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Chia seeds are good for your health

Q: What are Chia seeds? Is it true that eating them can be beneficial for my health?

A: Chia seeds (Salvia hispanica), a member of the mint family, are an ancient grain from Mexico. Prized by the Aztec Indians as a food and often used in religious rituals, it was believed that eating a small amount of Chia seeds could sustain warriors and runners for an entire day. After the Spanish conquest, the seeds were no longer allowed to be grown and were nearly forgotten. It is fortunate that they survived, because modern research shows that Chia seeds have numerous health benefits.

Just about anyone could probably benefit from eating Chia seeds, but they are especially helpful for those who want to decrease their risk of heart disease, stabilize their blood sugar, or lose weight. The seeds are fun to cook with, have a mild flavor, and can easily be added to any recipe that calls for a thickener.

Chia seeds consist of 31 percent fats, 16 percent proteins, 44 percent carbohydrates (38 percent of which is fiber), and some antioxidants.

Consuming Chia seeds can help prevent heart disease because most of the fats they contain are omega 3 fatty acids. These are the "friendly" fats, which have been shown in numerous studies to assist with the production of favorable HDL cholesterol, help lower unfavorable LDL cholesterol, and help decrease inflammation in the body. An animal study published in the Annals of Nutrition & Metabolism in 2007 found that Chia seeds not only increase HDL content but also decrease triglyceride (blood fat) content.

Chia seeds are high in both insoluble and soluble fiber. Insoluble fiber can help control cholesterol, as well as keep you regular. Soluble fiber can benefit those who have blood sugar swings and Type 2 diabetes. When Chia seeds are combined with liquid, they form a gel; the soluble fiber in the seeds slows the breakdown and digestion of carbohydrates, which results in a slower release of the sugars in carbohydrate-containing foods. This in turn results in more gradual rises in blood sugar and insulin - both of which are beneficial changes.

Adding a tablespoon of Chia seeds to a meal can help people lose weight by increasing their sense of fullness and satiety. You can add Chia seeds to smoothies, sprinkle them on soups, or use them to make any dish creamier. A number of Chia seed recipes and books about Chia, including a book called Cooking With Chia, can be found at www.chiaforhealth.com.

Dr. Laurie Steelsmith is a naturopathic physician and licensed acupuncturist in Honolulu, as well as author of the new book Natural Choices for Women's Health, published by Random House. You can reach her and read her past columns at
www.DrSteelsmith.com. This column is for information only. Consult your health provider for medical advice.

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