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Chia Seeds and Health (Who knew?)

I’ll admit it. I used the Chia Pet as a punchline to jokes many a time in my life.  I’ve thought about buying the sprouted heads as a gag gift at Christmastime.

 I joke no longer. I respect the seed.

The very seeds that result in the green dome on the ceramic head is actually a superfood. I had heard of chia before, and even tried it years back, but it never stuck with me. recently I read the book “Born to Run” and learned how the Tarahumarans–a seemingly super-human running tribe in Mexico–use chia as a staple in their diet. After researching more about it, I totally get why.

Chia is an edible seed that grows in large quantity in southern Mexico. The seeds were also given to Mayans and Aztec warriors, and it was believed that one tablespoon could sustain a person for a full day. (Please, do not try this as a crash diet.) It was also used for medicinal purposes to stimulate saliva flow and relieve joint pain and sore skin. (Who knew?)

To look at a chia seed, which is only slightly larger than a grain of salt, it’s hard to believe it packs such a punch. Rich in Omega-3 fatty acids and containing more antioxidants than blueberries, the seeds also provide the body fiber, calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, manganese, zinc, and more.

Why am I taking it, and why was it not difficult to convince my running friends to do the same? Chia seeds are water hogs. When added to water, chia seeds absorb up to 10 times their weight in water. I didn’t’ believe it until I saw it for myself. I sprinkled a pinch of seeds into a glass of water and returned 30 minutes later to find what looked like little gelatinous orbs with a seed floating in the middle.

The benefit to runners? Hydration. For me, that’s been one of the beasts of burden for my long runs. I want the water to be there for my body to use, but I don’t want to drink too much in advance of my trek for fear of no facilities when I need them. And carrying around the water by way of chia doesn’t feel heavy or sloshy when I run.

The more I read about chia and it’s benefits, the more I was convinced. So I contacted my friend Helen, who owns the web site Natural Zing, and grabbed a bag for my friend and me to try. After one week of trying chia, I can already tell you that I’m hooked.

Texturally, it’s not something I would immediately think, “Yes! Let me toss back a mouthful of gritty seeds.” However, it’s not as bad as it may look. You can take chia straight with a water chaser or mix it in a smoothie. I’ve sprinkled it on a peanut butter sandwich, and a friend mixed it in spaghetti sauce. It can add some texture to salads without offering an overwhelming flavor, as it is mild and nutty. Ground chia can be incorporated in baked good, too. For me, I mainly dumped seeds in my mouth a teaspoon at a time then downed water. Sure, it initially feels weird, but the seeds go down easily.

The benefit to dieters? Researchers believe that when chia seeds are consumed with water, the conversion to a gel takes place in the stomach, which may slow the break down of carbohydrates and its subsequent conversion to sugar. Not only are they filling (remember the water experiment? That fills the stomach), but also the fiber and “good stuff” in it will help cleanse the body from the inside out.

Researchers did caution that eating chia may not be for everyone. Elderly folks with lower blood pressure may have negative side effects from including chia in their diets. As always, it’s best to check with your doctor first if there are concerns of side effects.


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[author_info]About the Author

 Lori Rypka is the Prime Parents Club Fitness Contributor, a mom of two wonderful kids first, a writer, wife, friend, personal trainer and marathon runner in training second. She enjoys helping others in their personal journeys toward living healthier lives. The biggest tool in her tool box: humor. Who says dieting can’t be fun? You can find Lori at http://www.fumbledintofitness.com/, or on Twitter as @LoriRypka.

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Lori Rypka has been certified as a personal trainer through the American Council on Exercise since April 2010, and enjoys helping friends find their healthy selves. Follow Lori on her blog at Fumbled Into Fitness.

5 Comments

  1. Pat Williams

    August 19, 2011 at 6:17 pm

    Great info – thanks! I have a bag in my pantry and once in a while I remember to add them to my morning fruit smoothie but I didn’t know about all these benefits. Will step up the use in light of your good ideas!

  2. Jacqueline Wilson

    August 19, 2011 at 8:55 am

    So basically, lick your Chia Pet at your own risk?
    ;)

  3. Prime Parents' Club

    August 19, 2011 at 8:32 am

    Hey Lori,
    Just curious, do you know if you can eat the plant on the Chia Pet. You know, like sprouts? (Totally serious.)

    /jackie

    • Lori Rypka

      August 19, 2011 at 8:52 am

      This is what I found on one forum:

      “Joseph Enterprises has never sought FDA approval for Chia Pets and Chia Heads, and therefore cannot promote them as a food product. Chia seeds are sold in health food stores, however, and many organic gardens harvest them for salads and sandwiches. Joseph Enterprises’ Chia seeds are not treated with any chemicals or fertilizers.”

      • Prime Parents' Club

        August 19, 2011 at 8:54 am

        Huh. That’s really interesting. Thanks for this post.It was so interesting. I had NO IDEA.