“Keep it watered, and watch it grow!” Who doesn’t remember those infamous clay “pet” ads from the 1980s? Like jumpsuits and reflective shades, you’ve probably noticed that these ancient seeds are finally having their comeback moment. From drinks to snacks to desserts, it’s tough to find a healthy food store that isn’t stocking some kind of chia product. Often, several.
What Are Chia Seeds?
Chia (Salvica Hispanica) is a member of the mint family, and the common name chia derives from the Mayan chiaban, which meant “strengthening.” Domesticated in Mexico as early as 2700 B.C., these tiny black seeds were a primary food staple for the Aztec and Mayans; Aztec warriors reputedly survived on chia seeds alone during their conquests on the battlefield, At home, chia seeds were known for their medicinal properties. They were used topically to help heal wounds, and even eaten to enhance one’s sex life. For a time, they were so essential a part of the society that they were used as a form of currency.
When I began researching chia seed properties, I discovered that their purported healthfulness holds up to twenty-first century scrutiny. A standard serving of chia (two tablespoons dry or six tablespoons gel) contains all of the following:
-30 percent more antioxidants than blueberries
-8 times more omega-3s than salmon
-25 percent more fiber than flax -3 times more iron than spinach -15 times more magnesium than broccoli -6 times more calcium than milk -2 times more potassium than a banana
These benefits alone could more than qualify chia as a superfood, but it also has another power: Each seed is hydrophilic (water-loving), and can absorb up to 12 times its weight in water, typically in under 10 minutes. The ability for chia to hold onto water translates to prolonged hydration; every seed is like a tiny storage house for fluids that is gradually opened up and used during your stomach’s digestive process. When you’re consistently hydrated, your electrolytes are balanced, and your body is able to absorb more nutrients.
Hydro-Stretching with Chia
The more water chia absorbs, the more space it takes up, and the more filling it becomes. And there’s a great way to use this to your advantage. As the seeds have no discernible flavor, they’re easy to add to just about any food to bring down fat and calorie content without compromising taste. Here’s an example of how this works:
-1 tablespoon of raw chia seeds = 60 calories and 5 grams of fat -3 tablespoons of prepared chia gel = 1 tablespoon of chia gel = 60 calories and 5 grams of fat -2 tablespoons of natural peanut butter = 180 calories and 16 grams of fat
-1 tablespoon natural peanut butter plus 1 tablespoon of chia gel = 110 calories and 9.5 grams of fat
By adding the chia gel to the peanut butter you decreased the number calories by 70 and the amount fat by 6.5 grams, even though you’re eating the same amount of food. I call this phenomenon “hydro- stretching”; try it with hummus, nut butters, yogurts, and soups. In addition to displacing calories, you are also getting a nutritional boost and staying satiated longer.
Chia Gel Recipe
-2 cups of warm water
-1/3 cup chia seeds
In a mason jar, add the water and chia seed. Cover securely with the lid and shake for 20 seconds. Let sit for 1 to 2 minutes and shake again.
Note the date on the jar (use a marker on a piece of masking tape) Keep in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.
Photo Credit: Mimi McCormick