Hola Chia Fresca !

There is no truer statement than ” You learn something new every day.”  Who knew that the Aztecs made chia seeds part of their daily diet? They even used it as currency at one point ( must have been before they discovered chocolate…) But just like the Aztecs, chia seeds soon faded from the Mexican diet with only  Chia Fresca, a very sweet gel like drink  similar to the  Filipino drink sago, a reminder of the chia seeds traditional past.

Recently I had the pleasure of meeting with Mariela Betanzos, a representative of Mexico here in Shanghai to promote the goodness of chia seeds.  It seems that Mexico has rediscovered its chia heritage and is now growing and exporting this super food to the world, and hopefully to China.

As Mariala and I were talking about the nutritional richness of chia seeds, I pointed out that often when I suggest people add chia seeds to their diet, the challenge is how to use the seeds besides the usual oatmeal and smoothies.  I did some sleuthing,  because I am strictly a chia and yogurt person, and it turns out there are plenty of ways to add this healthful gem to you diet.

Get your pencil ready because you are going to want to remember a few of these suggestions:

Add seeds to soup as thickener.

Stir into cooked brown rice.

Stir into cooked lentils.

Add to beaten eggs, soak for 10 minutes and then make an omelette.

Add ground seeds to pancake batter.

Add to muesli or granola.

Saute zucchini with toasted chia seeds.

Sprout the seeds and add to a salad.

Ground or whole seeds can be added to any nut butter spreads, cream cheese or jams.

Add ground seeds soaked in egg as a binder for hamburgers and fish cakes.

Add to any stuffing recipe.

Add to cake batter for a poppy seed like cake.

For cookies: substitute 1/4 to 1/2 half of the flour with milled chia seeds.

How about some traditional Chia Fresca for a hot Shanghai summer day? Traditional chia fresca is very sweet, with about 1.5 tablespoons of sugar per cup. The following recipe is quite refreshing and you can sweeten it yourself as desired.

Pour 1/2 cup ( 120 ml)  lemon  or lime juice and cranberry juice into 9 cups (2L) of water.

Add  1 tablespoon of chia seeds and stir or shake vigorously until the seeds are evenly dispersed.

Shake or stir again after a few minutes to prevent the seeds clumping together.  Shake or stir again before serving. Serve over ice. Garnish with mint leaves.

There is no excuse now to add this true super food into your diet. You can find chia seeds ( by the way, black and white seeds offer the same health benefits) online at Kate&Kimi  (www.kateandkimi.com) or off the shelf at Sprout Lifestyle.

Eat Well, Live Well,Have Fun!

*For more information on the nutritional benefits of chia seeds. Go to EWS blog post of 12/7/2012


Super Foods for a Super March

 March has arrived and that means National Nutrition Month has begun! Of course you should eat right everyday of the year but  National Nutrition Month shines the light on the fun side of  eating for good nutrition, something that often gets overlooked in the office.

So let the fun and games begin. I love this year’s theme because it falls right in line with the Eat Well Shanghai philosophy that eating well can be healthy and delicious!

I also like nutrition month because I get to choose a theme that carries a month of blogs.  This year we are going with…ta daa! SUPER FOODS ! I chose this topic because the trend is growing to promote particular food stuffs as super healthy. Each week (starting with today) we will investigate the science behind the hype of some of the newest and most popular super foods coming to a store shelf or added to a super smoothie  near you.

This week Kombucha is in the spot light. Kombucha (chájūn  茶菌), also known as Manchurian Tea or fungus tea , personally I will go with Kombucha, is a fermented drink of black tea ( or other teas) sugar and yeast and bacteria. The culture of yeast and bacteria will differ depending on the brew master but will probably contain one of the following: Saccharomycodes ludwigii, Schizosaccharomyces pombe, Brettanomyces bruxellensis, Bacterium xylinum, Bacterium gluconicum, Bacterium xylinoides, Bacterium katogenum, Pichia fermentans, Candida stellata, and Torula species.

What’s important to remember is this culture is what makes the drink full of probiotics and contributes to the super food status.

The fermentation takes about  a week and develops in to a fizzy drink that has  a vinegary taste. Most experts recommend that you start with small doses , 1- 2 ounces a day, working up to 4 ounces (120 ml) daily.  Some serious medical issues have been linked to drinking large amount of kombucha due to the high lactic acid content of the drink.   The taste and fiz may be enough to stop you from going over board, but I personally found it fairly easy to drink.

So why is this ancient Chinese elixir and modern day health miracle? According to Traditional Chinese Medicine Kombucha ” By aiding the stomach to better digest food and by assisting the spleen to deliver more nutrition, the body heals itself. Kombucha helps to break stagnation, reduces damp and phlegm and expels toxins from the body.”*

Modern day proponents of  Kombucha have promoted a wide variety of health benefits from curing arthritis to cancer to growing hair, however there has not been any human studies to back up these claims and the American Cancer Institute cautions that people with weakened immune systems speak with a medical professional before add Kombucha to the diet.

There may not be any  human research testing on the health properties of Kombucha, but there has been research few papers  published. One  study indicated that Kombucha enhanced sleep and improved pain thresholds in mice and the other concluded that the high acid content of Kombucha produced anti-microbial properties in a test tube. So you can sort of understand where a few of the health claims are coming from.

While you may not be able to grow hair with this ancient mixture what does seem to have possibilities is the digestive help that Kombucha could provide.  Being a fermented food, the yeast and bacteria culture does produce a healthy amount of probiotics which have been shown to restore and promote healthy intestinal flora ( the good bacteria).

So is it a super food? I doubt this drink will cure all that ails you but I believe it may have digestive benefits for some people. If you want to give it a go just remember to start slow and keep those Kombucha shots to less than 120mls per day!

Eat Well, Live Well, Have Fun!

*The Happy Herbalist: http://www.happyherbalist.com/libraryandresearch.aspx