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Archive for December, 2012

Español: Semillas de Chía (Salvia hispanica)

Español: Semillas de Chía (Salvia hispanica) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For 30 years it’s been heard every Christmas. In fact, it may not seem like the holidays have arrived until you hear that familiar commercial for the latest chia pet. When you water the ceramic pottery figurine, you can watch green “fur” cover the surface.

Maybe chia pets aren’t your thing, but don’t discount the benefits of chia seeds. Nutritionally, chia is far ahead of most seeds and grains.

Chia seeds come from the Salvia hispanica plant, a member of the mint family. Its history goes back to the Mayan and Aztec cultures. Although a food staple, the plant had religious symbolism and was used in ceremonies as well as for currency. Chia means “strength.” Folklore says the natives ate seeds for energy, and some referred to it as “Indian Running Food” because Aztecs consumed it to endure long-distant journeys.

When roasted and ground, chia seeds produce a flour called pinole. Cultivation of chia ceased with the spread of Christianity whose followers outlawed it because of its religious significance. Wild chia remained an important part of cultural diets. In the 1960s-1980s, cultivation expanded as seeds became known as a “super food.” It is now used throughout Mexico and has become a popular nutritional alternative elsewhere.

This bland food with a slightly nutty flavor blends well into many dishes.  Nutritional characteristics noted include the following:

  • Rich in Omega-3 fatty acids. The seeds, with 32 to 39 percent oil, have the highest known natural percentage of Omega-3 oils.
  • Powerful source of antioxidants. Unlike other foods high in antioxidants, chia seeds need no refrigeration to stay fresh.
  • High protein levels. Chia seeds contain from 19 to 23 percent protein compared to wheat at 13.7 percent and oatmeal at 16.9 percent. They are a complete protein and contain all the essential amino acids.
  • Significant calcium and mineral levels. Chia seeds have greater amounts of calcium than milk, and the form of calcium it has is more readily absorbed by the body. They are excellent sources of phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, iron, zinc, and copper.

Watching seeds grow on the latest chia pet may reduce stress during the holidays. But eating chia seeds can contribute toward a healthful diet throughout this busy season of overindulgence.

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