Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Retirement Nutrition - Chia Fiber Alert

Recent TV ads for chia seeds have caught my attention. Yes, these are the same chia seeds used in those ubiquitous Chia Pets that just won’t go away. I call them counter top topiary for the masses. It seems those seeds have exceptional nutritional value, in addition to their decorative use.

First and foremost, according to the ads, they’re an excellent source of fiber. At this point in our lives, who isn’t interested in finding new sources of fiber? I’ll try anything to keep me from dependence on those daily doses of Metamucil that were a staple of my mother’s diet.

Some quick surfing of the Internet informed me that chia seeds were an important part of the ancient Mayan and Aztec diets. Those cultures prized chia seeds as a source of nutrition and energy. The chia plant Salvia hispanica grows throughout much of Central America and southern Mexico.

In addition to its benefit for fiber, chia is a great source of Omega 3 fatty acids, which promote circulation and cardiovascular health, and (according to some websites) helps reduce inflammation due to arthritis and may even prevent Parkinsons. “How great a source of Omega 3?” (you may be asking.) One ounce of chia seeds has more than two and a half times the Omega 3 as the same amount of flax seed (4.9 grams vs. 1.8.)

As for soluble fiber, an important aid in fighting high cholesterol, an ounce of chia seeds delivers 10.6 grams of fiber, while 3/4 cup of oatmeal gives you just 2.8, and an ounce of flax seeds provides 7.6. I read that chia seeds can absorb about ten times their weight in water and will turn to gelatin if left long enough. This leaves me wondering if Chia Pets look like they’re wearing too much product as their “hair” grows.

As if omega 3 and good fiber weren’t enough, we’re told that chia seeds have three times the calcium as a stalk of broccoli and scads more protein than an equal amount of kidney beans. (No mention of how it compares with beans on musical side effects.)

They’re also a rich source of potassium, magnesium, iron, and more. The full list sounds like the labels on all the vitamins we take every day in our household. Maybe I can just substitute chia seeds for my handful of pills and my daily banana. Those on gluten-free diets will be glad to know that chia seed flour can be used as a 1-to-1 substitute for wheat flour in any recipe.

Armed with all this impressive information, I purchased a supply of these magic seeds and added them to our diet. We’ve had them sprinkled on our cereal and in our yoghurt and mixed into tofu burgers. It turns out there’s a darker side to this wonder food that the ads don’t share and the websites don’t report.

Two weeks into my experiment, I noticed some hairy side effects. Suddenly, my navel was sprouting chia grass. Likewise, my husband’s ears and underarms. We were becoming human Chia Pets. At first I tried trimming the sprouts, but the more I trimmed, the thicker it came in. Now we looked like human topiaries.

Fortunately, once we stopped ingesting the seeds, the growth died off. I share this sad tale with all of you so that you won’t be suckered in by the ads, as I was. Sadly, there is no magic bullet for getting enough soluble fiber and Omega 3 fatty acids. My advice: stick with your flax seed and oatmeal. And wash it all down with a nice glass of wine.

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