For centuries this tiny little seed was used as a staple food by the Indians of the south west and Mexico. Known as the running food, its use as a high energy endurance food has been recorded as far back as the ancient Aztecs. It was said the Aztec warriors subsisted on the Chia seed during the conquests. The Indians of the south west would eat as little as a teaspoon full when going on a 24 hour forced march. Indians running form the Colorado River to the California coast to trade turquoise for seashells would only bring Chia seed for their nourishment.
Chia (Salvia hispanica) is an annual plant in the mint family.
Also known as “lime-leaf sage,” plants reach a height of a little over 3 feet at maturity. Clusters of blue to purple to white flowers develop on spikes forming at the end of each branch. Seeds are oval and approximately 2 mm (0.08 inches) long and 1 mm (0.04 inches) wide. The shiny seed coat varies in color from cream to charcoal grey with darker irregular markings or specks.
Ounce for ounce, chia seeds have more omega-3 fatty acids than salmon! Chia is one of the most concentrated sources of omega-3 in any food. It also contains high amounts of omega-6.
According to research they contain “Essential fatty acids alpha-linolenic and linoleic acid, mucin, strontium, 30% protein, Vitamins A, B, E, and D, and minerals including calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sulphur, iron, iodine, copper, zinc, sodium, magnesium, manganese, niacin, thiamine, silicon, and anti-oxidants.”
2 tablespoons of Chia = 7 grams of fiber, 2 grams of protein, 205 milligrams of calcium, 5 grams omega-3
Anti-inflammatory Properties – A number of arthritis sufferers have reported reduced pain and inflammation after a few weeks of taking Chia seeds. The high concentration of omega-3 helps to lubricate joints and keep them supple. Additionally, Omega-3s are converted into prostaglandins which are known to have both pain relieving and anti-inflammatory effects.
Antioxidants – Chia seeds are an excellent source of antioxidants containing even more antioxidants than fresh blueberries. The high amounts of antioxidants in Chia seeds also keep the oils from going rancid – contributing to a long shelf life.
Brain Power – EFAs are known to make cell membranes more flexible and efficient making nutrients more readily available and nerve transmission more efficient. This helps to improve brain function (including memory and concentration).
Control blood sugar – The unique combination of soluble and insoluble fiber helps to slow the body’s conversion of food into sugar. Preliminary research shows that chia seeds could help people with diabetes control their blood sugar levels and protect their hearts. Animal studies show that chia-rich diets lower LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels, while increasing HDL cholesterol. The white-seeded variant of chia, called “Salba” also helped control blood sugar, in addition to maintaining blood pressure and C-reactive protein.
Detoxification and Elimination – Similar to psyllium, the swelling action of Chia in the body helps to cleanse and soothe the colon, and absorb toxins while lubricating and strengthening peristaltic action.
Diabetis – Chia has the ability to help the body regulate carbohydrates and the sugars they turn into. When ingested, the chia seeds, in whatever form they were eaten, form a type of barrier inside the stomach. This barrier helps to slow the ingestion of sugar into the blood stream. This is especially helpful for diabetics who are unable to process sugars properly.
Enhances Energy – The word “Chia” comes from the Mayan language and means strength. Chia seeds are a balanced blend of protein, carbohydrates, fats and fiber. It is said that 1 tablespoon of Chia can sustain a person for 24 hours. Athletes have reported that Chia seeds help them perform at optimal levels for much longer periods of time.
High Quality Protein – Chia seeds contain about 20% protein, a higher percentage than found in many other grains such as wheat and rice. Chia seeds contain strontium which helps to assimilate protein and produce high energy.
Protect against cancer – Though few studies have been done, early animal research has suggested that chia may have a protective benefit against cancer. Research from Argentina, for example, showed that chia seeds inhibited growth and metastasis of tumors in rats.
Regulate the digestive system – Chia has a reputation for helping to maintain and restore intestinal because of the unique fiber content. Chia seeds help to promote regularity, and are easily digested. It digests slowly, and helps keep the colon hydrated.
Stabilizes Blood Sugar – Chia seeds slow down the rate at which complex carbohydrates are digested and then assimilated into the body. The soluble fiber helps to stabilize blood glucose levels resulting in steady, sustained energy.
Supports Heart Health can help reduce Blood Pressure – The seeds contain one of the highest known plant sources of essential fatty acids (omega-3 and omega-6). EFAs cannot be synthesized by our bodies however, it is very important that we get enough to support our immune, cardiovascular, nervous and reproductive systems. EFA deficiency is quite common in North America.
Weight Loss – The essential fatty acids contained in Chia seeds helps to boost metabolism and promote lean muscle mass. The seeds are sometimes added to food to provide bulk and nutrients while adding very few calories. For these reasons, many people have found Chia quite useful in weight loss and weight maintenance.
- They are Gluten-Free
- They make an excellent Egg Replacement substitute for the vegan vegetarian, since the outer layer of chia seeds swells when mixed with liquids to form a gel. This can be used in place of eggs to lower cholesterol and increase the nutrient content of foods and baked goods. To make the egg replacement, mix 1 tablespoon of chia seeds with 3 tablespoons of water and let sit for 15 minutes.
- They also support beautiful skin, hair and nails.
HOW TO CONSUME AND ENJOY
They can be eaten raw, soaked in fruit juice.
You can also make puddings with them and they can be sprinkled on cereals and can be incorporated into baked goods including breads, cakes, biscuits and energy bars.
When seeds are sprouted, the vitamin content multiplies considerably and they can add a spicy, warm flavor to meals. Sprinkle soaked or sprouted seeds over any dish or tossed salads.
Chia stores well, without deterioration.
WHERE TO BUY
They can be found in most health food stores and many other stores carry them also.
Melissa Romero, “The Powerful Health Benefits of Chia Seeds,” Washingtonian, February 27, 2012, http://www.washingtonian.com/blogs/wellbeing/healthy-eating/the-powerful-health-benefits-of-chia-seeds.php
P.J. Skerrett, “A Chia Pet for Diabetes?” Harvard Health Publications, December 17, 2010, http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/a-chia-pet-for-diabetes-20101217923
Poudyal H., et al., “Lipid redistribution by a-linolenic acid-rich chia seeds inhibits stearoyl-CoA desaturase-1 and induces cardiac and hepatic protection in diet-induced obese rats,” J Nutr Biochem 2012 Feb; 23(2):153-62, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21429727
Chicco AG, et al., “Dietary chia seed (Salvia hispanica L.) rich in alpha-linolenic acid improves adiposity and normalizes hypertriacylglycerolaemia and insulin resistence in dyslipaemic rats,” Br J Nutr 2009 Jan;101(1):41-50, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18492301
Espada CE, et al., “Effect of Chia oil (Salvia Hispanica) rich in omega-3 fatty acids on the eicosanoid release, apoptosis and T-lymphocyte tumor infiltration in a murine mammary gland adenocarcinoma,” Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids 2007 Jul; 77(1):21-8, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17618100