The little seed with a lot to offer: Chia

coconut-lime-chia-frescaSummer may be technically winding down, but in Los Angeles the heat wave’s still going strong. Needless to say, I’ve turned into a complete and utter juice monster. The hotter it gets, the more fresh-pressed juice I consume in attempt to keep cool and energized via simple carbohydrates, natural electrolytes, and easy-to-digest bioavailable nutrients.

The downside to my juice party is it’s easy to load up on the sugar, albeit natural. Watering down my beverages certainly helps, but to further balance some of these sugars, I’ve been adding some extra fiber and healthy omega fats to my juice concoctions in the form of chia seeds.

What they are: Chia’s a tiny seed — just slightly larger than a poppy seed — indigenous to South America. On the health food scene, chia may be relatively new in its “superfood” status. Yet these seeds have actually been revered by Mayan, Incan and Aztec cultures for thousands of years. Chia, the Mayan word for “strength,” was originally enjoyed as a staple food source right alongside corn, beans and amaranth in ancient cultures.

Why they rock: Chia seeds are considered a superfood primarily because of two nutritional properties. The first property is their extraordinary amount of fiber — just one tablespoon contains a whopping 6 grams of fiber, or 25% of the suggested RDA! Chia’s second attribute is an excellent healthy essential fatty acid (EFA) content, which is superior to the nutrition in flax because it includes antioxidants — making the fat more stable. Chia seeds are indeed among the best sources of plant-based omega 3 fatty acids – containing around 8 times more omega 3 than salmon, when comparing gram for gram. Bonus: Also tucked into this tiny super seed package is digestable protein, calcium, iron, and many other minerals.

Why they’re . . . strange: So superman may be able to fly, but leave a chia seed in liquid and in under 30 minutes it will soak up NINE times it’s weight in water. The result is a complete transformation in consistency. Each seed goes from small and crunchy, to forming a fantastic flavorless jelly-like membrane around itself that adds a delectably fun texture to foods and drinks.

How to use: Though raw chia seeds’ neutral taste makes them easy to toss into just about anything for a quick nutritional boost, most people find that making a quick chia gel is an especially rewarding way to enjoy this food. The gel base can then be turned into a simple pudding by adding soy or nutmilk, dried fruit, and a bit of sweetener. Or use a spoonful of chia gel as a nutritionally enhanced egg replacement in baking.

Where to buy: Natural food stores are hip to the chia hotness. Or you can always hook up a bag online – I like Navitas Naturals.

Favorite recipe: In Mexico, there’s a fantastic traditional drink known as “chia fresca” which uses soaked chia seeds alongside water, lemon or citrus juice, and a touch of sweetener. With all the fun little crunchy/jelly chia guys floating around, it reminds me a bit of Thai iced tea with tapioca balls in theory. To experience the true definition of delicious hydrating refreshment, try my variation of this Mexican classic: Coconut Lime Chia Fresca.

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