Feb. 21, 2012 at 1:56 PM ET
And you thought ch-ch-ch-chia was just the seeds of a good gag gift. Actually, the health-minded are increasingly turning to chia for its nutritional benefits -- the seeds, that is, not the Pets. Don't eat your Chia Pets, please.
But the seeds themselves can be found health food stores like Whole Foods -- and they're even creeping into more commercial stores like Wal-Mart, which sells the seeds online. You can also find chia seeds in energy bars, and TODAY's diet and nutrition expert Joy Bauer says she's seen chia seeds in supermarkets, often added to items like crackers, chips and cereals.
"They are definitely making a quick transition to mainstream," Bauer says. She also says she's starting to get more questions from viewers and readers on chia seeds' nutritional benefits. (Which reminds us: You can ask Joy your own questions right here.)
You can eat the seeds by themselves, but Joy suggests treating them like ground flaxseed, sprinkling a spoonful on yogurt or cottage cheese, or adding to smoothies, or pancake and muffin batters. "They’re pretty much tasteless so you can’t go wrong," Bauer says. "You can also make a great vegan egg substitute by combining 1 tablespoon chia seeds with 3 tablespoons water and letting it sit for about 10 minutes to gel up." Who knew?
And like flaxseeds, chia seeds are a great source of the plant-based type of omega-3 fats called ALA, Bauer explains.
"These fats help fight inflammation in your joints, arteries, and all over your body," Bauer says. "And chia seeds are ultra rich in soluble fiber, which helps lower LDL 'bad' cholesterol, promote regularity and control blood sugars."
We should point out that Bauer totally called this last month -- here's her chatting with Ann Curry on a January TODAY segment.
Have you tried chia seeds -- either by themselves, or added to something like yogurt or a smoothie? If you haven't, would you? Join us on Facebook to chat about this story with nutrition nuts like you.