Tuesday, February 1, 2011

My new love

Ch, ch, ch CHIA! Those funny terra cotta animals that when watered, grew green hair. I never really thought about what kind of seeds lurked under the surface, but I know now: chia seeds, the newest darlings on the nutritious foods block.

Dr. Oz loves these harvested, unprocessed, nutty-tasting, nutrient-dense whole grain seeds with omega-3 fatty acids. They have among the highest antioxidant activity of any food, and because the seeds are packed with fiber, Dr. Oz says if you ingest 15 grams a day – about 1 tablespoon – you’ll start shedding pounds without even trying.

Dr. Oz is not alone in his love of chia seeds. Dr. Andrew Weil is convinced that we will soon be hearing more about this powerful little food. He says that if you add chia seeds to water and let it sit for 30 minutes, a gel forms. Researchers suggest that this reaction also takes place in the stomach, slowing the process by which digestive enzymes break down carbohydrates and convert them into sugar.

And one more: The Doctor’s TV show listed chia seeds as one of 52 foods we should eat to achieve a healthier 2011. The docs claim chia seeds slow aging.

In addition to reducing food cravings, making you feel fuller faster, and keeping you young, there is some research that claims chia seeds can benefit diabetes because they slow down the rate our bodies convert carbs into simple sugar, thereby controlling blood sugar. And more claims say they reduce blood pressure. Chia gel can hydrate the body, a boon for athletes.

We might just be discovering this wondrous seed, but they have been around for centuries. In pre-Columbian times they were a main component of the Aztec and Mayan diets. It has been written that Aztec warriors lived on one tablespoon of chia seeds a day. The Aztecs also used chia medicinally to stimulate saliva flow and to relieve joint pain and sore skin. It was a major crop in central Mexico between 1500 and 900 B.C., and was still cultivated well into the 16th century, AD, but after the Spanish conquest, authorities banned it because of its close association with Aztec religion.

I first came across chia seeds at Catch a Healthy Habit CafĂ© in Fairfield, a mecca for the raw food movement in Fairfield County. They make a chia pudding that is amazingly yummy. Today, I’m including my favorite recipe, which is ridiculously easy to make. I have a half cup each morning, and cannot believe how it fills me up. An hour after eating chia pudding, I have a bowl of oatmeal, and I am full for hours.

2 Tblsp. Chia seeds
1 cup almond or coconut milk
¼ tsp. pure vanilla extract
14 dried cherries, cut in quarters

* Put chia seeds, almond milk, vanilla and cherries in a glass container with a lid. Tighten the lid and shake well to thoroughly combine. Refrigerate overnight. Makes 4 servings.

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