When you hear “chia,” you may immediately think of the well-known green Chia Pets. However, chia seeds have recently become a staple food in health food stores for their promising health benefits.

Chia seeds come from the desert plant Salvia hispanica, a member of the mint family, commonly known as the chia plant. The Salvia hispanica seed, or chia seed, is thought to have originated in Central America where the seed was a staple in the ancient Aztec diet. Chia seeds are edible and were regarded as an energy booster in past cultures.

Chia seeds have recently gained attention as a promising source of omega-3 fatty acids and fiber. Chia seeds can be absorbed by the body as seeds and two tablespoons of chia seeds contains 139 calories, 4 grams of protein, 9 grams fat, 12 grams carbohydrate and 11 grams of fiber. Chia seeds also contain iron, calcium, magnesium and zinc.

The mild flavor of chia seeds makes them easy to add to foods and beverages. The seeds can be sprinkled on cereal, sauces, vegetables, rice and yogurt or mixed into smoothies and baked products such as bread and crackers.

Chia seeds can also be consumed raw; additionally, chia seeds are very absorbent and develop a gel-like texture when soaked in water, making them able to be mixed into foods such as cooked cereal.

Limited research suggests including chia seeds as part of a healthy diet may help improve cardiovascular risk factors such as lowering cholesterol, triglycerides and blood pressure.

This research is not abundant, as the number of participants and studies available in general is quite small, and any available research does not show a direct benefit at this time.

Select websites and health associations claim chia seeds can promote weight loss because of the ability of the seed to expand into gel, making people feel full, eat less and in turn, lose weight. No current research study has proven this theory.

One study showed over a 12-week period there was no change in the participants’ appetite or weight.

Additionally, another showed no reduction in body weight, body fat and no improvement in traditional cardiovascular markers from 50 grams of chia per day.

Carey Stites is a certified personal trainer, group fitness instructor and a Registered Dietitian with a master’s degree in nutrition. Carey is currently the Registered Dietitian working with Wellstone in Harker Heights. Contact her at carey.stites@smchh.org.

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