Monday, November 15, 2010

Chia Seeds: Novelty, Popularity & Controversy

Chia seeds first gained attention in the U.S. in the '80s when the Chia Pet appeared in commercials on the boob tube accompanied by the catchy ch-ch-chia jingle.  I don't think it crossed the minds of many people at the time that the chia seeds, which sprout into a green hairy coating on an animal-shaped terra cotta figurine ("the pottery that grows"), were edible.  I imagine parents even scolded their children for putting the sprouts in their mouths.  Little did they know that the seeds of Salvia hispanica plant (aka. chia) have been consumed for centuries in Mexico where they are indigenous.  Even though they are entirely edible and nutritious, the seeds included in Chia Pet kits have never been promoted as a food because Joseph Enterprises, who holds the patent on the product, never applied for FDA approval.

Fast forward to 25 years... Chia seeds are now one of the hottest foods among certain circles of runners and health faddists in the U.S.  The publication of Born to Run in 2009 not only popularized the practice of barefoot running, it also catapulted the seed, which was previously viewed as a child's novelty, into a trendy health food.  Legends of Aztec warriors subsisting on little more than a spoonful of chia seeds during periods of conquest have been cited as reason to spend up to $10 a pound on the so-called superfood.  Dr. Oz and Dr. Weil have endorsed chia for its high Omega-3 (ALA) and soluble fiber content.  If you can stomach the gelatinous consistency of the seed when it is combined with water (the gooeyness is what makes chia capable of adhering to the Chia pet), you'll also benefit from its amino acids, vitamins, minerals & antioxidants.



Just beware that too much of a good thing can do more harm than good.  The basic tenet of toxicology - The dose makes the poison - is worth noting.  Members of the Barefoot Runners Society have reported being doubled over in pain after consuming chia gel (1 Tablespoon chia is typically combined with 6 Tablespoons of water and allowed to sit till it hydrates to form a gel). "Last night I made up a batch [of chia gel] again and licked the spoon and it was so good that I had two more spoonfuls.  Within an hour I was on the floor, holding my stomach.  It was the worst stomach ache I've ever had."

There's a reason why the Aztecs treated chia as a medicine taking no more than one tablespoon at a time.  Consuming too much soluble fiber in a single sitting without ample water can actually cause the problem it is meant to cure: constipation.  Gas and bloating are common symptoms when fiber is not introduced gradually to a gut unaccustomed to roughage.  Research also suggests that people who eat a lot of fiber without pain or discomfort should still enjoy their raw chia seed pudding in moderation.  A diet very high in fiber can cause intestinal damage and upset the healthy bacteria residing in the gut.  Some studies also suggest decreased mineral absorption from excessive fiber and water consumption.  So if you suffer from IBS, you might be better off smearing chia seed gel on your Chia pet than your white bread toast.


Or you could show your patriotism by planting seeds on the special edition Chia Obama toy.  Although, using chia seeds in this way could classify you a racist if you relish in watching the 44th president grow a green Afro.  The owner of the Chia empire defends his product by suggesting that citizens trim Obama's hair so no offense need be taken.

Is it just me or has the humble little chia seed taken on more distinction than it deserves?

2 comments:

  1. two tabelspoons in a LARGE glass of water....
    NOT 6 tablespoons of water...where did you get that???

    ReplyDelete
  2. I'm afraid I've overdone it too. And BOY does it hurt! It does curb my appetite though (even without pain) so I'm going to start hydrating it the night before and using less. I agree with the writer, it is a dosage issue.

    ReplyDelete