Chia seeds, a member of the mint family, are all the rage, according to Food & Nutrition magazine (January-February 2014). From beverages to baked goods, these tiny black and white seeds from the Salvia hispanica plant have a long history. Grown in Mexico and South America, chia seeds are said to have been used by Mayan and Aztec cultures for their healing powers.
Are they worth trying? Absolutely. One 1-ounce serving of chia seeds contains 138 calories, 5 grams of protein, 9 grams of fat and 10 grams of fiber as well as calcium and omega-3 fatty acids. But the jury is still out on their health benefits.
Like flaxseeds, chia seeds have a mild, nutty flavor but unlike flaxseeds, they can be eaten whole or ground. They are common ingredients in chia fresco, a Mexican and Central American drink that blends the seeds with lime or lemon juice and a sweetener. When combined with liquid, the chia seeds swell and form a gel. The gel can be a substitute for eggs in a recipe or for pectin in jam.
There have been claims that chia seeds control hunger and promote heart health, but the jury is still out. Of four published clinical trials so far, three found positive effects for body weight loss, reduced blood glucose and triglyceride levels, but the fourth study found no significant effect on weight loss or disease risk. More research is needed.
How can you use them? Sprinkle ground or whole seeds on cereal, salad, pudding and yogurt. Use chia gel to bind veggie patties or as a thickener in soups. Mix ground chia into flour to boost nutrients in baked goods like muffins, cookies and cakes. Chia can add fluffiness to gluten-free waffles or pancakes. Hydrated chia seeds can be used as an egg substitute as well.
Q and A
Q: It seems like more and more people are trying tai chi. Does this kind of slow exercise really have any health benefits?
A: Tai chi (pronounced tie-chee), which originated in China as a martial art, is today practiced mostly as an exercise to promote balance and healing. Both tai chi and a similar activity called qigong (pronounced chee-gung) include slow, flowing, dance-like motions and may also include sitting or standing meditation postures. These practices are often referred to as “moving meditation,” because as participants slowly move through the poses, they also focus on deep breathing and mental awareness.
A review of 67 randomized controlled trials of tai chi or qigong concluded that these activities showed benefits after 8 to 12 weeks for heart health (especially blood pressure), bone health and balance (especially among those who were sedentary or at risk of falls). This analysis found the evidence for help with weight control inconclusive. The greatest overall benefit is seen when comparing those who practice tai chi or qigong to people who are sedentary or do stretching exercise only.
Page 2 of 3 - Research is currently looking at how these gentle types of activity may benefit those who have obstacles to more demanding exercise, including people with osteoarthritis (the most common form of arthritis) of the knee and some cancer survivors. An analysis of studies on knee osteoarthritis shows short-term benefits reducing pain and stiffness and improving physical functioning. Studies of Tai Chi for cancer survivors so far have been small, but suggest improvements in anxiety, depression and fatigue. Physical benefit may vary with length of program, initial level of fitness and other factors.
— Information courtesy of the American Institute for Cancer Research
This recipe for Creamy, Light Potato Soup cuts the calories and boost the nutrition by including roasted (then pureed) cauliflower. It’s one of the recipes from MyRecipes, part of USDA’s www.choosemyplate.gov, designed to provide healthy recipes.
CREAMY LIGHT POTATO SOUP
• 1 1/2 T extra-virgin olive oil, divided
• 1 cup chopped onion
• 1 t chopped fresh thyme
• 5 garlic cloves, chopped
• 1 pound cubed peeled baking potato (about 2)
• 1 pound cubed Yukon gold potato (about 4)
• 5 cups unsalted chicken stock (such as Swanson)
• 1 t kosher salt, divided
• 1 bay leaf
• 1 pound cauliflower, cut into florets (about 1/2 head)
• 3/4 t freshly ground black pepper, divided
• Cooking spray
• 1 1/2 cups 2 percent reduced-fat milk
• 3/4 cup chopped green onions, divided
• 1/2 cup fat-free fromage blanc (such as Vermont Creamery) or sour cream
• 2 ounces grated sharp cheddar cheese (about 1/2 cup)
• 4 slices center-cut bacon, cooked and crumbled
Preheat oven to 450 F. Heat a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add onion, thyme and garlic; saute 5 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally. Add potatoes, stock, 1/2 teaspoon salt and bay leaf; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 35 minutes or until potatoes are very tender, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat; discard bay leaf. While potatoes simmer, combine remaining 1 tablespoon oil, cauliflower, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper on a jelly-roll pan coated with cooking spray; toss to coat.
Roast at 450 F for 30 minutes or until browned, turning once. Place cauliflower mixture and milk in a blender. Remove center piece of blender lid (to allow steam to escape); secure blender lid on blender. Place a clean towel over opening (to avoid splatters). Blend until smooth. Pour cauliflower mixture into a large bowl. Add half of potato mixture to blender; pulse 5 to 6 times or until coarsely chopped. Pour into bowl with cauliflower mixture. Repeat with remaining potato mixture.
Place cauliflower-potato mixture in Dutch oven over medium heat. Stir in remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, remaining 1/2 teaspoon pepper, 1/2 cup green onions and fromage blanc; stir until fromage blanc melts. Ladle soup into eight bowls. Top evenly with remaining green onions, cheese and bacon.
Page 3 of 3 - Serves 8 (serving size: about 1 1/4 cups soup, 1 1/2 t green onions, 1 T cheese and 1 1/2 t bacon)
Per serving: 223 calories, 12.7 g protein, 29.7 g carbohydrate, 6.7 g fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 3.5 g fiber, 478 mg sodium.
Charlyn Fargo is a registered dietitian from Springfield, Ill. For comments or questions, contact her at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @NutritionRD.