Sprouting into action
In the ’80s, chia seeds were all the rage, better known for sprouting out of kitschy clay sheep figurines than as a healthy food source.
Today, the tiny seeds no longer make appearances in Chia Pet infomercials. Instead, they’re a staple in most health food stores where they’re touted as a wholesome superfood packed with nutrients, including calcium, omega-3 fatty acids and fibre to help reduce risk factors related to heart disease.
“It’s really high in omega-3 (fatty acids) and it’s got an excellent fibre and antioxidants, so it’s an unusual seed in that it has all of that in it together,” says Natural Food Pantry nutritionist Phyllis Danu, who says chia provides three grams of omega-3s per 15- gram serving.
Chia seeds derive from the plant Salvia hispanica — a member of the mint family — that originated in Mexico and South America. Once eaten by the Aztecs and Mayans to boost energy levels, these black-and-white seeds have a slight nutty taste and are versatile, so they can be added to a variety of different food and drink recipes — whether sprinkled on salads and oatmeal or added to a smoothie and sauces.
Danu, who works at the Billings Bridge location, says one of the benefits of this seed is it helps to control weight because it keeps you full longer, lowers cholesterol and stabilizes blood-sugar levels to ease sugar cravings.
“It’s the kind of fibre, if you have it as a smoothie, for instance for breakfast, it keeps you from being hungry for a really long time,” says Danu. “So you are not getting those craving binges in the middle of the day … it will sustain the meal that you are having it with for a number of hours.”
Chia has hit mainstream networks, too. It’s a favourite of celebrity health guru Dr. Oz, who says chia is excellent to reduce inflammation. He enjoys adding chia to muffin mixes and says one chia muffin has more magnesium than 10 heads of broccoli and as much calcium as a couple cups of milk.
Danu recommends chia to vegetarian customers and especially for those on a gluten-free diet. The seeds can be purchased in bulk for around $20 a kilogram or $2 per 100 grams. They are also sold prepackaged for between $8 and $20, depending on the size of the bag.
In addition to all the other health benefits, Danu also recommends chia to help keep you regular.
“It’s great for constipation, as long as you are drinking adequate water,” she says. “It’s important when you use this kind of fibre that you drink a lot of water, otherwise you get the oppositive effect.”