Chia Seeds: A Pet Plant and an Ultra-Healthy Food

Chia is one of the most useful plants in the Northern Hemisphere. Chia is cultivated in Guatemala, southern and central Mexico, and the southern regions of the United States. Though most Americans associated ‘Chia’ with the fun potted plants called ‘Chia Pets’, in Mexico and South America chia is better known as an ultra-healthy food, especially the chia seed. And, in case you are wondering, the ‘Chia Pets’ really is the chia plant you can eat. Recently, chia seeds have caught-on with health conscious Americans. You often now can find bulk chia seeds at health food stores and organic grocery stores, especially on the East and West Coasts.

The nutritional benefits of Chia seeds is impressive. When eaten chia seeds provide the body with a large supply of antioxidants, protein, fiber, essential fatty acids and carbohydrates. Chia seeds contain more protein than rice or wheat. They provide three times as many antioxidants as fresh blueberries. Given chia seeds nutritional composition, eating chia is said to help keep muscles, organs and cells functioning properly. Chia seed contain 19 of the 20 amino acids, which is important if you are looking for a diet that has all the keys to protein.

Chia seeds, pound for pound, contain even more calcium than milk; more iron than spinach; and even more Omega 3 than fish. A handful of seeds is the nutritional equivalent of several bunches of vegetables. Ingesting two tablespoons of Chia seeds will give your body approximately 2 grams of protein, 205 milligrams of calcium, 7 grams of fiber and 5 grams of omega 3.

One reason for the upsurge in popularity of chia seeds is due to chia’s high omega-3 content (omega-3 is said to be great for your cardiovascular system). This high omega-3 content gives consumers an alternative to fish (one of the more popular dietary sources of omega-3) and flaxseeds. Many people now are beginning to understand that over-fishing is becoming a world wide problem, which is why the cost of eating fish has risen substantially and some types of fish, like blue fin tuna (once plentiful) is now difficult to find and become a delicacy.

Of all the plants, chia is one of the richest sources of essential fatty acids, more commonly called EFAs. For humans there are only two types of EFAs, omega-3 and omega-6. As humans we have to ingest EFAs because our bodies don’t make them on their own. These fatty acids build new cells; improve brain functioning; help keep hair and skin healthy; and omega-3 is considered an important dietary element in keeping the heart and circulatory system healthy.

Now, before you buy a truck full of chia seeds and try to eat the whole load in a couple of days, it is highly recommended you start slow with eating chia seeds. The high fiber content alone can be a bit hard on the digestive system. Especially if you are not use to having a lot of fiber in your diet. Chia seeds can be eaten raw, but many think chia seeds are best when cooked into a meal. You might want to start by just adding some chia seeds to traditional meals you currently prepare. The neutral taste of Chia seeds make it easy to add to meals without altering the flavor. Some of the foods you might consider adding chia seed’s to are: Puddings, yogurts (if you like a little grit in your yogurts, some of us do not), soups, smoothies and pastries. Some creative cooks have learned to incorporate chia seeds into pastas, meatballs, salmon dishes, quesadillas, and added to any vegetables. Seeds can also can be put drinks like lemonade (some chia seed fans say the seeds can have a stimulating effect similar to energy drinks and coffee).

If you soak chia seeds in water for 10 to 20 minutes the seeds break down and form a gel similar to traditional gelatin or tapioca pudding. By eating the seeds in this gelatin state is said to extensively hydrated the body as well as provide electrolytes. Also, eating just a modest amount of gelled chia seeds is reported to curb one’s appetite (once in the stomach the gelled seeds take time to digest, thus making the stomach feel full.

Chia seeds are becoming known in the U.S. and Canada as one of the most nutritious ‘superfoods’ available. Of course, the folks in South America have known this for years. Next time you see a ‘Chia Pet’ on someone’s kitchen windowsill, remember that chia is also an important food worth exploring.

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