The Veggie Cook
Skip the pet, go with healthful chia seeds
An ancient food for modern times
Did you know: Chia seeds contain more omega 3 fatty acids than any other known plant, including flax. (Bill Hogan/Chicago Tribune)
In addition to food, Aztecs pressed chia seeds into oil that moisturized or healed the skin. Medicinally, chia stimulated saliva flow in thirsty nomads and lessened joint pain.
Yes, these are the same chia seeds growing out of clay pots that have been popular since the 1980s. Advertisements still show them sprouting from terra cotta pets, planters, and heads, including Garfield the cat and President Barack Obama. Though many people buy these potentially fuzzy figurines as joke gifts, chia seeds by themselves provide serious health benefits.
According to Wayne Coates, professor of agricultural research at the University of Arizona and author of "Chia: The Complete Guide to the Ultimate Superfood" (Sterling, $14.95), chia seeds contain more omega 3 fatty acids than any other known plant, including flax. (Coates is also president of the retail operation of azchia.com, a website promoting chia seeds.)
That means eating chia seeds increases the amount of oxygen transported through our blood stream, nourishing cells and organs, and helping to prevent disease. Coates suggests a 2-tablespoon serving of chia seeds, although you can eat as much as you like because they are a food, not a nutritional supplement.
Chia seeds also contain high concentrations of fiber, protein, and many essential vitamins and minerals. When added to liquid, chia absorbs many times its weight and forms a gel. Researchers believe this ability to expand occurs in the stomach, too, creating a full feeling that might help with weight loss.
With all its uses and new research heralding the benefits of chia, watch for more about chia seeds in the future.
Using chia seeds
• Chia easily adds a nutritional boost to a variety of recipes.
• Enrich salads and sandwiches with chia sprouts.
• Sprinkle ground or whole chia seeds on entrees or cereal.
•1 tablespoon chia seeds stirred into 3 tablespoons water will replace one egg as a thickener in puddings and baked goods.
• Soaked seeds make an interesting drink when mixed with a sweetener and citrus juice.
Kay Stepkin is a vegetarian cooking class instructor and former owner of a vegetarian restaurant/whole-grain bakery. Email her at email@example.com.