By Charlotte Bradley
You have probably heard how important it is to get enough essentials fatty acids (EFAs) in your diet. Some good food sources containing omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids include fish, shellfish, flax seeds, leafy green vegetables and walnuts. Unfortunately, it is not always easy to obtain enough of these fatty acids on a daily basis. Recently, an ancient seed has regained popularity due to its high nutritional value.
You may know Chia as the sprouts that grow on the porous clay figurines called Chia Pets, however there is much more to it than that! Chia has both nutritional and medicinal benefits. The seeds are an excellent source of essential fatty acids and are a great addition to a healthy diet.
My introduction to Chia seeds came a few weeks ago when a friend brought me some Chia seed chocolate pudding form the local health food store. It had the texture of tapioca and was quite delicious. The pamphlet touted the many health benefits and curious, I was insired to look further into this interesting seed.
Chia is a member of the mint family. The seeds are either white or black and both types are highly nutritious. Originally grown in Mexico and the Southwest between 1500 and 910 B.C., Chia seeds were an important part of the Aztec and Mayan diet. Aztec warriors used Chia as their main source of fuel during conquests. Medicinally, they also used it to relieve joint pain and stimulate saliva. Although once a major crop in Mexico, it was banned after the Spanish conquest due to its association with Aztec religion where it was used as an offering during religious ceremonies and ritual. Commercial production is increasing and you can now find Chia seeds online as well as in many health food stores.
Chia (Salvia hispanica) – 10 Health Benefits of This Superfood
Chia seeds 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.
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. In one study on diabetic patients, Dr. Vladamir Vuksan of St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, found that blood was thinner and less prone to clotting and blood pressure of participants dropped significantly, after three months of taking Chia seeds daily.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Chia seeds are an excellent source of antioxidants containing even more antioxidants than fresh blueberries. The high amounts of antioxidants in Chia seeds also keeps the oils from going rancid – contributing to a long shelf life.
Besides EFAs, Chia seeds also provide fiber, iron, calcium, niacin, magnesium, zinc and phosphorus.
2 tablespoons of Chia = 7 grams of fiber, 2 grams of protein, 205 milligrams of calcium, 5 grams omega-3
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).
How to Use Chia
Chia seeds have a mild, nut-like flavor. The seeds are easily digested and do not have to be ground to be used. In Mexico, the seeds are mixed with water and a little bit of lime or lemon juice to make a drink called “Chia Fresca.”
Whole Chia seeds can be sprinkled on your cereal, salads, or yogurt. Seeds can also be ground and mixed into smoothies or added to baked goods. The seeds can be sprouted and used in salads or sandwiches. Sometimes Chia seeds are soaked in water (for about 30 minutes) to form a gel. The seeds soak up to nine times their weight in water. The gel is then added to porridges or used to make puddings.