I discovered chia seeds while studying nutrition and now they are a staple in my kitchen. Most people know of chia seeds from growing “Chia Pets” as children. Who knew they are actually jam packed with protein, soluble fibre, protective antioxidants, vitamins & minerals!
The latin name for the chia seed is saliva hispanica, it is a species of flowering plant in the mint family. Traditionally it is grown in Central America cultivated by the Aztecs, Mayas, Tehuantapecs, and other native American peoples. They were so highly prized that they were at one point used as valuable currency. Apparently, the seeds were known for increasing endurance- which is useful to know whether you’re an Aztec warrior or a busy mom! According to Spanish manuscripts, the Aztecs called chia their “running food” because messengers reportedly could run all day on just a handful.
These wonderful little seeds have the highest known level of essential omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid, more protein, energy and fiber than any other whole grain. They are an excellent source of calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, potassium, iron and zinc. Chia seeds are loaded with antioxidants, they have among the highest antioxidant activity of any whole food– even more than fresh blueberries. They are safe for just about everyone to eat, as there are no known allergies to chia seeds. Chia do good stuff for the body, like keeping blood pressure and blood sugar under control. They are also a hydrophilic and can absorb more than 12 times its weight in water. This makes it especially helpful in maintaining body hydration.
Due to the unique way they break down in the digestion system, chia seeds may help slow the conversion of carbohydrates into sugar in the stomach. A 2007 showed some impressive health benefits. Patients who ate up to four teaspoons of chia seeds every day for three months reduced their blood clotting factors by 20 percent; reduced markers for inflammation by 30 percent; increased the levels of essential omega-3 fatty acids by 80 percent; dropped six units in systolic blood pressure.
To get an idea of how chia seeds are broken down, simply place a spoonful of them into a glass of water. After about a half an hour, you will notice the seeds have broken down and bonded with the water to form a thick gel. In the stomach, this gel creates a physical barrier between carbohydrates and the digestive enzymes that break them down —effectively slowing down the conversion of carbohydrates into water.
Yet another great thing about chia is that they are so versatile and easy to incorporate into our daily diet. You can sprinkle them over cereal, use them in salad dressings, smoothies and dips. I tend to soak a couple tablespoons in coconut water overnight and have the refreshing gel in the morning.
Try this recipe for Chia Pudding:
1/4 cup whole chia seeds (use more for a firmer consistency)
1 cup almond milk (or other non-dairy milk)
1 banana (optional if your milk is unsweetened)
2-3 dates, pitted (optional if your milk is unsweetened)
a few dashes cinnamon
a pinch of salt
Place the chia seeds in a bowl or covered container. If using the banana and/or dates, blend them in a food processor/blender with the milk, cinnamon and salt. Pour this mixture over the chia seeds and stir well. Let it soak on the counter for at least 10 minutes until thickened, or cover and soak in the fridge overnight. Stir again before serving and top with fresh fruit and another dash of cinnamon or spices.
So simple and so good! ChChCh… Chia!
For more information on the benefits of chia seeds I recommend