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You just never know where the next superfood is lurking. Terra-cotta chia pets (“the pottery that grows!”) have been around for more than 30 years. But recently chia has gone from a silly novelty gift to an “it” health food.
I was resistant at first. On paper, chia seeds (about $10 per pound) just look like a pricier take on flaxseeds ($2 per pound). Both are rich in omega-3 fats and fiber, nutrients that may reduce the risk of heart disease, Alzheimer’s and other things that go bump in the night. Since I already had some flax in the cupboard I didn’t feel compelled to jump on the chia bandwagon.
On a recent trip to New York, however, I stopped into Le Pain Quotidien and selected a chia muffin from the bakery case. Despite its healthful earnestness, the muffin was surprisingly yummy, with the chia seeds providing an appealing poppy seed-like crunch. Later that week, I came across a packet of chia seeds next to the flaxseeds at Trader Joe’s and tossed it into my cart. My flaxseeds have been gathering dust ever since.
For one thing, chia is a lot more user friendly. To get the nutritional benefits from flaxseeds, you have to grind them. But once ground, the fats in the seeds quickly go rancid. And ground flax isn’t that appetizing—it has a texture like sawdust and, depending on age, can taste faintly fishy.
Chia, on the other hand, is virtually flavorless. And the seeds don’t need to be ground—or even chewed—in order to deliver their nutritional payload. Each serving provides an entire day’s allowance of omega-3s and more than a third of your daily fiber requirement.
In or on baked goods, the seeds add a pleasant crunch. But the real fun begins when you add chia to liquids, where the seeds form a texture reminiscent of tapioca pudding.
A creamy “pudding” has now replaced my morning smoothie. (Mix ½ cup unsweetened almond milk, 2 tablespoons chia seeds, 1 teaspoon maple syrup, ¼ cup blueberries and/or ½ sliced banana in a glass and refrigerate overnight.) A jewel-toned concoction made with a ½ cup of pomegranate juice, 3 tablespoons of chia and ¼ cup of sliced strawberries is my new, guilt-free dessert (allow 2 hours to gel).
These seeds are too much fun (and too good for you) to squander by growing green “beards” on clay figurines!
Monica Reinagel is a Baltimore-based licensed nutritionist and creator of the award-winning Nutrition Diva podcast. Find her on Facebook or Twitter @nutritiondiva.