Monday, March 18, 2013

Chia Seeds: Not Just for Chia Pets Anymore

So prized were they by the Aztecs that Chia seeds were used as currency.  Often categorized today as a "superfood" by health advocates, the Chia seed is taking the U.S. diet by storm, and for good reasons. 
  • Looking for calcium? You'll find five times more of it in Chia seeds than in milk.
  • Want to add potassium to your diet? You'll get twice as much from Chia seeds than from a banana.
  • Trying to boost the omega-3 oils in your diet? While salmon is known as a great source of omega 3s, skip straight to the Chia seed and you'll get eight times as much per serving.
  • Hoping to stave off a cold by boosting your vitamin C? It's Chia seeds to the rescue again, loaded as they are with seven times the vitamin C as oranges.
Chia seeds are enjoyed today by those who want to lose weight, increase energy and stamina, reduce joint inflammation, knee pain, and arthritis symptoms, manage hyperactivity disorder, get healthier skin, hair, and nails, strengthen the immune system, prevent cancer, and rid the bowels of toxins. 

Chia seeds

Chia seeds through the ages

Though the Chia seed is rapidly growing to superstar status among athletes and health food advocates today, the Chia seed has been in favor for centuries in some cultures.  This dietary darling hails from the desert plant Salvia hispanica, native to Central and South America, and has been a staple in the diets of the natives of Mexico and Central America since 2,600 B.C., where historical records indicate that it was often called "the running food." Purportedly, warriors of the native warriors of some Mexican and South American peoples mixed Chia seeds and water, claiming that it maintained their energy levels while running great distances, keeping them hydrated during battles. 

RunnerOne tribe in particular, the Tarahumara people, located in the remote Copper canyons of northwestern Mexico, continue using Chia seeds as a dietary staple today. The significance? The Tarahumara natives are those who were sought by Christopher McDougall, author of the 2011 best-selling book Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen.  This tribe is known for its current and ancient history of extreme distance running, practiced by its men, women, and even its children. In Born to Run, McDougall describes the drink mix called iskiate, or Chia Fresca, that they used to sustain them in these long runs, brewed up by dissolving Chia seeds in water, adding a dash of sugar and a little bit of lime juice. 

To quote McDougall, "In terms of nutritional content, a tablespoon of Chia is like a smoothie made from salmon, spinach, and human growth hormone … If you had to pick just one desert island food, you couldn't do much better, at least if you are interested in building muscle, lowering cholesterol, and reducing your risk of heart disease."

Scientific evidence of Chia seed benefits

With the Chia seed popularity boom being a recent development, there is a limited amount of evidence in the form of Chia seed medical studies or Chia seed scientific studies to support its many health benefit claims.  But the few studies done to date seem to support many aspects of its reputation through the ages.  One study reported in 2012 showed that ground chia seeds indeed increased omega-3 and fatty acid levels in the blood.   A 2009 study revealed that Chia seeds possess some blood-thinning qualities, potentially reducing blood clotting and blood pressure after three months of regular use in the diet. And another study by the University of Queensland indicated that a diet with chia seeds can improve liver health.

Chia Seed Recipes

Ready to try adding Chia seeds to your diet? It's easy! First, take a look at the Chia Fresca recipe described above.  You can also get many more Chia seed recipes here:
If you make any kind of fruit smoothie or green smoothie, simply add a tablespoon or two of Chia seeds. They are virtually tasteless, but high in roughage and high in healthy oils, and act as a thickening agent.

Fruit smoothie

Any Chia seed side effects and Chia seed risks?

As healthy as they are, it's never a bad idea to discuss its use first with your doctor, as it does have some side effects.  Chia seeds can cause gas and  gastrointestinal disruptions because of its high fiber content.  Some people have experienced allergic reactions to Chia seeds, similar to the allergic reactions some experience with mustard seeds.  Because of its blood thinning properties, avoid Chia seed in your diet before surgery or if you are on blood thinners. And last, but certainly not least, make sure that you buy Chia seeds grown in Mexico, Central or South America and that are certified 100% pure and organic. 

Find out more about Chia seeds

If this article has whetted your appetite for Chia seed information, here are some helpers.
Although you won't find Chia seeds in the average grocery store, you can usually buy it at any health food store and from several resources online.  Chia seeds are not very expensive, and a little goes a long way.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

1 comment:

  1. Very useful information. Thank you for sharing it with us.