If you have not yet heard of the chia seed, food of Aztec warriors, fear not: their age of popularity is just beginning. After all, when Dr. Oz says something is good, you know it has to be true, and when speaking about chia seeds, daytime television’s favorite medical practitioner stated, “They just may be one of the healthiest things around.” Rich in omega-3s and fiber, chia seeds are easy to incorporate into any diet and have become the trend to follow in the Berkshires and beyond.
Before you ask: Yes, in consuming chia seeds, you are in fact eating the very same seeds one could spread over a clay pot to give Hello Kitty a green, leafy afro. But the history and benefits of chia go far beyond the gift aisle at a Walgreen’s or your grandmother’s windowsill. Native to southern Mexico and Guatemala, chia seeds were once considered as important a crop as maize to the ancient societies living in these areas. As of 2008, however, Australia is currently the world’s largest
producer of the health food.
Similar to sesame and flax seeds, chia contains significant portions of your daily recommended intake of phosphorus, manganese, calcium and protein. Most importantly, they are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which have been proven to reduce the risk of heart disease. Unlike flax, however, chia does not have to be ground before being consumed. The seeds are tiny and nearly tasteless and can thus be sprinkled on nearly any food for a slight boost in nutritional value.
Of course, there are also many recipes that revolve around chia seeds specifically. The seeds are extremely hydrophilic, meaning that they retain an incredible amount of moisture. Extended exposure to liquids can allow the seeds to absorb up to 12 times their own weight. For a quick and easy breakfast, try chia seed pudding – simply mix a cup of almond milk with two spoonfuls of chia seeds, a bit of sugar or sweetener and a dash of cinnamon. When left in the refrigerator overnight, the seeds swell to fill the cup, creating a thick, yogurt-like breakfast that is both filling and nutritious. The healthy fats within the seeds form a gelatinous coating when the seeds are exposed to liquid, so expect a far different texture from the dry, crunchy raw seeds.
In the last two years, chia has proven to be a standout in the already crowded health-foods market. New companies, such as Mamma Chia, which creates fruit juices infused with chia, are forming around the seed. But in addition, larger and more mainstream companies have taken notice, with corporations such as Dole deciding to incorporate the health food into their newer recipes. Thus, chia is not only found in the aisles of Whole Foods or Wild Oats, but can even be purchased at the local Stop n’ Shop.
Chia seeds are often touted as a tool for weight loss, based on the assumption that they make the consumer feel more “full” than other foods with an equal calorie count would. To a certain extent, there is logic behind this. The high amount of protein and fiber can certainly be attributed to an increased feeling of fullness in comparison to other foods with far more empty calories. It is also often asserted that the expansion of chia seeds when exposed to liquid makes them expand in the stomach, making anyone who consumes them feel especially full. A study done by Dr. David Niemann at Appalachian State, however, ultimately found no change in appetite or weight loss in individuals who introduced the seed into their diet without changing anything else in their diet or exercise habits.
I may have already mentioned chia seeds’ high fiber content, but this is a topic that requires further discussion. That’s right, College students, chia seeds increase your regularity, which is really just a nice way of saying they make you poop. Much like Jamie Lee Curtis in the (now-banned) Activia commercials, I can personally attest to just how much better it feels to lead a “regular” life.
So where exactly do we go from here? I say it is time to get chia into the dining halls. All the ingredients to make great chia-based dishes, such as Greek yogurt, almond milk, cereal and peanut butter are already at our disposal. Nor would this be the first time we let a potential fad influence our dining choices – just look at the sad, small, dry packs of gluten-free bread on display in Whitman’s. So like the great Aztecs before us, I say it is time: Time to join #teamchia.