Chia seeds are small (~1mm diameter), mottle coloured with brown/grey patches, seeds of a species of flowering plant, Salvia hispanica. Chia is native to central and South America. While seeds of Salvia hispanica are commonly sold as chia seeds, there is similar variety Salvia columbariae which is also commonly known as the Golden chia. Health benefits of Chia seeds can be attributed to its rich content of omega 3 fatty acids and its antioxidant properties. Because of these newly found properties, consumption of these ancient chia seeds has gained popularity. Other health benefits of chia seeds include its high content of essential dietary fibers, minerals and its ability to regulate blood sugar, help weight loss and aid digestion. It is often referred as ‘Indian running food’ or Runners diet.
Chia is native to South America and evidence has been found that chia seeds were consumed by humans about 5500 years ago. Chias seeds were used by ancient Mayans and Aztecs civilizations. In fact, word chia is derived from Mayan language meaning strength. Anthropologists studying Aztec culture believe that Aztec warriors, one of the fiercest warriors of all time, consumed chia seeds to boost their energy levels and increase endurance. Reference of Chia seeds can be found in book, “Born To Run,” by ultra-marathoner Christopher McDougall which mentions that chia seeds were preferred food of Tarahumara Indians, who are able to run hundreds of miles barefoot without resting or eating all that much. This fact is being used to market the chia seeds to athletes, marathon runners as endurance superfood.
In ancient times, Chia seeds were consumed plain or mixed with other grains, as beverage, or for oil base to make face and body paints of Aztec warriors, for painting on walls, pots. Aztec words chiactic, chiaaocaio and chiauizaio refer to oily greasy skin. Oil of Chia seeds was known as chiamatl by Aztecs which was often mixed with insect fat, vegetable and mineral pigment and used for body colouring.
The growing importance of health benefits of chia seeds can be attributed to rich nutrient and antioxidants present in chia seeds. Today Chia seeds are grown commercially in Mexico, Bolivia, Argentina, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Australia, and Guatemala. Chia seeds may be consumed raw for its health benefits. It also finds its use in various recipes, including its use as substitute of egg in baked foods. It is also used as natural thickener to sauces.
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Nutritional value of Chia Seeds
Simply put, one small serving (around 1 ounce or 28 grams) of chia seeds contain around 18% of daily dietary value of Calcium, 27% of daily requirement of Phosphorus, 30% of daily requirement of Manganese and around 42% of daily dietary requirement of Dietary Fiber. Chia Seeds contains around 25-30% of oils, which includes around 17% by weight of Omega-3 fatty acids and around 6% by weight of Omega-6 fatty acids. Antioxidant properties of oil seed and oil seed flowers and concentrates can be attributed to presence of flavonoids and hydroxylated cinnnamic acids.
In other words, one tablespoon of chia seeds contains more calcium than glass full of milk, more omega-3 fatty acid than Salmon fish and more antioxidant than blueberries.
Health benefits of Chia seeds
Aztecs not only used chia, but also had knowledge about health benefits of chia and other medicinal herbs. Aztecs used Chia to stimulate saliva, to relieve pain of the knees, for injured feet as lotion and for skin eruptions, and as cure for intestinal disorders in combination with white willow.
Research is very much active on the areas of antioxidant properties of Chia seeds, high Omega-3 content and other health benefits of chia seeds. Some of the health benefits of Chia seeds are given below:
Chia seeds reduces cholesterol
Chia seeds is known as highest vegetarian source of Omega-3 fatty acids. As research suggests, omega-3 fatty acids protects our heart, reduces high blood pressure, removes bad cholesterol and reduces risk of heart related diseases. In modern lifestyle, where risk of heart disorders has increased dramatically, just adding chia seeds to daily diet can provide far reaching health benefits.
Chia seeds prevents Dyslipidemia
Dyslipidemia is condition where there is abnormal amount of lipids (e.g. cholesterol and/or fat) in the blood. A study showed that Chia seeds help control body fats and helps reduce bad cholesterol from body, while increasing HDL or the good cholesterol and thus helpful in prevention of dyslipidemia.
Antioxidants property of chia seeds
Chia seeds are rich source of antioxidants and help prevent impact of free radicals on body. They thus protect body from aging, cancer and protects internal organs and heart from disorders.
Chia Seeds for healthy metabolism
Chia seeds contains ample amount of minerals like calcium, phosphorus, manganese and aids in health metabolism. These minerals help regulate cardio vascular system, blood circulatory system, digestive system and growth.
Chia Seeds aid digestion
Chia seeds contain ample quantity, almost 40% by weight, of dietary fibers. It helps in proper bowel movements and healthy digestive tract. Dietary fibers in Chia seeds helps in removal of waste and toxins from body, thus preventing from intestinal disorder. Consumption of chia seeds shall be beneficial for people suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
Chia Seeds for GERD
This dietary fiber also makes chia, hydrophilic causing it to absorb water as much as 10 times its weight. This keeps stomach hydrated and relieves from symptoms of indigestion, heart burn and gastro-esophageal reflex disorder (GERD).
Chia Seed – Runners Superfood
Chia seeds can be aptly called the Runners superfood. Chia seeds has history of being used as energy booster food. It helps enhance natural performance. Its hydrophilic property keeps body hydrated for longer time. It also aids muscle repair. Jodie Hart’s article in Total Sports Nutrition magazine http://www.tsnmag.co.uk/ details health benefits of chia seeds for athletes.
Anti inflammatory properties of chia seeds
Omega-3 fatty acids and dietary fibers in Chia seeds are responsible for reducing inflammation. This anti-inflammatory property of chia seed helps in relieving joint pain and arthritis. Among the other health benefits of chia seeds, relief of joint pain or old injuries is attributed to its natural anti-inflammatory property noted by many.
Chia Seeds to improve memory & concentration
Omega-3 fatty acid is an essential nutrient required for growth and proper function of brain. Often marketed as brain food, omega-3 supplements are used to increase memory and concentration. Rich content of omega-3 fatty acids in chia seeds provide enhanced memory and concentration. Adding chia seeds to daily diet can also keep your brain healthy. Chia seeds help in providing crucial nutrient for memory and brain performance, mood stability and regulating behavior.
Weight loss and Chia Seeds
Chia seeds aids in weight loss in multiple ways. Its super water absorbing capacity keeps stomach hydrated and provides feeling of filled stomach and reduces carvings. Fibers in chia seeds reduces release of carbohydrates and keeping metabolism at optimum. With over 25-30% oil content, Chia seed gel can be used to replace butter, thus reducing intake of fats and thereby weight control.
Chia Seeds regulate Blood sugar
Type 2 Diabetes: Chia seeds, along with water, forms gel in stomach; thus slowing down metabolism and absorption of carbohydrates. This reduces fluctuations in blood sugar and thus helps regulate blood sugar, helpful for people with type 2 diabetes. Chia seeds also play a vital role in regulating optimum insulin levels in body.
Absolutely Gluten-Free Chia Seeds
Chia seeds do not contain any gluten and helpful for people looking for gluten-free diet or allergic to gluten.
How to use Chia Seed:
Chia seeds are nutty in taste and nearly bland. Thus there are multiple ways in which chia seed can be consumed.
- Consumed Raw – one to two table spoons of chia seeds can be chewed raw daily for its super health benefits.
- Raw Chia seeds can be sprinkled or mixed into other dishes like oat meal, yogurt, granola, cottage cheese, salads, peanut butter, hazelnut spread, sandwich, puddings, etc. Chia seeds can also be used as ingredient of various recipes including salads, puddings, beverages.
- Chia seeds along with water, fruit juice or coconut milk form excellent gel which can be used as alternative to jam, butter or spread.
- In powdered form, chia seed can be blended with other flour (chia-laced cereal)and used in preparation of various flour based baked products. Chia seed flour is also used to thicken soup, sauce, stew or gravy.
- Just like other cereals, Sprouted chia seeds for additional health benefits
- Chia seed gel can be used in cake, muffins, etc. as an egg replacement.
- Chia seeds are also commonly consumed along with smoothies and similar thicker beverages.
Tukmaria seeds are very similar to chia seeds in term of properties and known as Asian cousin of chia. They are popularly used in India and other Asian countries. However research is more prominent on health benefits of Chia seeds.
Some recipes using Chia seeds
Chia Seed Pudding: Mix 2 table spoon of chia seeds with about quarter cup of coconut milk. Stir it and leave for 5 minutes. Stir again to remove lumps. Add another three quarter cup of coconut milk and stir again. Leave for 15 minutes till chia seeds swells up. You will find this mixture thickened. Garnish with honey, spices, nuts, seasonal fruits and serve.
Chia Seed Smoothie: Mix two table spoons of chia seeds with fruits of your choice (banana, pineapple, orange, blueberry, strawberry, kiwi or mango). Add sugar or salt for taste. Blend with some cold water till you get desired consistency. Serve with some freshly cut fruits.
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What are Chia pet?
In 1980, before health benefits of chia seeds were studied, chia pets were popular in US. Chia pets were clay figures of popular icons, animal, human heads, on top of which chia seeds are spread in a sticky paste. When watered, chia seeds sprouted giving look of hairy head. Chia pets are sold as novelties or house plants.
- Ayerza R, Coates W (2005) The renaissance of Chia. In: Chia: rediscovering a forgotten crop of the Aztecs. The University of Arizona Press, Tucson
- Sage: The Genus Salvia |edited by Spiridon E. Kintzios
- Baltimore Running Back Ray Rice Puts His Faith in Chia Seeds, a Training Tool of the Ancient Aztecs
- Book – Chia: The Complete Guide to the Ultimate Superfood