Chia is native to central and southern Mexico, as well as Guatemala. When I visited Mexico, chia seeds were available for sale at most supermarkets, and the price was much, much cheaper than they are at health food stores in the United States.
Chia Seed Nutrition and Health Benefits
One ounce of chia seeds provides 138 calories, 4.4 grams of protein, 8.7 grams of fat and 12.4 grams of carbohydrates – 10.7% of which is fiber. Most of the fat in chia seeds are omega-3 essential fatty acids – 311% RDA per ounce.
As far as minerals, one ounce of chia seeds contains about 179 mg of calcium (about 18% RDA), 38% RDA of phosphorus, 27% RDA of manganese and 9% RDA of zinc.
As with any superfood that is marketed online, there are a lot of over-hyped claims about health benefits and alleged miracle cures attributed to chia seeds. Some claim that chia seed is “medicinal” while others go as far as to say that it can assist in curing cancer. I don’t buy into these claims and prefer to not think of food as “medicine”.
A much touted benefit of chia is the “high digestibility” of its protein content. Studies have shown that ground chia seeds provide the most digestible protein content with raw and then soaked chia seeds coming in at a distant second place.
Precautions: Like flax seeds, chia seeds are rich in a class of phytoestrogens called lignans. While there is considerable debate about how phytoestrogens affect healthy people, those who have hormonal imbalances may want to limit their intake of foods, like chia seeds, that have high levels of these plant estrogens – particularly men who suffer from high levels of estrogen or low testosterone, or women who have higher-than-normal estrogen levels.
There is no clinical evidence that healthy people are at risk of developing hormonal imbalances from consuming chia seeds in normal amounts.
How To Use Chia Seeds In A Green Smoothie
Chia seeds have a mild, very slightly nutty flavor. A tablespoon or two won’t negatively impact the flavor of your green smoothie.
Add up to two tablespoons for a healthy dose of omega-3’s, protein, calcium, phosphorus and manganese. Adding too much chia might make your smoothie gelatinous and could add too much fat to your smoothie, which can cause digestive difficulty.
I recommend two methods for using chia in smoothies. The first method is to soak the whole seeds for about 10-15 minutes just prior to blending. The soaked seeds become gelatinous and blend up well in a high-speed blender. This provides a couple advantages because it keeps the chia as a whole food up until you consume it (which reduced oxidation) and soaking improves digestibility, as well as enhances moisture content.
The other method of using chia is to add dry seeds to a coffee grinder and turn them into a powder, then adding that to your smoothie. If you do this, be sure to add a little extra water to your blender pitcher and drink your smoothie right away. Otherwise, if you let the smoothie sit, the fiber in the chia seeds might take up water turning your entire smoothie into a gelatinous blob clinging to your glass or blender pitcher.
How To Select and Store Chia Seeds
In the United States, chia seeds are mostly purchased online – particularly at websites that sell superfoods. In larger cities, they might be available at health food stores although they are starting to become very popular and I have been able to find them at Costco.
They are native to Mexico and Davy and I have found them in bulk at small specialty markets as well as large grocery store chains (like Mega) in Playa del Carmen where they sell for about 100 pesos per kilogram (about $4.50 USD per pound).
As with all nuts and seeds, store in a cool, dry place. I prefer to keep seeds and nuts in the refrigerator to avoid spoilage and rancidity. Only grind or soak seeds that you will be using within 24 hours as nutrient loss and spoilage can occur.
Chia seeds are highly nutritious and easy to add to a green smoothie. Give them a try!
Tracy Russell is the creator of RESET 28: A 28-Day Program For Energy, Weight Loss & A Healthy Glow, and founder of Incredible Smoothies. She has been helping people take control of their health and well being with green smoothies, a whole foods diet, and fitness since 2009.