Food for thought- Chia!

Salvia hispanica, commonly known as chia, is a species of flowering plant in the mint family, Lamiaceae, native to central and southern Mexico and Guatemala. Chia seed is traditionally consumed in Mexico,  and the southwestern United States, but is not widely known in Europe. Today, chia is grown commercially in its native Mexico, and in Bolivia, Argentina, Ecuador, Australia and Guatemala. It is used in Mexico and Guatemala, with the seeds sometimes ground, while whole seeds are used for nutritious drinks and as a food source.

Chia is the Mayan word for strength. Chia seeds were an important energy source for Mayans, Incas and other ancient cultures, and remain a dietary staple in  many South and Central American countries.

Season:

Chia is an annual herb growing to 1 m (3.3 ft) tall. Its flowers are purple or white and are produced in numerous clusters in a spike at the end of each stem. It grows well in 20-55 degree fahrenheit weather. 

Nutritional Value:

One ounce of chia (about 2 tablespoons) contains 139 calories, 4 grams of protein, 9 grams fat, 12 grams carbohydrates and 11 grams of fiber, 2282 mg of Omega 3 and 752 mg of Omega 6 fatty acids. The seeds also have 18% of the recommended daily intake of calcium, 27% phosphorus and 30% manganese, similar in nutrient content to other edible seeds such as flax or sesame.

Unlike flax seed, chia seeds don’t have to be ground and they don’t go rancid the way flax does. They are the absolute best source of omega three fats on the market when you consider the ratio of omega three to omega six.

Health benefits:

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. However, there are not many published studies on the health benefits of consuming chia seeds and much of the available information is based on animal studies or human studies with a small number of research participants. A significant concentration of fiber combined with their ability to absorb 10 times their weight in water makes chia seeds excellent for maintaining bowel regularity. This fiber content is believed to help normalize blood glucose levels by slowing the conversion of carbohydrates into sugar. Due to its highly absorbent nature in the presence of water, it improves satiety levels, prevents overeating and promotes weight loss when combined with a healthy lifestyle.

How to eat Chia
Chia seeds can be eaten raw or prepared in a number of dishes. Sprinkle ground or whole chia seeds on cereal, rice, yogurt or vegetables. In Mexico, a dish called chia fresco is made by soaking chia seeds in fruit juice or water. Chia seeds are very absorbent and develop a gelatinous texture when soaked in water making it easy to mix them into cooked cereal or other dishes.

The seeds are not the only important part of the chia plant; the sprouts are also edible. Try adding them to salads, sandwiches and other dishes. Chia will keep you fuller longer and prevent you from overeating. You have that feeling of fullness in your stomach because when you wet chia seeds, they form a gelatinous substance that takes longer to digest. It packs a nutritional punch without adding a lot of food to your diet.”

To summarize, chia is an extremely nutrient-dense food with high antioxidant content. It is clearly the superfood of 2013 and will be the focus of a lot of nutrition research this year. This ingredient is a must-add to your diet!
Stay tuned for chia recipes..
– Aparna Ramadurai
4/24/2013