Chia Chat

Their not exactly the ch-ch-ch-chia seeds that used to grow the plush green hair on our clay-potted Chia pets. But, they're a close cousin. The chia seeds we buy today are from the Salvia hispanica plant, grown primarily in Mexico and Guatemala.  Ancient Aztec's are said to have survived long trips across the desert with only a small amount of these chia seeds and a pouch of water. Miraculous?

Chia's big on the superfood list these days. And why not? With its good source of plant-based omega-3's (alpha-linolenic acid,) whole grains, protein, antioxidants, high in heart-healthy soluble fiber, and calcium, chia stacks up pretty well on the nutritional front. One ounce (2 tablespoons) of this ancient Mayan grain delivers 140 calories, 4 grams protein, 9 grams fat, and 12 grams carbohydrate, along with a whooping 11 grams of fiber. Chia has the unique ability to soak up nine times its weight in water, creating a gelatinous gel that makes it usable as a binder in gluten-free baking. Some athletes claim eating chia and drinking water create a gel that diminishes dehydration.

Plenty of claims have been made that chia can reduce heart disease, stroke, and promote weight loss. And, as one may imagine, these statements are plastered all over the many websites selling chia. But, are they true? 

Early research results from small, short-term studies show that when subjects were given 3 tablespoons of chia daily, blood pressure dropped and C-reactive protein, a marker for inflammation. Sounds like good potential for health benefits. Disappointingly, weight loss benefits of regular chia consumption have failed to pan out. While we wait for more results, eating chia seeds won't hurt, unless you overdo it. Too much fiber, even the easier-to digest soluble fiber that chia seeds have, can cause digestive disturbances. 

Our On the Way to Wellness groups had a change to do a little chia taste testing. I brought homemade chia seed muffins to sample, along with samples of the seeds themselves. The majority of the group thought the chia muffins were "fine" or "okay." A few rated them as good. (Just so you know, after 9 years of food units in 4-H and many college level food prep courses, I can bake pretty well. And, those are not the reviews I'm looking for in my baked goods!) Two of us, myself included, seemed to sense an "off" or bitter flavor that made chia quite unpleasant. Whether some of us are super-tasters or just have super-sensitive taste buds, not everyone in our groups were fans.

Chia vs. flaxseeds: Nutritionally, both are comparable as a rich source omega-3 fats and fiber. Since chia seeds are predominately soluble fiber, the whole seeds are easy to digest and don't need to be ground first. On the other hand, flaxseeds are rich in insoluble fiber that makes it difficult to digest which ground before use. Flaxseeds must be more Chia costs almost twice as much, usually about $10-$12 per pound. 

Try out some chia seeds and see what you think. Whether you choose to eat chia seeds, stick with ground flaxseed, or mix them up at will, both are good, healthy foods that can offer a variety of textures, taste, and nutrition that can do a body good.