Most Americans are probably familiar with chia pets—clay pots shaped like animals that you fill with chia seeds and water. The chia seeds sprout and grow green “fur” on the clay pot. Few people who own those chia pets, however, realize that chia seeds are not only edible—sprouted or not—but they’re also wonderful for your health.
The ancient Aztecs of Mexico began eating unsprouted chia seeds over 500 years ago. In the Mayan language, “chia” means “strength.” The tiny seeds come in white or black varieties and are native to Mexico and Guatemala.
Today, Mexicans drink chia frescas: chia seeds stirred into water or fruit juice. When soaked in liquid for an hour or so, chia seeds grow to many times their normal size and develop a jelly-like coating. It’s this ability to absorb liquid that makes chia seeds a filling snack. Because of their smooth coating post-soaking, the seeds are easy to drink. They are slightly similar to boba—small pearls of tapioca—which Asians drink in a milky cold tea, except that chia seeds have a slightly nutty flavor while boba are almost flavorless. Chia seeds are healthier, too. They are also great to add to rice and pasta dishes (see my Chia Fettuccine recipe below).
I had read that chia seeds were nutritionally similar to flax seeds in that they were high in fiber, high in omega-3 oils, and good at lowering cholesterol, but I had put off experimenting with them until a friend of mine gave me a good reason to look more closely at these tiny seeds.
My Director of Nursing at one of my skilled nursing facilities has high cholesterol so she decided to stir chia seeds into her beverages every day for three months. Because chia seeds are full of fiber and omega-3 oils, they actually helped reduce her bad cholesterol levels. And she enjoyed drinking them. (See Dr. Mark Rosenberg’s articles about the pros and cons of chia seeds before you incorporate them into your diet on any regular basis).
After researching chia seeds for myself, I found a chia fan in Dr. Nicholas Perricone, M.D., who says in his book Forever Young, “The seeds of the chia plant (salvia hispanica L.) are a concentrated source of high-quality macronutrients required by the body: omega-3 fatty acids, dietary fiber, high-quality complete protein without gluten, and low-glycemic carbohydrates.” It turns out that chia seeds are also very rich in antioxidants, calcium, omega-6 oil, phosphorous, magnesium, iron, and zinc. It may be that chia seeds help to slow the absorption of sugar by the body, which is good news for those with high blood sugar.
So I decided I should try drinking chia seeds just like my Director of Nursing. She inspired me to come up with a chia-seed beverage recipe that I call Chia Frescas, which is featured in my AGE GRACEFULLY Cookbook. Chia seeds can absorb up to ten times their weight in water. It’s fun to watch them swell up and produce their characteristic jelly coating.
In my new book, The AGE BEAUTIFULLY Cookbook, I created a delicious new recipe for fettuccine with chia seeds. I think you’ll love it!
Pasta infused with ground chia seeds is a bit chewier than traditional pasta but packs an extra nutritional punch. Pork, chiles, and Southwestern spices perfectly complement the taste and texture of this nutritionally dense fettuccine, but I have provided substitutions for ingredients that may be more available or familiar.
1 lb. sliced pork loin
1 tsp. salt or salt substitute
1 tsp. minced garlic
¼ tsp. black pepper
½ tsp. dry mustard
½ tsp. ground cumin
¼ tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. piment d’Espelette (or regular paprika or crushed red peppers)
4 Tbs. olive oil, divided in half
½ cup chopped red onion
1 cup chopped red bell pepper
¼ cup sliced jalapeños
1 cup chopped pasilla chile (or 4 oz. canned green chiles or 15 oz. canned corn)
1½ cups fresh corn kernels
1 package (10 oz.) BonaChia Fettuccine (or regular pasta or brown rice)
¼ cup chopped scallions
2-4 Tbs. black or white chia seeds
4 Tbs. Parmesan cheese (optional)
5 minutes, stirring often.
Navitas Naturals sells organic chia seeds and chia powder online.
(Recipe reprinted from The Age Gracefully Cookbook: Easy and Exotic Longevity Secrets from Around the World by Grace O)