Chia: not just for pets anymore

Seeds an emerging trend
By: Krissi Khokhobashvili, Journal features editor
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For many people, the word “chia” brings to mind the terra cotta planter “pets” of the 1990s – spread moistened chia seeds over the planter, and in a couple of weeks your lamb, pig, puppy or even Abraham Lincoln will have a full head of green “hair.” These days, the big draw of chia seeds isn’t their ability to sprout quickly – it’s their many nutritional benefits.

“I’m a true believer in them,” said Diane Giuliani, a holistic nutrition and lifestyle coach who lives in Colfax. “I love what they provide nutritionally, and also I just really like the way they make me feel.”

The seeds are popping up in health food stores across the nation, including at Country Naturals in Auburn. Assistant manager, herbalist and consultant Julie Betteridge said she sees people buying the seeds more often, especially since they were featured in October on “The Dr. Oz Show” as one of the top five supplements people should be taking for better health.

“They’re a complete protein,” Betteridge explained. “So ounce per ounce, they’re actually really high in protein. They have vitamins and minerals in them, they’re very nutrient-dense and they’re really easy for people to use.”

Chia seeds can be sprinkled on a salad or into a smoothie, or incorporated as part of soups and porridges, as they’re often used as a thickening agent because the seeds form a gel when wet. Chia seeds are exceptionally good at retaining liquid – they can retain up to 10 times their weight in water. In fact, Giuliani advises people to eat chia seeds either in or with water, as they can leach moisture out of the system.

“A lot of raw food recipes will use them,”?Betteridge said. “They use them as a natural thickener, so they’ll mix them with water until it makes a gel, and then they can add that to some puddings that they’re making, or soups.”

People can cook with the seeds as well, such as in muffins or pancakes, although Betteridge advises that some of the therapeutic value is lost when the seeds are cooked.

While the seeds have almost no taste, Giuliani said, they’re packed full of nutrients. They contain more calcium than milk and are loaded with antioxidants, protein, omega-3 fatty acids and potassium. They also contain boron, which acts as a catalyst in the body’s absorption of calcium.

“They’re really filling,” she added, “so they can also end up leading to weight loss. And they’re very low in calories, too, so they can reduce cravings.”

Betteridge added that the seeds contain alpha lipoic acid, which helps support healthy brain and heart function.

Chia, or salvia hispanica, is in the mint family and is native to Mexico and Guatemala. According to “Ethnobotany of Chia, Salvia hispanica,” by Joseph Cahill of the University of California, Riverside, department of botany and plant sciences, chia “was an important staple Mesoamerican food and medicinal plant in pre-Columbian times.” 

“The Mayans would grind them into flour and take them with them on long journeys as a food supplement,” Betteridge said.

A similar use exists today. Giuliani said chia seeds are a great thing to consume before traveling on airplanes, which can often lead to dehydration. Drinking a glass of water mixed with chia seeds can keep the body hydrated during flight, and is also great for athletes post-workout, she said.

“You just think of them as a food that is good for you,” Betteridge said. “So you should try to incorporate more of it in your diet on a daily basis, just like you would think of fruits and vegetables.”

Reach Krissi Khokhobashvili at Follow her on Twitter, @AuburnJournalAE.

Chia porridge
Holistic nutrition and lifestyle coach Diane Giuliani shared this recipe, which she said can be changed around to suit personal preferences for sweetness and flavoring.
Yield: One serving
3 tablespoons chia seeds
1 cup unsweetened almond or coconut milk
One or two Medjool dates (depending on how sweet you want it)
½ teaspoon vanilla
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon cardamom
1/8 teaspoon ginger (optional)
Pinch of sea salt
Combine all ingredients except the chia seeds in a high-speed blender on high until smooth. Pour into a medium bowl and whisk in chia seeds, stirring until combined. Allow to stand one to two hours in order to thicken and then stir again to thoroughly combine. Place in refrigerator or enjoy immediately.
Porridge toppings can include diced strawberries, raspberries or blueberries; chopped raw almonds, pecans or walnuts; hemp and/or sunflower seeds.