chia seeds

Ch-Ch-Chia! Health Benefits and Recipes of The Super Seed

chia seeds
All hail the mighty chia seed.

Chia seeds are a pretty trendy food these days. They became popular thanks to their mention in Born To Run. They were what the Taramahra ate before they went on their 100 mile runs across the copper canyon. At least according to the  book, it was their biggest nutritional secret. A high packed superfood that fuels the world’s most elite and secretive group of runners.

Their Health Benefits

So what’s in Chia?

A lot of good stuff, but they’re still a seed. Their nutrient profile is pretty similar to flax or sesame, but a tad more robust in all directions. (This might change as they become more standardized and mass produced).

Here’s what’s best about them:

  • Unusually high amounts of omega 3 fatty acids
  • High protein and fiber content. The protein in chia seeds has all the essential amino acids.
  • Large amounts of calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and other trace minerals.

This is all really cool. When it comes to the most important nutrients Chia seeds have everything. However, when it comes to  “superfoods” they’re unfortunately also noticeable for what they don’t have. Many different plants have unique classes of phytonutrients which are quite unique to themselves. Astragalus and Milk thistle are good examples. You really can’t say the same for Chia, even though they’re very nutritious. (Moreso than most seeds).

Uses

Chia seeds are easy to eat. Their taste is fairly mild and they don’t have to be hulled or cracked to be edible. You can just crunch and go.

They’re particularly useful for vegetarians because they have copious amounts of omega 3’s, calcium, and complete protein.  (Eating complete protein is important but not as much as you might think). There’s nothing in a chia seed that you couldn’t find elsewhere but it’s hard to find a food that has all these nutrients in the density that chia seeds have.

I’d reckon you can substitue chia seeds for sesame, sunflower, or flax with no trouble at all. Only your imagination limits you.

Black vs. White

If you look for Chia seeds online or in a health food store you’ll often see black chia seeds and white chia seeds. White chia seeds are typically more expensive.

What’s the difference between the two? Not much.

Black chia seeds are salvia hispanica and are by far the most common. White chia seeds are salba hispanica, or sometimes salvia hispanica that just came out differently. Chia seeds are very genetically diverse and multi-colored seeds are  common. The important take home point is that there isn’t a useful difference between black and white chia seeds. For  the most part they contain the same nutrients and in many cases are almost identical except for their color.

The biggest difference between chia seeds depends on where they’re grown. Here’s a useful chart from Dr. Albert Coates on the differences among chia seeds and it shows that the difference between black and white chia is mostly cosmetic. But where the seeds come from makes a big difference.

white chia seed vs black chia seed
There’s no difference between white and black chia seeds

I did some reading on this and came to the same conclusion. Chia seeds grow throughout Mexico and Latin America and the  region and commercialization of the seeds greatly affects the characteristics of the seeds. For example a study published in Genetic Resources and Crop Evolution found that seed size can vary up to 31% depending on agricultural methods and location.

pomegranate chia fresca
chia fresca is a popular mexican drink that uses chia seeds

Recipes

As I stated before, chia seeds are pretty versatile and can be used in most most recipes that might call for other seeds.

However, a notable chia dish is a drink called Chia Fresca. It’s commonly drank in Mexico as a party beverage and is  supposedly quite refreshing. (Haven’t tried it myself).  The picture above is a recipe for Pomegranate Chia Fresca. Here’s the basic way to make Chia Fresca:

Ingredients:

48 oz. cold water

4 lemons

1/4 c sugar or natural sweetener

2 table spoons chia seeds

Directions

Mix the juice of the lemons, sweetener and water until you get the desired taste/texture

Add chia seeds and let stand for 10 minutes or until chia seeds become gelatinous

Simple, but good.

No Meat Athlete also has a few good chia recipes to dig into. My favorite is the Chia energy bar. Also try the chocolate chia bites.

Where To Buy

You might be able to find Chia seeds at a health food store, and can almost certainly find them online, usually between $8-$12 a pound.

Here’s a quick table to compare some different places that sell black and white chia seeds. (Keep in mind that I DO NOT recommend paying extra for the white).

Type of Chia Seed 1 lb on Amazon 1 lb on Vitacost 1 lb on Nuts.com
Black  $12.95 $6.99  $12.99
White  $13.17 $9.89  $12.99

It’s difficult to buy organic chia seeds because they’re a new commercial crop and are thus not under the fold of the  national organic standards board. This might be alarming to some but I wouldn’t worry about it. The organic standard is only useful when there are a variety of growing conditions that might be dangerous or detrimental to your health.

By the time that happens Chia sellers will probably already have figured out how to put the organic seal on their seeds so they can charge more. No worries there.

Wrapping It Up

For the most part Chia seeds are a pretty rockin’ seed. However, in my opinion there’s not a particular reason to go out of your way to spend more on them if you don’t want to. Flax, pumpkin, hemp, and sunflower seeds are all useful as well, and these seeds are more notable for their similarities than their differences. Chia seeds ARE really good for you and super complete but they don’t provide anything that can’t be found elsewhere in a healthy diet.

Research and References

Ayerza, Ricardo, et. al.  “Oil content and fatty acid composition of chia (Salvia hispanica L.) from five northwestern locations in Argentina”

URL:  http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2FBF02660727?LI=true

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