A gimmick no longer, chia seeds may be the best superfood you've never tried.
You may have spotted them in the muffins at Le Pain Quotidien, pudding at Organic Avenue or in bottled beverages and individual shot packs at Whole Foods. Tiny chia seeds — yes, the same ones that sprouted greens on your childhood Chia Pet — are an age-old energy source and a hot new superfood, depending on your perspective.
Native to Mexico and Guatemala, the seeds (which come from a flowering mint-like plant) were staples of Mayan and Aztec diets. In his bestseller Born to Run, the true story of the Native American Tarahumara barefoot runners, Christopher McDougall calls chia "home-brewed Red Bull" and attributes the Tarahumara's incredible physical fitness in part to the large amounts of seeds they consume. "If you had to pick just one desert-island food, you couldn't do much better than chia," writes McDougall. "After a few months on the chia diet, you could probably swim home."
If you had to pick just one desert-island food, you couldn't do much better than chia. After a few months ... you could probably swim home. —Christopher McDougall
So what makes the once-gimmicky seeds so special? They're loaded with alpha lineolinic acid (ALA), a vegetarian source of omega-3 essential fatty acids (the heart-smart, skin-clearing nutrient that most Americans fall far short on) according to Keri Gans, RD, author of The Small Changes Diet. "Getting enough means you’ll slash your risk of hypertension and cardiovascular disease," she says, "and chia packs even more ALA than juice bar staple flaxseed." Chia is also rich in fiber to keep you feeling fuller longer and antioxidants that may ward off certain cancers.
Gans recommends getting about two teaspoons of chia daily. Add it your oatmeal, cereal or yogurt; blend it into a smoothie, use it as a crunchy salad topper, or just sprinkle it in your water bottle (the seeds can absorb more than 10 times their weight in water, which keeps you hydrated longer). Greg Arnold, head chef of Sage Organic Vegan Bistro in Los Angeles, says he often uses chia when cooking for himself.
"Other cultures have been using chia seed for thousands of years, and once word gets out about its amazing nutritional value, you’ll be seeing it a lot more often,” says Arnold. "It works as a natural thickener in sauces or breads when you don’t want to use flour. At home, I mostly drink it as a tea. It soothes your stomach and also prevents heartburn."
Convinced? We were, too, so we asked Arnold for his favorite chia recipe. Click here for instructions on how to make his gluten-free chia-infused veggie pizza.
For more information, or to buy, visit healthwarrior.com.
Photography by Kristin Duvall/Getty Images