It's not just for pet plants anymore: Chia seeds are one of spring's biggest health fads, touted as aiding everything from weight loss to heart health. Is this seed, from which Chia Pets are grown, really a miracle food?
"I've been working with it for 20 years, and we're still learning about chia," says Wayne Coates, Ph.D., author of "Chia: The Complete Guide to the Ultimate Superfood." "What we have found is that it lowers cholesterol, reduces inflammation [and] can help weight loss -- and diabetics have been able to reduce their medications."
Chia, which contains valuable omega-3s, fiber, broad-spectrum antioxidants and protein, is a member of the mint family. It's native to southern Mexico and Guatemala and was likely used by ancient peoples there. Many years ago, Dr. Coates, an agricultural engineer and founder of the website Azchia.com, oversaw commercial chia cultivation in Argentina. Initially, it was used as animal feed.
"We saw how good it was, how magical," he says, adding that he saw not only horse hooves grow quicker, but his wife's fingernails, too.
Dr. Coates says he's seen no adverse affects, but advises eating only black or white seeds,
"Brown are immature, they're bad," he says. Immature seeds are likely to have fewer nutrients.
"Obviously I have a vested interest, but we've seen a lot of interesting things. Chia can seriously help the health of this country," Dr. Coates says, "and of the world."
More about chia
The versatility of chia seeds makes them a great topper for foods like oatmeal, yogurt and salad. You can also bake with them.
One possible effect is mental alertness/irritability, so avoid eating them before sleeping.
To avoid constipation and cramping, drink plenty of water. The seeds absorb liquid from the body.
You can reconstitute the seeds before eating (dehydrate them and puff them back up when you're ready to use).
See for yourself
1. AZChia's Chiabia are milled seeds, meaning they've been opened so your body can in theory absorb them better. $8-$10 per lb., www.azchia.com
2. Health Warrior Chia Bars clock in at 100 calories. $23.50 for a box of 15, www.healthwarrior.com
3. Organic Mamma Chia drinks are made with organic chia and fruits. Just watch the calories here -- it's like having a glass of fruit juice. $3.50-$4 a bottle, www.mammachia.com