Make Great Grilled Salads at Home!

Sliced RomaineI’m always on the lookout for ways to eat, serve, and enjoy more vegetables. Salads are winners, but sometimes the toppings tend to pile on more calories and sodium than I want.

Caesar salad is a great example. It sounds healthy in the beginning, but the high-fat dressing, huge dose of cheese, and heaps of croutons frequently outweigh the benefits of the dark green leafy Romaine lettuce. A tablespoon of a typical Caesar dressing contains around 8.5 grams of fat and roughly 80 calories. This can be cut a little by using a lower-calorie version, but then you increase the amount of sugar and maybe even sodium.

But the foundation is sound. Romaine is a great green, high in vitamins K, A and folate. Like other greens, it’s almost fat-free and low in calories, with about 50 calories in a half a head and a bonus of dietary fiber (6.5 grams that same half head). Romaine is usually the basis for the Caesar salad, so let’s capitalize on it.

How?

By putting it on the grill.

Recently my husband and I went to a new restaurant in our community. I was surprised to see a “grilled Caesar salad” on the menu.  It brought back memories of a similar salad I had in a restaurant in Baltimore over 15 years ago. I was so glad to be reminded of something I had enjoyed, and that in turn inspired me to give my own twist on this other way to enjoy a salad.

I fired up the grill and decided to try a grilled salad of my own. It’s so simple and a winner! Plus, it really doesn’t need dressing or croutons and a small amount of cheese goes a long way! When I served it for the first time, I had guests going back for seconds on salads. Now how often does that happen?!

Want to try it for yourself?

Here’s what I did.

On the grill!I started with full heads of Romaine lettuce. I washed and pulled of any wilted leaves, leaving much of the core intact so that the leaves still clung together. (Nutrition tip: keep as many of those dark green outer leaves as possible).

I then cut the heads in half and washed them again. After that, I put a small amount of olive oil (about one tablespoon) and some (about 1 ½ teaspoon) dried garlic seasoning into a large zip-top bag and shook it around. I used garlic seasoning since it’s in a Caesar salad, but you could experiment with anything. Then I added the Romaine heads and refrigerated them in the marinade, shaking the bag a couple of times to coat the lettuce with the oil and seasoning.

I’ve seen recipes online that didn’t put the lettuce in a bag and brushed the leaves with oil just before putting on the grill.  I’m guessing this would work well, too. This was just my way of getting the work done early. It also eliminated a brush and allowed me to take the seasoned lettuce straight to the grill.

Once you’ve got the Romaine on the grill, the key is timing. It doesn’t take long:three to four minutes on each side at the most. The lettuce should be slightly charred and a little smoky. I topped each head with grated Parmesan cheese and served it to my guests. I don’t think it needed any other dressing, but a small amount of low-fat Caesar dressing could be added. Yum!

By Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS, Professor Emeritus at The Ohio State University

And here’s a printable handout with the recipe! How will you use your copy?

Grilled Caesar Salad

Don’t miss these other amazing salad resources from the Nutrition Education Store!

Quiz: Make a Healthy Plate

Quizzes are great vehicles for teaching key health lessons and making sure they stick. Today, as a special treat, I’d like to share one of the quizzes from the PowerPoint show Make a Healthy Plate. This show is one of the chapters in the 12 More Lessons of Wellness and Weight Loss program, which is a comprehensive employee weight loss program.

Are you ready for the sneak peek?

Which Plate?

All right, here’s the quiz. Take a look at the slide above. Which plate has the most calories? Is it Plate A, with a chicken fried steak and fries, or is it Plate B, the one filled with a chicken and vegetable stir fry alongside some brown rice?

Answer Slide

You may not be surprised to see that it’s Plate A that has the most calories, but look at how many more calories it has than Plate B. Plate A has 1,121 calories, while Plate B has only 356 calories. That’s a 765 calorie difference!

A closer look at Plate A

Let’s take a closer look at each plate. You get the calorie total in Plate A by combining an 8-ounce fried steak — which has 521 calories — with 6 ounces worth of French fries. That serving has 600 calories, which brings the total up to 1,121 calories. The fat content is nothing to sneeze at either. When the 21 grams of fat in the steak join the 33 fat grams in the fries, they add up to 54 total grams of fat on that plate alone!

Plate B

Now let’s do the same math for Plate B. A single cup of carrots and a cup of broccoli each have 54 calories. The chicken breast has another 140 calories, and the brown rice has 108 calories. When you add all that up, you get 356 calories for the plate. And the fat grams are much smaller as well. Each cup of vegetables has less than 1 gram of fat, and the brown rice has none at all. The chicken breast has 3 grams of fat, which brings the fat total for the whole plate to roughly 4 grams of fat.

That’s where I’m going to end the slide preview for today. This excerpt comes from pretty early in the Healthy Plate PowerPoint. The show goes on to cover the basics of MyPlate, the components of each My Plate food group, strategies for eyeballing the correct portions, ways to calculate the total calories on your plate, and even methods for “shrinking your plate” at each meal. Fun pop quizzes pepper the presentation, which ends with a review of its most important points.

And that’s just 1 chapter of the 12 that are featured in the 12 More Lessons of Wellness and Weight Loss program! I wasn’t kidding when I said that it was comprehensive. Check out the details for the 12 lessons in the link below…

Here’s a PDF copy of all the slides you saw today — feel free to use the quiz however you’d like!

Healthy Plate

And here are some other great resources from the Nutrition Education Store!

Finding Success on the Path to Wellness

Have I mentioned that I just updated all of our comprehensive wellness programs?

Because I have, and I’m really proud of what my team and I have created. The latest updates include information from the 2015-2020 edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, along with a streamlined presentation platform and general improvements that will make these resources more fun for your audience.

So to celebrate that excitement, I’m sharing some slides from one of the most popular programs, The 12 Lessons of Wellness. Today’s preview comes from the show Getting Started, and the slides I’ve chosen offer advice for staying motivated and sidestepping pitfalls on the path to good health.

Let’s take a closer look!

FaceChallenges

As you embark on any path to wellness, you’ll eventually encounter a few stumbling blocks. That’s totally normal! If you plan ahead, it will be easier to overcome those obstacles and continue on your road to success.

Make sure to have a plan B for when the going gets a bit tougher. Fill your freezer with healthy meals. Prep healthy snacks and store them in the fridge or pantry. Keep some in the car in case an on-the-go craving strikes. Speaking of putting things in the car, toss a few exercise clothes in the trunk so that you’re always prepared for a workout. This will help you avoid skipping workouts because you didn’t plan ahead, and it will also ensure that you are prepared if an unexpected exercise opportunity pops up.

Remember that reaching and maintain a healthy weight is your lifetime plan. When you feel discouraged, focus on your successes and review your reasons for wanting to lose weight in the first place.

SpecialOccasions

Now let’s delve into some detail. How can you stay motivated during special occasions?

One tip is to eat before the party so that you aren’t starving when you face down a festive and lavish spread. While you’re there, focus on the conversation. If you do want to indulge a bit, keep things small, exercise the next day, and eat lighter for the rest of the day or the day after.

At these parties, you may encounter a weight loss saboteur or two. Avoid people who don’t support your efforts and instead find people who share your goals. Who knows? This may be a great opportunity to get a workout buddy!

SlowProgress

Let’s move on to another challenge. What happens when you hit a period of slow/no progress?

To start, have patience with yourself. Some days are easier than others. Revisit your goals and make sure that they’re realistic. You can always talk with your dietitian or doctor about your frustration too — they’ll have lots of great ideas for you.

RewardWhen it comes to keeping your motivation through health and fitness challenges, sometimes a reward is just the boost you need. Establish what your reward will be ahead of time, and remember, the reward shouldn’t be food!

It’s often helpful to set up rewards for milestones, not just the final goal. Plan a few rewards that you can earn along your path to fitness and weight loss — don’t just save one big reward for the end!

The show goes on in much more detail, but that’s where I’d like to stop the sample for today.

If you like what you see, consider exploring the 12 Lessons of Wellness and Weight Loss program. It’s one of the most comprehensive and effective programs for employee weight loss that my team and I have created, and it has been hugely popular.

And, as a special bonus, here are the free printable PDFs of the slides we previewed today!

Getting Started Sample Slides

And here are some of the top-selling weight loss resources from the Nutrition Education Store!

7 Simple Ways to Save Calories

Reward Chart Handout

Feel Full with Fewer Calories PowerPoint and Handout Set

Nutrition Poster Guide

Today I want to try something a little different.

I’d like to offer a tour of a few lessons from some of the top posters in the Nutrition Education Store.

You see, 3 different posters have been extremely popular amongst health and nutrition educators recently, and now I want to draw them to your attention. After all, my job is to help you look your very best right now. So let’s take a look at the 3 top posters in the Nutrition Education Store.

Are you ready for this?

Sugar Math PosterPoster #1 is the new Sugar Math Poster. Its key lesson is to limit added sugars. 

How does it teach this lesson?

Through math problems!

You see, sometimes communicating important nutrition messages is a matter of breaking them down into manageable sections, making the information both accessible and memorable.

This poster manages that with varied representations of just how much added sugar people should limit themselves to each day.

Remember, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans advise people to “Shift to reduce added sugars consumption to less than 10 percent of calories per day.” That 10% is roughly 200 calories for the average person. That’s equal to 50 grams, which in turn is equal to about 12 teaspoons. The Sugar Math Poster features images of each of these amounts in an approach that’s bound to appeal to a wide range of learning styles.

The poster also highlights key sources of added sugars and spells out how to figure out how much added sugar is in a variety of packaged foods. No wonder it’s one of the most popular posters in the store!

Now let’s move on to the next poster.

Eating Patterns PosterPoster #2 is the Eating Patterns Poster from the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans series. Its key lesson is to shift into a healthier eating pattern.

As you can see, this poster focuses on what is and is not included in a healthy eating pattern. With beautiful photos placed in a uniquely eye-catching arrangement, this post rocketed to the top of our list practically as soon as it was released.

So why represent healthy foods visually?

The photos demonstrate that healthy eating doesn’t have to be plain and boring. By making the foods that people need to consume look their very best, the photos in this poster add appeal to the eating pattern they’re illustrating. Plus, they provide a pop of color that would be welcome in any office, cafeteria, or display.

How would you use this poster in your life?

MyPlate PosterFinally, poster #3 is a classic — our very first MyPlate Poster. It teaches a fun way to balance your plate at each meal.

Ever since the USDA released MyPlate in 2011, it has been a popular tool to help educators teach their audiences about proper portions and proportions. As you know, My Plate offers a way to visualize a healthy and balanced plate at each meal, with half the plate filled with fruits and vegetables, grains taking up another quarter, and the remaining quarter of the plate filled with protein foods. A side of dairy rounds out the plate and completes the look.

Each food group has its own lessons and tips, and they all come together to create a healthy eating experience. This poster highlights the most important aspects of MyPlate, illustrating each food group and drawing attention to the key lessons associated with each section of the plate. Its as memorable as it is engaging, and the My Plate poster has been getting rave reviews since we first brought it to the store.

As an added bonus, I’d like to offer you an exclusive look at the handout that accompanies this MyPlate poster. Normally you could only get it if you bought the poster, but I want to make an exception today, so get your free copy of this handout now!

MyPlate Poster Handout

And finally, here are some more of the materials that are at the top of the Nutrition Education Store right now!

12 Lessons of Diabetes Kit

My Plate Handout Tearpad

Cooking Demonstration Kit: Set of 10 Cooking Demo Tools

 

Display of the Month: Beverage Better

Set Up Your DisplayIt’s time for another edition of the Nutrition Education Store’s Display of the Month series! This time, we’re going to focus on drinks! Are you ready to help your clients “Beverage Better”?

The Materials:

The Activities:

  • Drink Makeovers and Trivia Game
  • Brainstorm Better Beverages

And now it’s time to discuss the details!

Cover your table with a tablecloth if you have one. Arrange the Don’t Drink Your Calories poster on the stand on the table, then place some Beverage Better handouts in front of or next to it. Put some water bookmarks and stickers next to the handouts, and put some sugar test tubes on their other side. Set up the Beverage Better banner and stand next to your table and, if you’re playing the trivia game outlined below, cover the calorie savings information with some colorful Post-It notes.

Check Out This DisplayFor the first activity, walk your audience through the makeovers outlined on the Beverage Better banner. Start with hot cocoa, and after you’ve outlined the changes people can make to turn it into a more healthful drink, ask if anyone knows roughly how many calories those adjustments would save. Take guesses, then reveal the answer by removing the Post-It note that had covered that information. Award prizes (bookmarks, stickers) to the person who had a guess that was closest to the actual total. Now use the sugar test tubes to simulate how much sugar was in the drink before and after the makeover. Poll the group — was this lower or higher than they were expecting? Why? Do the same with the tea and soda.

For the second activity, gather your participants into a small group and brainstorm healthful drinks. How can the information on the handouts, poster, and banner inform the discussion? Explore possibilities with seltzer water, fresh fruit, tea, coffee, herbs, spices, etc. Award prizes to people who offer healthful suggestions.

Additional Resources:

Here are a few more materials that you can incorporate into your display and discussion…

Here’s a free PDF handout that discusses ways to sweeten drinks without adding sugar…

SweetenDrinks

More Displays of the Month:

And finally, here are some other fun posters from the Nutrition Education Store!

Eat from the Rainbow Poster

Nutrition Poster Set

Change It Up Poster

Sneak Peek: Work It Off

It’s time for another sneak peek inside the Nutrition Education Store!

How Much to Work It Off?Today I want to talk about healthful eating habits. After all, there’s simply not enough time to work off a bad diet. That’s why Beth Rosen, MS, RD, CDN and I teamed up to create this wonderful new poster, Work It Off.

Work It Off outlines exactly how much time it would take a person to burn off the calories in common foods like burgers and soft drinks. Do your clients know that it would take 1 hour and 40 minutes to walk off the calories in half a frozen pizza? Or that an oversized cinnamon roll would take 2 hours and 14 minutes to walk off? Share all this painstakingly-researched information — and more! — with this fun and colorful poster.

Of course, the fun doesn’t stop there!

This poster comes with a free PDF handout. As a bonus just for you, I’d like to share that handout in its entirety, right now!

Here’s a preview…

Exercise is an important tool for achieving a healthy lifestyle. But beware of this diet pitfall: Exercise alone will not help you reach your weight loss goals, especially if you’re eating a high-calorie diet filled with solid fats and added sugar.

Exercise does burn calories, but there is a common misperception about just how long it takes to burn enough calories to equal the calories in a meal, snack, or drink. This chart includes the calorie counts of common food choices in the typical American diet, and the duration of time that a 150-pound person needs to walk in order to burn off those calories.

How long will it take you to work it off?

Get a personalized guide to both food and exercise at Food and Health’s Exercise and Calorie Calculator. You can access it for free at https://foodandhealth.com/excalc.php!

Simply choose an activity (aerobics, yoga, walking, etc), then enter the amount of time you will take to do it. Fill in your weight in pounds, then click “Compute”. You’ll end up with a number of calories burned.

The figures are based on moderate activity levels. If your workouts are more vigorous, you can add a few calories to the number you burn.

Like what you see? Get the handout for free!

Work It Off Handout

We’re here to help you look your very best, right now! Check out these marvelous nutrition education resources…

Choose Wisely Banner and Stand

12 Lessons of Diabetes Program

MyPlate Wall Cling for Kids

Salad Dressing: Dump, Dunk, or Dip?

Are you a dumper, a dunker, or a dipper?

What do you do with your dressing?I’m talking about salad dressings. Many people elect to eat salads in restaurants as a way of controlling calories and getting more vegetables in their diets. But sometimes the added salad dressing can eliminate the benefits of the salad.

Generally, if you let the restaurant add the dressing, you’ll end up with a salad that is drowning in dressing. Sometimes it gets so bad that the dressing overpowers the flavor of the salad ingredients. To save the swimming lettuce, savvy salad eaters ask for their dressing “on the side.”

But have you ever watched what people do after they get their side of dressing? This is where the dumping, dipping, or dunking comes in.

Dumping is when a person takes the entire cup of dressing and dumps it on the salad. Those little cups of dressing look fairly small, but they usually contain about ¼ cup of dressing.

According to the USDA Nutrient Database, a 1/4 cup of regular commercial ranch dressing contains 253 calories (27 grams of fat, 3 grams of sugar, and 541 mg of sodium). One of my husband’s favorites is Caesar dressing, so I checked that out, too. Yikes! That’s even worse: 318 calories (34 grams of fat, 2 grams of sugar and 710 mg of sodium) in just 1/4 cup. I sometimes wonder why people ask for dressing on the side when they do this, but I guess there is some portion control because they at least know how much was dumped on the salad without a server doing it for them.

DunkingA more healthful approach to dealing with dressing is dunking. This is done by dunking the forkful of salad into the dressing before you eat it. Then you only get a small amount of dressing on the lettuce, and this can help you make the most of the dressing without drowning the salad in it.

A third method for dressing maintenance is dipping. This method is often recommended by healthful eaters, and is done by dipping the fork into the dressing before picking up the salad ingredients.

DippingBy dipping, the diner gets just the small amount of dressing that sticks to the fork tines with each bite. Dipping allows for the flavor to come through without nearly as much fat and calories per bite.

On average, it only takes one to two tablespoons of salad dressing to flavor two cups of salad greens. Overdoing it on dressing can really add calories to a potentially healthful meal.

So the next time you’re dining out, look for those dumpers, dunkers, and dippers.

By Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS, Professor Emeritus at The Ohio State University

Want to feature salad in other ways? Check out these great resources!

Benefits of Salad Poster

Make Your Salad a Rainbow Buttons

Salad Secrets Cookbook

Oh, and here’s a free handout that highlights the keys of today’s blog post! Check it out!

Salad Dressing Guide

 

We are here when you want to look your very best right now!

Avocados: Yea or Nay?

“They’re high in calories.”
“They’re high in fat.”
“But it’s a good fat.”

Those are all statements I frequently hear about the avocado.

What about you? Do you shy away from avocados because of the fat or calories? Or do you make them a part of your diet?

Today, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of the humble avocado.

Pile of Goodness

An avocado is nutrient dense. Nutrient-dense foods provide substantial servings of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients in proportion to the number of calories they contain. Although avocados are high in fat, most of that fat is heart-healthy monounsaturated fat.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, avocados are loaded with dietary fiber, vitamin B6, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, magnesium, and folate. They’re also cholesterol- and sodium-free. One avocado contains about 700 milligrams of potassium. In fact, avocados have more potassium gram for gram than bananas! Furthermore, avocados are loaded with the phytochemicals that are thought to reduce the risk of some types of cancers and other chronic diseases.

So what about the calories?

The calories in an avocado are not messing around. Two tablespoons of mashed avocado (that’s 1/5 of the whole thing or about 1 oz) provide about 55 calories. So, if you eat a whole avocado, then you’re getting about 275 calories. That’s a lot of calories, especially if you’re on a calorie-restricted diet.

However, the key word is moderation.

A little avocado can add some real nutrition and variety to a meal. Plus, sometimes avocado can offer a nutrient-rich alternative to another less-healthful fat. Try slicing and spreading 2 tablespoons of avocado on your sandwich instead of mayo or butter. This will save you almost 40 calories! Yes, you get the fat, but it’s definitely a better-for-you fat than those other spreads. And you really can’t beat the flavor it adds.

Avocados for Everyone!

When buying avocados, pick fruits that have firm skins, but which yield to gentle pressure and have no soft spots. These are the kind of fruits that will ripen after they’re picked. Put unripe avocados in a paper bag at room temperature and they will ripen in the next 2-5 days. If you want them to ripen more quickly, add a ripe banana or apple to the bag. Why? These fruits give off a natural ethylene gas that helps to ripen the avocados. Once they’re ripe, use them right away. You can also put them in the refrigerator, where they will last for a couple days.

So, when you ask whether you should make avocados a part of your diet, I say yea!

By Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS, Professor Emeritus at The Ohio State University

Looking for more cooking and nutrition resources? Look no further! We’ve got you covered! We are here when you want to look your very best right now.

Drinks, Portion, Whole Grains, Fruit and Vegetables, and Nutrient Alphabet

Nutrition Poster Set

MyPlate Wristband

Real Food Grows Banner

You made it all the way to the end! For your persistence, please enjoy a brand-new free handout! It’s the perfect guide to avocados.

Avocado Handout

Testing Recipes from the Internet

I’ll warn you before you start reading — today I’m on my own personal soap box.

Healthful SnacksThis box is all about recipes on the internet.

It starts small. A new recipe appears somewhere on the internet. It’s got a great photo, a clever name, and a health claim to fame. It asserts that it is “Diet-friendly!” with “No Added Sugars!” It could announce that it is a “Sweet treat without the splurge!” or “Better than candy!” The options are endless.

I watch as this recipe spreads across the internet. It hits Pinterest, then gets shared on Facebook. People tweet it and blog about it. It gets featured on news sites and healthy living guides. All this time I keep seeing it again and again. “NO ADDED SUGAR!!!!” it screams. “AMAZING FOR YOUR DIET!!!” it raves. So what’s the problem?

Sugar.

Yes, there is no sugar added to those miracle banana bars or healthified refrigerator cookies. Yes, the ingredients are all actual foods. But there’s something that these recipes don’t seem to consider, and that is the calorie and sugar content of the actual ingredients.

Why do people think that just because you don’t add sugar to a recipe that it doesn’t have calories or natural sugars?

Let’s look at an example. A super-popular oatmeal banana bar recipe had hit social media (and my inbox) hard. Since I was looking for snack ideas for my ongoing weight loss class, I gave it a try.

As soon as I started to cook, I wondered if anyone who had sent this recipe to me or posted a link to it had actually tried it. After all, it didn’t specify what size pan I needed. I tried an 8×8 pan and the results were awful. It tasted like cold oatmeal. At this point, I still held out some hope. Maybe it was just me. Maybe my pan guess was wrong. Since I’d gotten this recipe roughly 2,174 times, I figured that I should try again, this time with a 9×13 pan. Sadly, the results were comparable. No matter how long I baked them or the size of the pan, the bars was still really moist and gooey. I even added some nuts for crunch. They worked, but they couldn’t save the dish.

I’m afraid that that’s not where this story ends. Deciding to dig deeper, I did a quick nutrition analysis of the bars using the USDA nutrition database. Since the recipe didn’t specify number of servings or serving size, I really didn’t know how many of these oatmeal banana bars I was supposed to get. Eyeballing the figure, I guessed that each pan held roughly 12 servings. My quick calculations came to 105 calories, 2.4 grams of fiber and 8.5 grams of sugar in one 3-inch square bar from a 9×13 pan. That’s from a recipe whose claim to fame is “no added sugar.” Doesn’t that seem a bit calorie-dense for a healthful sweet treat?

I can think of many other ways to spend my 105 calories in a snack that actually tastes better. A good starting point would be to eat the banana, applesauce, bowl of oatmeal, or raisins that were all called for in this recipe.

Was I alone in my assessment of this social media phenomenon? I took to the internet. Comments on the recipe largely matched my experience, with complaints about sponginess and soggy textures. Claims that these are the perfect healthful snack “if you have a sweet tooth” fell flat. After all, you’d have to be pretty desperate to eat these things.

Okay, let me hop down from my soap box for a while and get to the point.

Just because you saw it on the internet doesn’t mean it’s really good.

Is the recipe truly healthful, or does it just spout health claims? What are the ingredients? How do they come together to form the dish? What is the nutrient content?

I make a point to always test a recipe before I give it to a class or print it in a piece I’m writing. The only exception comes when I know the developers and they are trusted sources. For example, I know that Chef Judy from Food and Health Communications has a strict policy for all the recipes that she publishes. They must work and they also must taste good.

I also realize that not everyone looks at a recipe in the same way. If you’re sharing a recipe, be specific about can sizes, pan sizes, and box sizes. Please don’t make nutrition claims about a recipe unless you know for sure.

So, want to make a tasty snack that actually offers health benefits while staying low in calories? Try Garden Pinwheels, a recipe from Judy Doherty that features fresh veggies and light cream cheese, rolled up in a tasty tortilla and sliced into cute wheels. With only 66 calories and 56% of your daily value for vitamin A, this snack is good for your health and your taste buds! Take a look.

By Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS, Professor Emeritus, The Ohio State University

Want tried-and-true recipes that you know will work and be healthful at the same time? Check out these resources…

Home Run Cookbook: Healthful Meals and Cooking Tips

Fruit Tooth Dessert Cookbook: Healthful Recipes that Satisfy a Sweet Tooth without Empty Calories

Salad Secrets Cookbook: Salad Doesn’t Have to be Boring

Checking Out Chia

Are you staying on top of the latest developments in food and nutrition? I try to keep up with everything, but it can be hard. After all, the field is constantly evolving. Nevertheless, I do my best to keep an eye on scientific studies while keeping abreast of fads and trends.

So what has caught my eye lately?

Chia seeds.

Chia seeds appear to be the food of the year. Health food websites feature them, news outlets profile them, and even TV personalities are actively pushing them.

I have to confess, the first thing I thought was, are these the same seeds from chia pets? Remember the chia pet that was sold as a gift for “the person who has everything?”

Yes, the chia seed we’re hearing about nutritionally is the same seed that they use to grow green fur on pottery animals. This crop of “hair” is what happens when the chia seed sprouts.

I contacted the folks at a chia pet company, and they were quick to tell me not to eat the seeds or sprouts that come with chia pets. It seems that the food product seeds are grown and tested differently than those that are developed for the chia “pottery that grows” market.

So, what are chia seeds?

Chia seeds are exactly that  — seeds. They look a lot like sesame or flax seeds and they come from the plant Salvia Hispanica, which is in the watercress family. Chia seeds have a long history and were eaten by the Aztecs and Mayans. Now the seeds are grown all around the world and are key crops in Mexico, South America, and Australia.

Personally, I don’t think that the seeds taste like much. Some people think they have a nutty flavor. Chia seeds can be used whole or ground, and the sprouts are edible too. Many people sprinkle chia seeds onto yogurt, ice cream, baked goods, cereal, and fruit. They are also popular in smoothies. Since they like to soak up water, chia seeds tend to swell when added to liquids. You can use this to your advantage by adding them to soups or smoothies as a thickening agent. I’m seeing more and more chia seeds sold in bulk or baked into “healthful” crackers and snacks.

Now let’s take a look at why people would eat chia seeds.

Chia seeds contain quite a lot of nutrients. According to the USDA National Nutrient Database, one ounce (about 2 tablespoons) provides 10 grams of dietary fiber, 5 grams of protein, and 9 grams of fat. That same ounce has 179 milligrams of calcium and 138 total calories. Chia seeds are also said to be full of omega-3 fatty acids, with high levels of antioxidants, and plenty of vitamins and minerals.

So here’s where we switch from facts to hype.

Some people are claiming that chia seeds can help with weight loss.

It seems that people are always looking for that “magic bullet” — or in this case, “magic seed” — that will help them lose weight easily. The people who claim that chia seeds are all you need for easy weight loss explain that since these seeds hold water and expand to about 10 times their original size, they will help you feel full. If you’re full, perhaps you’ll eat less. That means losing weight.

Yes, there have been some small studies on this subject. But the verdict is still out until more information becomes available. There’s just not enough evidence to support these weight-loss claims yet.

Learning about new foods and trying new things is always fun. However, it’s important to dig a little deeper before jumping on a new nutrition bandwagon. Chia seeds do have some potential for providing some good nutrition, in moderation. However, they’re not the “magic seeds” that some people make them out to be… except maybe if you’re trying to grow hair on your chia pet.

By Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS, Professor Emeritus, The Ohio State University

Looking for tried-and-true weight management and nutrition tools? Check out these popular educational materials…

Weight Management Brochure: Portion Control

Online Wellness Program

Healthful Food Poster Set