A Hot New Food: Chia Seed

by in Food News & Trends, June 17, 2009

One of the latest “superfoods” is actually a blast from the past! Remember Chia Pet, the fuzzy novelty plants that were popular in the ‘80s? Well, the sprouts that grow out of those pottery figurines come from germinated chia seeds. These days, the seeds are popular in the health food arena, but are they worth the hype?

What Is Chia?
Chia seeds come from an annual herb that belongs to the mint family. Native to Mexico (chia comes from an Aztec word meaning “oily”), health-food fans praise them for their high fiber and healthy omega-3 fat content (they’ve got ALA, similar to flax seeds). Because of these nutrients, Chia is often pushed for helping to lower blood pressure and cholesterol and treat symptoms of diabetes. Some small studies have tied eating chia seeds to lowering blood pressure, but the jury’s still out on the effects of long-term consumption, particularly in men at risk for prostate cancer (too much ALA can increase risks more).

One of the most popular packaged and sold versions of chia is Salba — and it comes in a variety of ways: whole or ground seed or as an oil in liquid or gelcaps. They also offer snack bars. You can use ground chia like you might use wheat germ — add it to smoothies, yogurt, cereals and salads. It also works in baking; use three parts flour to one part ground chia powder. Like many hot new “health foods,” chia can be expensive; I found prices ranging from $20-30 for a one-month supply.

Nutrition Info
One tablespoon of ground chia seed has 46 calories, 3 grams of fat, 2 grams of protein, 3 grams of fiber and 1900 milligrams of ALA omega-3 fats (about 300 milligrams more than the same amount of ground flaxseed). Chia also contains calcium, iron, magnesium, copper and vitamin C.

Bottom Line
Chia might be worth trying in small amounts, but don’t get too attached. Flaxseed, whole grains, nuts, fruits and vegetables provide many of the same nutrients and are more readily available (and cheaper). If you’re curious, go for it, but mix things up to keep your diet exciting.

TELL US: Have you tried it yet? What did you think?

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