Did Aztec Indians know a weight-loss diet secret that disappeared with their civilization 500 years ago?
Dr. Bob Arnot believes they did and he tells the story in "The Aztec Diet -- Chia Power: The Superfood that Gets You Skinny and Keeps You Healthy" (William Morrow, 2013, $25.99).
I first learned about chia seeds, which come from a desert plant and are often compared to flaxseeds, when I read Christopher McDougall's 2011 book: "Born to Run," about Mexico's Tarahumara Indians who are supposed to be the world's fastest runners.
No silly little 6 mile runs for Tarahumaras. Nope. They can easily run 100 miles or more sustained by water and chia seeds. Really.
Arnot was so impressed with chia's power he decided to create a personal food plan to see if he could get his weight down below 208 pounds; a weight at which he'd been stuck for five years.
As Arnot writes: "Chia changed everything. I ate a scoop (about 2 tablespoons) at 3 p.m. At midnight I had eaten nothing else." Nor had he wanted to. He wasn't hungry or shaky from low blood sugar.
Next, Arnot built nutritious smoothies around ground chia seeds and was surprised his weight quickly headed down. In a fairly short time he weighed less than 200 pounds; a weight he hadn't seen in more than 20 years. When he arrived at 188 pounds, with his energy levels up, he knew he was on to something.
By creating a food plan higher in protein and low in carbohydrates, especially refined carbohydrates and sugars that he calls "Carb Bombs," and adding specific fresh vegetables (like kale, pumpkin, tomatoes and summer squash) and fruits (guava, cantaloupe, star fruit and pineapple) Arnot found it easy to maintain his new weight and he had energy to spare.
With a few extra winter weight pounds showing up on my scale, I decided to give Arnot's chia smoothies a try. Phase I of his plan calls for three smoothies a day, plus an afternoon snack (like almonds or celery or salsa). My twist was to blend his smoothie concept with my favorite protein shakes.
In a short time I mirrored Arnot: my weight headed down, yet I never felt hungry and my energy levels were excellent. It was surprisingly easy to pass the bottomless candy bowl at work.
One startling thing happened -- I didn't want a sweet snack after 8 at night. This has been a problem for me no matter what weight I'm at or what I've been eating.
The book includes instructions for working your way through the Aztec Diet's three phases plus 14 smoothie recipes and 90-plus mealtime recipes including healthy granola with sunflower, sesame, pumpkin and, of course, chia seeds. Unique recipes for red lentil hummus, high-protein flourless almond muffins, miso tahini salad dressing, walnut red pepper spread and herbed poached salmon with tzatziki sauce.
If french fries or chocolate knocked you off your weight-loss or maintenance path head to Chapter 12: "The Urge to Splurge," for solid ways to bring your weight back down.
Seems to me Arnot is on to something a bit unusual but healthy.
Try these recipes: Want to make one of Arnot's favorite smoothies? Having a high-powered blender (like a Vitamix) makes it easier, but I was able to whip one up in my traditional blender. I also like his flavorful, high-fiber turkey burgers.
• Don Mauer welcomes questions, comments and recipe make-over requests. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.