The Origins of Chia Seeds
‘Chia’ means strength in Mayan.
They come from a desert plan known as ‘Salvia Hispanica’, a member of the mint family.
There are two colours of these seeds, black and white. If they’re brown this means they have yet to ripen.
The Aztecs used chia seeds as their main foods from about 3500 BCE. This race saw them as sacred and used them as sacrifices (along with humans!) in religious ceremonies. They also believed that they provide supernatural powers.
Between 1500 and 900 BCE, the Teotihuacan and Toltec people grew them in Mexico.
The seeds have been used in medicine, ground into flour, mixed as an ingredient in drinks and pressed for oil.
The Spanish Conquistadors banned chia seeds because of their religious uses.
Ancient warriors credit them for their stamina. In fact, even today, runners from the Tarahumara tribe drink a mixture of chia seeds, lemon and water; known as ‘iskiate’. They believe this drink gives them the stamina to run hundreds of miles.
Today, chia is grown in several Latin American countries but the main producer of it is Australia.
Health Benefits of Chia Seeds
Despite their tiny size, they are one of the world’s most nutritious foods. They are high in protein which is, along with other processes in your body, responsible for growing, healing, forming cell structures, carrying oxygen, protecting against disease, growing hair and nails, allowing eyesight and providing energy.
1. Help to prevent your risk of cancer. They are very high in antioxidants which fight free radicals that can damage your cells.
2. Prevent constipation. Chia seeds are high in fibre; 5g in every tablespoon. High fibre diets have been shown to reduce the likelihood of diverticulitis flare-ups. Water is absorbed by fibre in your colon, making bowel movements easier to pass. Diverticulitis has been associated with a low fibre diet.
3. May aid weight loss. As mentioned above, they are high in protein, which is seen as a weight-loss-friendly nutrient. A diet high in protein lowers your appetite and has been shown to reduce obsessive thoughts about 60% and the desire for night time snacking by 50%.
4. May help to boost your energy. Chia seeds are very high in omega 3 fatty acids, in particular, ALA, which among other functions, increases your energy. Gram for gram, they contain more omega 3 than salmon.
5. Help with bone health. They contain calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and protein. In fact, they contain 18% of calcium of your recommended daily allowance in a 28g serving or 2 tbsp.
6. May help to reduce blood sugar levels. In animal studies, chia seeds were discovered to improve insulin sensitivity and blood sugar control, therefore, stabilising blood sugar levels after meals. Human studies showed that bread made with chia seeds causes a lowered blood sugar response after meals, compared to more traditional breads.
7. May help to reduce inflammation. There is a bit of evidence that suggests that eating these seeds could reduce an inflammatory marker known as ‘hs-CRP’.
8. May help to reduce cholesterol. A review of 67 separate studies showed that even a small increase of fibre, 10g, reduced the LDL or ‘bad’ cholesterol.
Chia seeds can absorb up to 27x their weight in water. There is a case where a man ate them dry and then drank water. Unfortunately, he needed medical attention because his oesophagus was blocked!
Don’t feed them to young children.
Ways to eat Chia Seeds.
If you’re considering becoming a vegan and like your baking, then these seeds can be used as an egg replacer. Just mix 1 tbsp of chia with 3 tbsp of water and then wait 10 minutes before adding other ingredients.
Also, they can be used in salad dressings, home-made energy bars, porridge, iskiate as mentioned above and finally, chia pudding.
Sources: milkandhoneynutrition.com, eatright.org, wikipedia.com, ancient grains.com, healthline.com, bbcgoodfood.com, medicalnewstoday.com, hsph.harvard.edu, everydayhealth.com, oneplanet.org