Move over, flax and hemp. The latest super seed to sprout on store shelves is ch-ch-ch-chia, a cousin of the seeds (Salvia columbariae) you once used to grow a crop of green hair atop your clay "pet." The chia seed now sold as a nutty topping for yogurts and salads and used in cereals, energy bars, even pastas, is a different variety called Salvia hispanica. This type of chia reportedly packs more alpha-linoleic acid, an omega-3 fat, than flaxseeds, and also provides fiber, antioxidants and even some calcium and iron. A member of the mint family that is abundant in Mexico and South America, chia was highly prized by the Aztecs, who believed it provided supernatural powers. Today, it's being touted for having cardiovascular benefits, reducing blood sugar levels and perhaps even squelching hunger pangs.
Pros: In a 2007 Diabetes Care study of 20 people with type 2 diabetes, those who added about 4 tablespoons of Salba-a specific Salvia hispanica strain that's been cultivated for its nutritional consistency-to their diets for 12 weeks saw improvements in blood pressure and reduced inflammation, a recognized risk for heart disease. In April, the study's authors (scientists from the University of Toronto) reported at an annual Experimental Biology meeting that healthy people who ate a slice of white bread containing as little as three-quarters of a tablespoon of Salba saw a drop in blood sugar levels and reported feeling fuller than after they ate plain white bread.
Cons: Chia seeds can vary widely in their nutritional makeup, and Salba is the only cultivar for which clinical trials suggest health benefits. (Even for Salba, the published peer-reviewed science currently is limited to one small preliminary study.) Although high in fiber, chia seeds are also high in calories (about 37 calories and 3 grams fiber per tablespoon).
Bottom line: "The average American already gets a good amount of omega-3 fatty acids from the two major vegetable oils used in the U.S., soybean and canola oils," says Alice Lichtenstein, D.Sc., director of the Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory at Tufts University and an EatingWell Nutrition Advisory Board member. "There are no data to indicate supplemental vegetable sources of omega-3 fatty acids will provide additional health benefits." That said, eating chia seeds (the kind sold as food!) won't harm you. So if it's nutty crunch you crave, try them. But don't expect your hair to grow any faster.
Broiled Salmon with Miso GlazeBoost your intake of the other two omega-3s (DHA and EPA) with Broiled Salmon with Miso Glaze:
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
2 tablespoons sweet white miso paste (see Ingredient note)
2 tablespoons mirin (Japanese rice wine) (see Ingredient note)
1 tablespoon reduced-sodium soy sauce or tamari (see Ingredient note)
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
A few drops hot pepper sauce
1 1/4 pounds center-cut salmon fillet, cut into 4 portions
2 tablespoons thinly sliced scallions
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro or parsley
1. Position oven rack in upper third of oven; preheat broiler. Line a small baking pan with foil. Coat foil with cooking spray.
2. Toast sesame seeds in a small dry skillet over low heat, stirring constantly, until fragrant, 3 to 5 minutes. Set aside.
3. Whisk miso, mirin, soy sauce (or tamari), ginger and hot pepper sauce in a small bowl until smooth.
4. Place salmon fillets, skin-side down, in the prepared pan. Brush generously with the miso mixture. Broil salmon, 3 to 4 inches from the heat source, until opaque in the center, 6 to 8 minutes.
5. Transfer the salmon to warmed plates and garnish with the reserved sesame seeds, scallions and cilantro (or parsley).
NUTRITION INFORMATION: Per serving: 252 calories; 10 g fat (2 g sat, 3 g mono); 78 mg cholesterol; 7 g carbohydrate; 30 g protein; 1 g fiber; 432 mg sodium; 730 mg potassium. Nutrition bonus: Potassium (37% daily value); high in omega-3s. 1/2 Carbohydrate Serving.Exchanges: 3 lean meat.
Ingredient Note: Miso paste, mirin and tamari are available in health-food stores and Asian markets.
By Ana Mantica for EatingWell
Related Links from EatingWell:
- For more ways to get omega-3s into your diet visit EatingWell's Healthy Seafood Recipes Collection.
- Learn all about good fats and bad fats in EatingWell's Healthy in a Minute Video.
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