Chia seeds have been used for centuries for their numerous health benefits – omega-3 fatty acids, protein, fiber, calcium, antioxidants and so much more!
by Cindy Murdoch – Staff Writer
What are Chia Seeds?
Salvia hispanica, a member of the mint family, is the plant that produces the seeds. Believed to have originated in Central and South America, chia seeds were a staple in the diets of the ancient Aztecs and Mayans. The seeds of Salvia columbariae, called “Golden Chia,” were used by the Native Americans in the southwestern United States.
The word “chia” originated from a similar word in the Mayan language that means “strength.” The Aztec warriors used the seeds to boost their energy and increase their stamina, causing it to be referred to as “Aztec Running Food.” Athletes today, especially distance runners, continue to use it as an endurance enhancing super-food.
Chia seeds were a regular part of the Aztec’s and Mayan’s diet. They ground them into flour, pressed them for oil and mixed them with water and juice. They were revered and attributed with almost magical qualities because of their ability to increase energy and stamina.
During their conquests, Aztec warriors used chia seeds as their main source of energy. They also used it medicinally to relieve joint pain. Although once a major crop in Mexico, the Spanish conquistadors banned its cultivation because of its use in Aztec religious ceremonies. Its popularity is returning, and with good reason!
Health Benefits of Chia Seeds
Everyone can benefit with the addition of the seeds to their diet. They are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids – 100% more than that found in salmon. They have twice as many antioxidants as blueberries, six times more calcium than milk, and provide 42% of the daily fiber requirements with just 2 tablespoons. Two tablespoons of them also provide 6 grams of protein, plus minerals including calcium, iron, magnesium and zinc.
Let’s look more closely at the fiber provided by chia seeds. Although the American Dietetic Association recommends 20 to 35 grams of fiber per day, the average American only consumes 12 to 15 grams. By daily adding 4 tablespoons of them to your diet, 20 grams of dietary fiber is automatically included in your diet every single day. Fiber is vital to all aspects of your health. Fiber slows down your digestive process and is a key component to weight loss. Even more important, fiber sweeps out your digestive tract helping you to eliminate toxins, an important aspect of health.
Other benefits of these seeds include:
- Detoxification and elimination – Because of their high fiber content and their swelling action, chia seeds absorb toxins, cleanses and soothes the colon, and strengthens peristaltic action.
- Improves cardiovascular health – Chia seeds are also thought to improve cardiovascular health by lowering cholesterol, triglycerides and blood pressure. In a study he did using chia seeds, Dr. Vladamir Vuksan of St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, discovered that it significantly decreased blood pressure after three months of consumption.
- Assists in weight loss – it expands to curb your appetite, therefore, reducing your caloric intake.
- Combats diabetes – Helps to reduce glucose levels by stabilizing blood sugar – slows down the rate at which complex carbohydrates are digested.
- Reduce food cravings – provides a feeling of satiety which works to control food cravings.
- Stabilizes mood – Research has shown it to be beneficial to those suffering with mood disorders because of its omega-3 content.
- Chia seeds are energizing – Remember, it means strength. Athletes worldwide report increased strength and stamina.
- Anti-inflammatory properties – They have been shown to reduce pain and inflammation for arthritis sufferers.
- Antioxidants – The seeds have high amounts of antioxidants, even more than blueberries.
- High quality protein – The seeds are 20% protein and contain strontium which assists in the assimilation of proteins.
- Can be used as an egg replacer – Because they become gelatinous when mixed with liquids, they can be used as an egg replacement. To use: Mix 1 tablespoon chia seeds with 3 tablespoons of water and allow to sit for 15 minutes.
Considerations About Using Chia Seeds
If you are thinking about adding chia seeds into your diet, consider the following:
- Because of their high fiber content, chia seeds can cause gas and bloating. Cut back on the amount being consumed until your body acclimates to the amount being used. Increase slowly after that.
- Some people can develop allergies to chia seeds with symptoms including: skin rashes, breathing difficulties, diarrhea, watery eyes, hives and swelling of the tongue, mouth and throat.
- Because of the effects that chia seeds can have on blood pressure, people with low blood pressure should not use chia seeds.
- A 2004 study found that the use of chia seeds can increase the risk of developing prostate cancer.
How to Incorporate Chia Seeds into Your Diet
Optimally, one would consume four tablespoons of chia per day. This amount would provide you with 10 grams of omega-3s, and approximately 12 grams of protein, 20 grams of dietary fiber and only 240 calories! It also delivers 24% of your calcium daily requirements, 16% of your iron daily requirements, and 16% of your zinc. Chia seeds provide both soluble and insoluble fiber.
Chia seed’s mild, nutty flavor goes well with both sweet and savory dishes. They can be used in puddings and smoothies, sprinkled on top of many types of dishes and added to baked goods. Chia seeds can often be used in place of ground flaxseeds or poppy seeds.
They can be consumed raw or prepared in a number of different ways including:
- Ground or whole chia seeds can be sprinkled on or stirred into various food items such as yogurt, cereal, rice or vegetables.
- Chia fresco can be mixed into cooked cereal and other dishes.
- Chia Pomegranate Pudding is another great way to enjoy chia seeds while also adding additional antioxidants.
- They can be sprouted and added to sandwiches, salads and other dishes.
- Ground seeds can be used as a flour alternative for those with gluten allergies.
- Due to their mild flavor, chia seeds can be added to smoothies.
- Chia seed has the ability to absorb 12 times its weight in water and develops a gelatinous texture. Chia fresco, a dish served in Mexico, is made by soaking Chia seeds in water or fruit juice. See recipe below for a refreshing version of this traditional Mexican beverage.
Lemon Chia Fresca
- 1 Tablespoon chia seed
- ½ cup water
- Juice of one lemon
- ½ cup sugar
- 32 oz. Club Soda
- Lemon wedges for garnish
Combine water and chia seeds. Refrigerate for eight hours. Heat lemon juice and sugar over low-medium heat until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and cool completely. Mix sugar mixture and chia seed mixture. Fill four glasses with ice. Divide chia seed mixture between the glasses. Top off each glass with club soda. Use lemon wedges for garnish.
Chia seeds can be stored for long periods of time without going rancid allowing you to save money by purchasing them in bulk.
They deliver a healthy nutritional punch!