We would all like to know the secret to staying healthy and living longer. Doctors tell us it's largely about making smart food choices about what to eat and what to avoid. They're now raving about the new superfood, chia. Yes, the same chia used in those novelty gifts, "Chia Pets."
For years, those amusing little items have been tickling our funny bone. When you spread chia seeds on a toy animal, the seeds grow and look like hair.
It turns out, instead of laughing at chia seeds all this time, we should have been eating them! They're incredibly healthful. Most of us have never heard of eating chia seeds, but the idea is actually very old. Hundreds of years ago Aztec warriors ate chia seeds to stay strong in battle.
'Mini-Lap Band Surgery'
Now, chia is the cornerstone of Dr. Bob Arnot's new book The Aztec Diet.
"Most people on a diet complain about this brain-searing hunger. I mean they are always miserably hungry," he pointed out. "So the advantage here is with chia, you put it in your stomach and it grows 1,2,3,4,5,6,7 times its size in your stomach. And it was described by one magazine as mini lap-band surgery."
At just 70 calories these remarkable little seeds bring you six times more calcium than milk, three times more iron than spinach, and eight times the omega-3s found in salmon. Omega-3s are essential for good health but is often missing from most diets.
"For our brains, you need a certain amount of omega-3 fatty acids to feel good," explains Dr. Arnot. "We know that there are studies of depression and manic depressive illness where patients who have lots of omega 3 fatty acids do better. It's even used as some treatment regimens."
Chia also contains magnesium, selenium, fiber and protein.
That's important because believe it or not, overweight people are often malnourished. In fact, that's how we get fat. We stuff ourselves with junk food, thinking it will satisfy our needs. The truth is our bodies know what we need is healthy food. According to Dr. Arnot, it's only when we get enough micronutrients that we finally stop wanting more food.
"You know, we're not getting the minerals, vitamins and anti-oxidants that we need in our diet," he said. "So with our burgers and fries and what-not, eating all this stuff, we're not getting them. And so our body is always hungry for these micro-nutrients, always like fiddling, and trying to get it. We may get some more chips and french fries and what-not, and we never get it. So we massively overeat. "
Too Many Carbs
Mostly we are eating way too many refined carbohydrates like desserts, starches and breads. Refined carbohydrates raise our blood sugar level, also known as our glucose load, which makes us want more refined carbohydrates and the cycle continues. According to Dr. Arnot, this is what's wrong with the typical American diet.
"If you have big blocks, like rice cakes, pancakes, bagels, white bread, french toast, you have a big carb load," Dr. Arnot explained. "And that is the primary reason that so many of us are overweight and have diabetes."
"Studies out of Harvard Medical School show that if you drop that carb load, your fasting blood sugar is going to come down and the weight is going to come off," he said.
Eating too many refined carbohydrates not only makes us fat, it can also lead to disease. The sugar and starch overload causes inflammation, which is blamed for health problems ranging from heart attacks to cancer.
"But the key thing about inflammation, which we're getting from our diet, is it affects our brain," Dr. Arnot explained. "And it affects the neurotransmitters in there. So we feel just plain terrible."
"It's the main reason people who are overweight: they don't have the motivation," he continued. "They're not fired up, they can't get up, they can't exercise because they feel terrible."
So by avoiding those carbs, you'll reduce inflammation, lose weight and feel more energetic. Refined carbohydrates are also low in nutrition and high in calories. Replace them with foods that are just the opposite, low in calories but high in nutrition, foods like chia.
Where to Get Chia
More grocery stores and health food stores are now carrying chia, or you can purchase it online. A one-pound bag usually costs about $10. The mostly flavorless seeds can be added whole or ground to just about any food or drink.
Dr. Arnot mixes a quarter-cup with two other superfoods -- blueberries and kale. He also adds Greek yogurt, honey and water for a meal he says can be life changing.
"So you have the smoothie and with that your inflammation goes like way down [sic], your glucose load plummets [sic], you feel full and your brain feels amazingly great right away. It's not a matter of a week or two. Within six hours you will feel a difference," he said.
So by replacing refined carbohydrates with foods high in nutrients and low in calories -- foods like the new superfood chia -- you'll be on the road to weight loss, increased energy and quite possibly a longer life.