Nutrition: Chia Seeds

I generally try to stay away from, or at least be careful with, the various diet “fads”. Caveman this, veggie that, eat only foods that don’t cast a shadow. I don’t take supplements other than occasionally adding protein powder to shakes, but there is one item I’ve fallen in love with that seems to really be helping me feel better: Chia Seeds.

I first read about Chia Seeds in the wonderful book “Born to Run”. If you’re thinking the word “Chia” sounds an awful lot like a 1980s fad product, you’re right. These are the same things that drove the Chia Pets craze. Turns out, they’re actually amazingly good for you.

Yeah, ok, whatever, right?  Magic dust? It must make you grow toe hair or something right?

Oddly, no. It is actually a nutrition source that native peoples in the Central Americas have used for centuries, including the Tarahumara People of the Copper Canyons region of Mexico. But I’ll let the numbers speak for themselves. In one tablespoon of Chia seeds you get:

3g protein
6g fiber
8% daily vit. A & Calcium
4% Iron
2.9g Omega-3
5g fat
All for 70 calories.

That by itself is pretty cool, but the seeds do other things the numbers don’t speak to. For example, when wet they create a gel that traps moisture. This is the primary thing that turns people off of Chia: the sliminess. The solution, of course, is to eat them in foods where that texture works. I choose either in my yogurt or in my smoothies. Other people make puddings. You can also bake them into breads and muffins.

The gel they create releases water more slowly into your system, helping hydrate you. It also slows absorption of the nutrients and calories from the Chia over a slightly longer period of time, helping keep you satisfied and keeping your sugar levels even and steady.

Downsides to Chia? A small percentage of the population is allergic, with a potion of those being HIGHLY allergic (similar to a peanut allergy). It is recommended, as with all things, to try it in a safe environment first before trying it out on a run. Otherwise, they are basically awesome. They have a mild, nutty flavor and if you get past the slightly slimy texture, they make an amazing addition to almost any meal. I’ve had them on salads, in veggie chili, in my yogurt and in smoothies.

The best part is that they are becoming more well known in the US as a healthy supplement and the Trader Joe’s chain now carries an organically, sustainably grown version. And if you’re hip and with it, you can even grow your own.

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