Chia seeds might be a new litmus test for your birth year. If you hear “chia seeds” and immediately hear the jingle “ch-ch-ch-chia!” then you’re probably from the previous millennium.
Of course, after the nostalgic jingle fades, your next chia thought probably contains the word “superfood.” Or, ya know, something of that nature.
Although chia seeds have been popping up in Chia Pets for decades now, in recent years they’ve experienced a resurgence in health foodies as they’ve exploded across the market. No you can find chia seeds in granola bars, snack mixes, and oatmeal. But if any of you are still weary – or ya just like learning – let’s delve a bit more into where this superfood came from? Are they really all that super? Why are they so popular? Should you (and how should you) add them to your diet?
If you’re even slightly curious about chia seeds, keep scrolling for a brief look into this health food craze!
Origin and Popularity Boom
The chia seed has been around long, long before the first Chia Pet commercial ever ran. The seeds of the Salvia hispanica were a staple of Mayan and Aztec diet and culture. The plant’s tiny, black and white seeds were a popular dietary staple, like maize, and the plants were also believed to serve religious purposes, as well.
Grown primarily in Mexico and South America, chia seeds can be eaten whole or ground. Their flavor is quite subtle — more of a slight nutty taste, and not at all strong or overpowering in flavor.
Despite being the title component in Chia Pets for decades, chia seeds didn’t explode as a health food must-have until “Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen” hit shelves in 2009. Christopher McDougall’s book credited chia seeds as a protein-rich endurance snack. A healthy number of social media shout-outs later, chia seeds were now a sought-after superfood instead of just a kitschy novelty plant.
Protein isn’t all that chia seeds have to offer! According to WebMD, one ounce (2 tablespoons) of chia seeds contains:
- 130 calories
- 4 grams of protein
- 9 grams of fat
- 12 grams of carbohydrates
- 11 grams of fiber
And that’s not all. Chia seeds are also a good source of calcium, omega-3s and antioxidants.
The nutritional stats of chia seeds are well-documented, but the jury is still out on their purported, media-inflated health benefits like weight loss or heart health. There simply haven’t been enough studies (conclusive studies, that is) to either support or disprove these claims.
All we really know for sure is that they’re a nutritional grain source that will give you more bang for your buck compared to, say, a slice of white bread.
Cooking and Consumption
As mentioned earlier, chia seeds have a very mild nutty flavor. This makes it super easy to add a helping to any number of dishes. Although chia seed recipes abound, you can simply add them to any number of dishes, like:
- Baked goods
Chia seeds and water can be used to form a gel-like substance that can be used as an egg substitute in dishes. They can also be turned into a mild pudding, which makes a perfect base for your favorite mix of fruit, spices and nuts.
Use Caution and Common Sense
Currently, the only strong recommendations regarding chia seeds are to avoid them you have mustard or sesame seed allergies, or if you’re on blood pressure medications or blood thinners.
There has been an isolated incident of extreme dysphagia (difficulty) swallowing when a man swallowed a tablespoon of dry seeds and chased it with water. Chia seeds expand in water (as you may have guessed from the gel and pudding recommendations above), which may have been partially to blame for the medical scare. However, it’s important to note that, once you get past the panic-inducing wording of the click-bait title, the gentleman in question also suffered from asthma, allergies and a history of dysphagia — all of which likely factored into the incident.
Ultimately, overloading your diet with any one food is likely not the best route. There are no magic foods (no, not even fruits, veggies or whole grains). There is no be-all, end-all ingredient that will (by itself) provide all your nutritional needs or magically transform you into the peak of physical perfection.
There are, however, foods that have good nutritional value and make healthy, beneficial additions to a balanced diet. Although it’s currently experiencing a fad-like jump in popularity, it’s clear that chia seeds are a nutritional option for most diets. They’ve been around for centuries, after all, and may just be around for a few more!