The health benefits of chia seed

Mar 6, 2008 at 2:11 p.m. ET

After amassing amazing popularity in the 1980's, Chia Pets (the "Pottery that Grows") are creating a buzz once again. But instead of "spreading the seeds and watching them grow," people are now simply snacking on the seeds. Here's how these tiny seeds can do much more than just sprout green "hair" on a terracotta pig.


Remember Chia Pets? How could you forget! You have probably been trying to shake that Chi-chi-chia tune out of your head since the 1980's. In addition to the Chia Pet's unforgettable jingle, its diminutive seeds also have unbelievably healthy attributes. In fact, the tiny seeds contain more heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids than any other plant source, including flaxseed, and have a whopping amount of protein and fiber to boot.


There are few formal studies on the nutritious perks of chia seeds. But health nuts swear by their nutritional punch, which includes five times the calcium of milk, two times the amount of potassium in bananas, three times the antioxidant strength of blueberries and three times more iron than spinach. Plus, the high antioxidant content of the seeds means they can stored in your pantry for up to five years without going bad—or losing their flavor. The general public is now catching on and able to buy seeds – once available only at health food stores and on little-known websites – at popular venues like the Vitamin Shoppe and, recently, the chia seed was regulated as a food by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.


The seeds – which resemble sesame seeds and have a slight nutty taste – are versatile and easy to include in your diet. Sprinkle them over your cereal, yogurt or salad, or mix them into flour when whipping up your favorite baked goods.

You can also make a chia "drink" – which seems a lot like a science experiment – but very beneficial for your blood sugar. Mix a spoonful of seeds into a glass of water and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. The extra-soluble fibers in the seed (which absorb about seven times their weight in water) will produce a gel-like substance that can be spooned up like Jell-o. The gel serves as a barrier to slow carbohydrate absorption in the body, in turn naturally balancing blood sugar and giving you extra energy.

For a sweeter sip, use apple or orange juice instead. You can also try a Mexican spin and combine two teaspoons of the seeds with 8 to 10 ounces of water, adding fresh-squeezed lime or lemon juice, for a refreshing glass of Agua Fresca de chia.


Pumpkin-Chia Seed Muffins

Adapted from Mom-A-Licious by Domenica Catelli

These muffins are delicious, easy to make and great for you. Enjoy them hot out of the oven and keep extra for lunchtime snacks for the kids (or you) during the week. Pumpkin is loaded with an important antioxidant, beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is one of the plant carotenoids converted to vitamin A in the body. In the conversion to vitamin A, beta carotene performs many important functions in overall health. Current studies link diets rich in foods with beta-carotene to reducing the risk of certain types of cancer and protection against heart disease. Chia seeds can be found at some health food stores.

1 tablespoons chia seeds, ground (use a coffee or spice grinder)
1 cup whole wheat or whole grain flour
1/2 cup white unbleached flour
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
16 ounces canned organic pumpkin
2 eggs
1/4 cup high-quality extra virgin olive oil
1 cup pure maple syrup
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup of chopped walnuts or pecans, optional
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Mix dry ingredients together in a bowl. In a separate bowl, mix all wet ingredients. Fold the wet ingredients (fold in nuts now if you are using them) into the dry ingredients and spoon into paper-lined muffin or greased muffin tins. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of a muffin comes out clean. Store completely cooled muffins in sealable plastic bags in the freezer.

Curried Potato Salad with Chia Seeds

Serves 12
12 russet potatoes, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
2 jalapeno peppers, finely chopped (seeded for less heat)
2 serrano peppers, finely chopped (seeded for less heat)
1/2 bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
1 (12-ounce) package soft tofu
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup chia gel (1 teaspoon seeds in 1/2 cup water, refrigerate for at least 30 minutes)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons fresh curry powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper or to taste
1/4 teaspoon salt or to taste
Pinch of ground nutmeg

In a large bowl, combine potatoes, onion, peppers and parsley. In blender, whip oil and tofu until smooth. In a separate bowl, use a whisk to mix chia gel and spices until smooth. Mix all ingredients together. Chill and serve.