Fit Food Obsession: Chia

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The chia seed is more proof that great things come in small packages. Once used as a source of nourishment by the ancient Aztecs, chia seeds were nearly wiped out by the conquering Spanish conquistadors before being unceremoniously revived as the infamous fuzzy green clay pet and subjected to a catchy jingle. But now the little seed that could is considered a 21st Century bona fide superfood.

What You Should Know: Chia are the itsy-bitsy seeds of the flowering Salvia hispanica plant, a member of the mint family native to Mexico and Central America. The seeds, which come in pale or dark color, have remained a regular fixture in the diets of native countries, but only recently has the nutritional standout spread to North America.

Why You Should Try Them: In nutrition circles, chia is lauded for its payload of dietary fiber. A mere ounce of the little seed that could contains a whopping 11 grams of fiber. Fit gals should seek out about 28 grams of fiber daily, so chia is a great way to help nail your quota. A recent American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study found that women with the highest fiber intakes were less likely to suffer from breast cancer. What’s more, scientists at Northwestern University found adult women between 20 and 59 years old with the most fiber in their diets had a lower lifetime risk for heart disease compared to those with more modest intakes.

When exposed to liquids in your digestive tract, the abundance of soluble fiber in chia forms a gelatinous coating that can slow down the digestion of your meals and snacks, thereby decreasing blood sugar spikes, which can work to keep energy levels on an even keel and slash the risk for diabetes. More laggard digestion can also promote satiety, which would help stymie the overeating that can ruin your pursuit to win the battle of the bulge. In fact, the Tarahumara Indians in Mexico, who are known for their nearly superhuman running endurance, have historically consumed a chia drink before their endless runs to help waylay hunger pangs.

Chia are also packed with plant-based omega-3 fats, nearly 5 grams in a single ounce serving. By helping quell internal inflammation, these benevolent omega-3s are thought to play a role in keeping your ticker in tip-top shape and improve muscle recovery after intense training. To help you build bones of steel, chia supply calcium and phosphorus, which are two vital bone-building minerals. What’s more, the diminutive seeds have such high antioxidant firepower that they resist turning rancid during prolonged storage. You see, there are plenty of reasons to shout Ch-ch-ch-chia!

What To Look For: Look for packages of chia seeds at most health food stores and a burgeoning number of larger supermarkets. Generally, neither the black or white guise of seed is more nutritious than the other. If purchasing chia from bulk stores, be sure there is a high turnover to assure you are obtaining a fresh product. You may also come across chia powder, which is simply chia seeds that have been ground into a fine powder.

How To Use Them: Unlike flax, chia does not need to be ground in order for its nutrients to be properly absorbed by the body. Fortunately, the seeds also have a very subtle flavor so it’s easy to sprinkle them generously into your diet. Add them to yogurt, oatmeal, granola, vegetable and fruit salads, smoothies, cottage cheese and scrambled eggs. Also, mix the seeds into your ground meat when making meatballs, burgers and meatloaf.

As another option, take advantage of chia’s ability to absorb about nine times its weight in liquid by using the seeds to make ultra-nutritious puddings and fruit jams. Or make a thirst-quenching chia fresca by stirring together 1 cup of water, 2 teaspoons of chia seeds, the juice of 1/2 lemon or lime, and 2 teaspoons of honey or agave syrup. Let it sit for a few moments to thicken slightly. For healthier baked goods and pancakes, try replacing about 1/4 cup of the flour called for in a recipe with chia powder.

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