Black and white chia seeds come from an annual herb known as Salvia hispanica and, as the name suggests, it originates in Central America. This relative of the mint family was widely used by the Mayans and Aztecs. Today Australia has become the world's largest grower. Health food stores are not the only place to find these seeds. Word of their nutritional value means they are showing up at more and more gluten-free sections of major grocers.
When you consider that early nomadic humans had to eat on the go, it is not surprising that foods like fruit, seeds and nuts contained many necessary nutrients, fats, proteins, carbohydrates and fiber. These foods were yesterday's trail mix and often became dietary staples. Look at what comprises trail mixes today, and you will see how little things have changed. Athletes, including distance runners, use chia for its sustained hydration, claiming that it boosts energy and stamina.
Chia seeds are high in omega-3 and other fats, which make up 67% of the 60-70 calories in every tablespoonful. They are also high in fiber (5-6 grams per tablespoon or 20% of your daily requirement). Because of this many people believe they can be used for weight reduction. Like beans, which are also high in fiber, chia seeds are slow to digest and can cause an upset stomach if you over indulge. So unlike some, who recommend eating as much as you want, you may want to limit yourself to 1 tablespoon per day to see how your body reacts to it. Because of this feeling of fullness, it is also thought that the seeds help moderate blood sugar.
One reason these seeds are popular is that they are easy to use. They can be eaten whole and with their neutral, nutty flavor they can be added to breads, smoothies, cereal, yogurt, water, salads, etc. Some use them as an egg substitute when mixed with water for a half hour to form a gel (1 teaspoon chia seeds for every 3 tablespoons of water.) One tablespoon of this gel is equivalent to one large egg. Because of its gelatinous texture, it can also be used as pectin in jam or as a thickener in soups or sauces. Place them in a spice jar and use them as a condiment like salt to add extra nutrients and antioxidants to any meal.
If you are looking for a substitute for omega-3, chia seeds may be just the thing. Pregnant women should ask their doctors if chia seeds are a good substitute for fish. Chia seeds can lower your blood pressure, so if you are undergoing surgery or are on blood thinners it might be wise to avoid them altogether. Also be aware that they can cause allergies. If you are allergic to sesame or mustard seeds, you may also react to chia seeds. It is always wise to consult with a doctor on any of these concerns.
Depending upon the source, it looks like seafood is better for you (if you can avoid the mercury) than chia seeds, but chia seeds are better than flaxseeds because you don't have to grind them up. Claims about these seeds being high in calcium depend upon how you look at it. The USDA says a half-ounce of chia seeds has 90 mg of calcium. An 8-ounce glass of milk has 300 mg. True, 8 ounces of seeds would put you at the 1440 mg level of calcium, but drinking a lot of milk is more likely than eating that many seeds because of the aforementioned side effects, not to mention the cost.
There are some, who think chia seeds can be addicting. Thus, as with almost any product you consume, eat them in moderation. And take heart, if you can't have them for some reason, there will no doubt be another nutrition craze within reach very shortly.
Copyright 2013 by Linda K Murdock. Linda Murdock is the best-selling author of A Busy Cook's Guide to Spices, How to Introduce New Flavors to Everyday Meals. Unlike most spice books, you can turn to a food, whether meat, vegetable or starch, and find a list of spices that go well with that food. Recipes are included. To learn more or to sign up for more informative food and flavoring articles go to http://bellwetherbooks.com/
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