I first heard of the chia seed from my boyfriend. He was reading the book Born to Run and told me about the Tarahumara, a tribe in Mexico’s Copper Canyon. According to the book, a staple of the Tarahumara diet is the chia seed. The chia seed is partially credited with giving the Tarahumara the ability to run effortlessly. Intrigued, he ordered a bag and suggested I try it for my next workout.
However, when the 3 lb bag arrived I first thought, “Three pounds!?!” After the shock of what now seems like a small bag, I was surprised to read that the seeds are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids and promote the right balance to Omega-6 fatty acids. Why is this important? Our bodies cannot make them. When the body cannot manufacture something it is referred to as essential and it must be supplied by the diet. Thus our essential fatty acids are Omega-3 and Omega-6.
These essential fatty acids are complementary, each providing something the other cannot. For instance, Omega-6s are important to brain function and normal growth and development. Omega-3s help prevent blood clots, protect against irregular heartbeats, lower blood pressure, support our immune systems and reduce inflammation.
To complicate matters, Omega-6 and Omega-3 compete in our bodies for the same enzymes in order to be absorbed. So when we have too much Omega-6 in our bodies, they win the competition for the enzyme and now we are deficient in our Omega-3s.
Today’s typical diet is overloaded with Omega-6 fatty acids. We receive Omega-6 fatty acids through nuts, corn oil, safflower oil, seeds, meats, chicken, and eggs. Whereas, we receive Omega-3s in oils such as flaxseed and canola, walnuts, oysters and fatty fish such as salmon. Personally, I do not eat oysters or salmon on a regular basis. Also, given the cost of flaxseed oil and nuts I consider those items luxury and indulge in their usage sparingly. Is it not surprising our diets are high in Omega-6?
So how do we boost our Omega-3 intake? Chia seed to the rescue! This “runner’s food” is not just for runners. Two tablespoons of chia seeds provides a 3 to 1 ratio of Omega -3 to Omega-6. It is important to note that there are no specific daily recommendations for these two fatty acids and that simply decreasing your intake of Omega-6 is discouraged. Rather, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center, increasing your intake of Omega-3s to no more than 3 grams daily has been found to be most beneficial.
Observing their advice 3 grams is approximately 1.5 tablespoons of chia seeds. So add some chia seeds to your salad, in your next batch of muffins, bread, or mix some in with your next smoothie! I have added chia seeds to cookies and muffins to give them a little nutritional boost without altering the taste or texture. Check back Wednesday for our chia enhanced smoothie.