help maintain regularity and assist in escorting toxins out of the body. Some studies have suggested that there is a direct relationship between chia seeds and weight loss, although this has not been substantiated. Consuming chia seeds can, however, make you feel full, which can help with weight loss because you’ll eat less. They also contain surprising amounts of other nutrients, such as calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, copper, iron, zinc and essential amino acids, which your body doesn’t make on its own and are important to protein production in the body.
You can purchase black or white chia seeds at most health-food stores, some grocery stores and online. There is no appreciable taste or nutritional difference between the different colored seeds. Oil pressed from chia seeds is sold in liquid and capsule form, but you get more nutritional benefit when you consume the seed itself.
How to use: Because they’re tiny (think poppy seeds), chia seeds don’t make for an easy-to-grab snack. But the seeds’ mild flavor blends well with all types of foods. Chia seeds can be purchased either whole or ground. Whole chia seeds can be sprinkled on cereal, oatmeal, salads, pasta dishes and stir-fries where you might want a little crunch.
Chia seeds also can be purchased ground. Some people like to buy them whole and grind them in a spice grinder since they are freshest when newly ground. Ground chia seeds are smoother than whole seeds and can be added almost invisibly to smoothies, yogurt, applesauce, pancake or muffin batter. They also can be used as a thickener when cooking—for example, you can add one tablespoon of ground seeds to four cups of liquid to make a thicker soup.
Storing chia seeds: Whole chia seeds should be stored in a cool, dry place in a glass container with a tight-fitting lid or in a resealable plastic bag with the excess air squeezed out. The omega-three fatty acids within the seed are protected by the seed itself.
Storing ground chia seeds is different. Ground seeds must be stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container. Ground seeds that are exposed to light and/or air can easily become rancid—which is why it’s so important to store them in the refrigerator. Check the package label to determine how long to keep ground or whole chia seeds. Some manufacturers say that if stored properly, ground and whole chia seeds will keep for two years.
Source: Laurie Steelsmith, ND, is the author of Natural Choices for Women’s Health (Three Rivers). She practices naturopathic and Traditional Chinese Medicine in Honolulu. www.NaturalChoicesforWomen.com.