Featured Food: Chia Seeds

Cha-Cha-Cha-Chia

Chia Cannister 1 - Copy

Do you remember the chia pets of the ‘80’s? The same seeds which grew into green chia pet “hair” are packed with nutrients, and more people are starting to take note. From helping with hydration and weight-loss, to providing essential fatty acids, chia seeds pack a huge punch in a tiny package.

Chia, or Salvia Hispanica, is part of the mint family, though chia seeds don’t taste minty. The plant can grow to over three feet tall and produces purple or white flowers, which contain chia seeds.  Sprouted chia seeds are also edible and nutrient dense.

Historic Appreciation of Chia

While many Americans are just learning about the nutritional benefits of chia seeds, Mayans and Aztecs consumed chia seeds centuries ago as a source of long-lasting energy – the word “chia” derives from the Mayan words for strength.  Among other uses, the Maya and Aztecs used chia seeds in religious ceremonies, and the Aztecs used chia seeds as a base for battle paint.  When the Spanish arrived, they banned chia because they associated it with what they viewed as Aztec pagan rituals.

Chia seeds were relatively unknown in the United States until recently. Ultrarunner Chris McDougall’s 2009 book Born to Run helped popularize the seeds, which McDougall describes as a powerful dietary staple of the Tarahumara Indians, a tribe indigenous to Northwestern Mexico possessing seemingly super-human running ability.  Other well-known athletes and health gurus who have touted the benefits of chia seeds include vegan ultrarunning champion Scott Jurek, NFL defensive end Thomas Keiser, and Dr. Oz.

Health Benefits of Chia Seeds

Chia seeds have more omega-3 fatty acids per ounce than salmon, and are also high in omega-6. Eating these essential fatty acids is necessary, as our bodies can’t produce them. An ounce of chia seeds also provides 18% of the recommended daily allowance of calcium, which is necessary for bone health and deficient in the diets of many Americans.  If that’s not enough to convince you to try them out, consider the fact that one ounce of chia seeds contains 11 grams of fiber, 3 grams of protein, and 30% of the recommended daily allowance of both manganese and  magnesium.

How to Eat Chia Seeds

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Looking to incorporate chia seeds into your diet? Here are five ways to try them.

  1. Add them to your smoothie to give it extra staying power. Because chia seeds are virtually flavorless, they work well in almost any smoothie.
  2. Sprinkle some on your salad or sandwich. Dry chia seeds add a slightly crunchy texture; don’t worry, they’ll still help keep you full as they expand after you eat them.
  3. Eat them in chia pudding.
  4. Add them to baked goods. Chia seeds are an excellent binding agent and make a great vegan egg substitute to help hold your baked goods together. Grind up one tablespoon of chia seeds with a mortar and pestle or in a food processor and mix with three tablespoons of water. Let the mixture sit for five to ten minutes and then use it in baking like a regular egg.
  5. Use them in your favorite overnight oats recipe.

At Thirst, you can add a chia seed boost to any smoothie or acai bowl, or purchase a packaged chia seed shot which you can add to any food later.  Stay tuned for new menu items containing chia seeds, as well as chia seed recipes for you to try at home, coming soon.

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