In WITF's Kitchen with Chef Donna Desfor

The Super-hero of Super Foods: Chia

Written by Donna Marie Desfor, Culinary Consultant and Chef | Mar 20, 2012 9:48 PM

There's a food that's loaded with protein, fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, a-linolenic acid, and the essential minerals calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, copper, iron, molybdenum, niacin, and zinc, not to mention it’s gluten free.  What is it?  It’s chi, chi, chi, chia!  The super-seed that suddenly has everyone talking.

[Watch video: ABC27's Flora Posteraro reports on Chia Seeds]

Chia is quickly becoming one of the most popular “superfoods”, and it’s a well-deserved distinction, says Ashley Welikonich, a natural health consultant and certified personal trainer.  Chia, from the Mayan word for “strength” is gaining in popularity, not just among the health conscious but among the elite athletes, like Baltimore Raven’s lead rusher, Ray Rice.  As Reed Albergotti reported in The Wall Street Journal, Rice isn’t one to pump himself full of supplements or rely on heavily loaded protein drinks to sustain him. Instead, Rice uses Chia to “replenish his energy and help keep his digestive system humming.”

But chia’s resurgence didn’t begin in the NFL locker-room.  In his 2009 book, "Born To Run," author Christopher McDougall followed members of the reclusive Tarahumara Indian tribe in the Mexican Copper Canyons.  An injured runner himself, McDougall modeled the tribe's ability to run ultra distances (over 26.2 miles, commonly 100 miles or more) at incredible speeds, without getting the routine injuries of most American runners.  McDougall describes the Tarahumara diet in his book, repeatedly mentioning pinole (a form of roasted corn that is ground into flour, combined with water and seasoning) and chia.  Add to that popular TV doctors like Mehmet Oz advocating their nutritional benefits, and chia’s popularity continues to evolve.

A member of the mint or sage family (depending upon sources), today chia is grown abundantly in southern parts of Mexico and Australia.  And, while we still recognize the novelty of the chia pet, what’s becoming more mainstream is chia’s amazing nutritional profile.   Welikonich says chia seeds are a complete source of protein, providing all the essential amino acids in an easily digestible form.  More so, she adds they have 2 times the protein of any other seed or grain, 5 times the calcium of milk, plus boron which is a trace mineral that helps transfer calcium into your bones, 2 times the amount of potassium as bananas, 3 times the reported antioxidant strength of blueberries and 3 times more iron than spinach.  Add to that the ample amounts of omega 3 and omega 6 essential fatty acids, and that they are a nutritious source of soluble fiber,” and it seems that chia would be the super-here among super foods.

When compared to flax seed, Welikonich says that they are similar only in that they are 'hydrophilic' – or, the seeds absorb water and create a mucilaginous gel.  Beyond that, chia outshines flax in every way, especially since they don’t need to be ground in order for the body to absorb the beneficial nutrients the seeds contain.

Beyond nutrition, chia is being popularized as a potential dieting aid.  Because chia will expand when added to a liquid base many people who are trying to lose weight find that they have a decreased appetite after taking a scoop of chia prior to a meal, Welikonich says.  The small seeds expand in your stomach, making you fuller faster.  “At the same time, and more importantly, it’s not at the expense of your nutrition, since chia is arguably superior to most of the typical American diet!”

Chia is widely available at most area grocery and health food stores in the dry seed form, though it can easily be ordered online as a flour and in liquid form (for those who want the benefit of chia but cannot handle “seeds” as part of their diet).  Welikonich, suggests as a reliable online retailer noting her preferred brands are Navitas and Nutiva.  For additional online savings, use coupon code WEL475 at checkout for $5 off your first order.  It is easily enjoyed by swallowing the seeds in their raw, natural form, or simply mixing into any juice, liquid or even applesauce and yogurt.  Of course, as with any food, cooking or baking the seeds does diminish some of the nutritive properties, still recipes abound that include chia.

You can start with these tempting recipes provided by Shape’s online magazine, and quickly you’ll begin to find your own ways to incorporate these super-seeds into your meal plan.  I’m a fan of the banana and peanut butter wraps, as well as the chocolate pudding.

Recipe: Fruit ‘n Chia Ice Pops
Recipe courtesy Ashley Welikonich, Pagoda Wellness

Now that the weather is warming up, you can cool off with a healthy frozen snack.

Blend your favorite fresh fruit (my favorite is pineapple) with organic coconut or almond milk. Add a splash of natural vanilla and mix in 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon of chia seeds (use about 1 teaspoon of chia seeds for every 2 to 4 ounces of liquid for a thick gel/texture).

Note: Individual texture preferences vary so experiment with the amount of chia you add.  2 teaspoons to 1 tablespoon per 8 – 10 ounces is a good place to start.  Add more or less to suit your preference.


Photo Copyright © 2012 by Donna Marie Desfor and There’s a Chef in My Kitchen LLC.  All Rights Reserved.
Copyright © 2012 by WITF, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.

Published in In witfs Kitchen with Chef Donna Desfor

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