Ch-ch-ch-chia! The fuzzy green novelty items may be the first thing you think of when you hear the word chia, but these tiny superfood seeds are the reason Chia Pets get their lush coating. Now and days, chia is becoming better known as a great source of healthy omega-3 fats and fibre, and fortunately it’s an easy food to add to your diet.
Chia seeds come from a flowering plant in the mint family that’s native to Mexico and Guatemala, and history suggests it was a very important food crop for the Aztecs. It’s remained in regular use in its native countries, but was largely unknown in North America until researcher Wayne Coates began studying chia as an alternative crop for farmers in northern Argentina about 29 years ago.
Coates started his work on chia in 1991, and since then has become an advocate of the tiny seed’s health benefits. The human trials are limited —as is often the case with food research— but the anecdotal evidence of chia’s positive health effects include boosting energy, stabilizing blood sugar, aiding digestion, and lowering cholesterol.
The little seed — which comes in either white or a dark brown and black colour — also has a huge nutritional profile. It contains calcium, manganese, and phosphorus, and is a great source of healthy omega-3 fats. As an added benefit, chia seeds can be eaten whole or milled, while flax seeds have to be ground before consumption in order to access their health benefits for example.
When you’re buying chia, both the white and black seeds are good choices, but Coates warns to make sure you’re getting a good quality product by avoiding either red seeds (immature chia seeds), or black seeds that are smaller than regular chia seeds (weed seeds). Coates sells the seeds himself, but they are available from many different health food stores and supermarkets.
So once you’ve got your seeds, how to you add them to your diet? “The easiest way is to add it to everything and anything,” Coates says. The seeds are tasteless so they won’t affect the flavour profile of your food, which makes them easy to integrate into your meals. They can be sprinkled whole on top of salads or toast or added milled to smoothies, and Coates says that some of his customers even add them to ice cream. (And yes, you can even sprout it and eat it that way too!)