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Chia Seeds: New Uses for an Ancient Wonder Food
Seemingly out of nowhere, chia seeds have emerged as a hot new super food, appearing in such diverse products as crackers, granola, juice drinks, and even puddings. The seeds are packed with healthy omega-3 fats and are high in protein and fiber. When soaked in liquid they swell dramatically, creating a gel-like texture similar to tapioca. If you still own one of the improbably fashionable Chia Pets of the 1970s, you can use the sprouted seeds in your salads and sandwiches. So popular has chia become that even food giant Dole has gotten in on the action, selling the seeds by the canister.
Although chia may sound like another flash-in-the-pan foodie trend, the tiny seeds were an integral part of the Aztec diet thousands of years ago. Indeed, there is good evidence to suggest that the seeds were just as important to the Aztecs as maize.
However, while chia appears to be a healthy and heart smart addition to your diet, there is very little human research available. One small study from Appalachian State University, published in June 2012 in the aptly titled journal Plant Foods for Human Nutrition, found that menopausal women whose diets included 25 grams of chia seeds (about 3 tablespoons) per day were able to substantially raise their blood levels of healthy omega-3 fats. Although some websites marketing chia maintain that it helps with weight loss, there is no medical evidence to support that claim. In fact, a 12-week study, also from Appalachian State University, found that 50 grams of chia seeds per day had no effect on body weight, lipids, or blood pressure. The seeds provide about 50 calories per tablespoon, so it’s important to take that into consideration when including chia in your diet.
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