After centuries of obscurity the seed of the ancient plant Salvia hispanica, commonly known as Chia, is once again assuming a role as a significant food source in the diets of increasing numbers of health conscious people. Chia (a member of the mint family grown originally in southern Mexico) was a staple of early Incan, Mayan and Aztec cultures. "Chia" is the Mayan word for strength. According to Spanish manuscripts, the Aztecs ate the seeds of this semi-tropical plant to improve their endurance. They called chia their "running food" because messengers reportedly could run all day on just a handful of seeds. The Aztecs prized chia more highly than gold and even offered it to their gods. When the Aztec civilization ended, this nutritious and highly prized grain fell into relative obscurity. Now, half a millennium later, chia is again assuming its former status as a highly valued food source and modern researchers are marvelling at the results of their scientific studies into the nutritional and medicinal properties of this ancient food.
In fact researchers are now calling chia a "super food." and a number of the studies supporting this claim are documented at the end of this article. What the research has found is that chia seed has one of the broadest ranging profiles of scientific benefits of any known food, including:
- Lower blood sugar levels
- Lowered insulin sensitivity
- Improvement in diabetes
- Lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure
- Decreased High Sensitivity C-Reactive Protein- a marker in the blood indicating inflammation
- Decreased gaseousness
- Increased energy and endurance
- Improved cardiovascular health
- Improved colonic health and bowel regularity
- Decreased gastro-oesophageal reflux and heartburn
- Weight loss
The following information should give you some idea of the value of adding chia to your diet. To get a more complete view of just what these seeds can do, read The Magic of Chia by James Scheer. Other informative sources are also listed below.
Superior Nutritional Value
Because chia contains 19 amino acids, gram for gram it has more quality food value than any other known food. Two tablespoons of chia offers an amazingly balanced ration of macronutrients, oils and fibre.
Chia seeds have been shown to have:-
- 6 times more calcium than whole milk
- 15 times more magnesium than broccoli
- 3 times more antioxidant capacity than fresh blueberries
- 3 times more iron than spinach
- 2 times more potassium than bananas
- More fibre than flaxseed
- More protein than beans, soy, or peas
- Good source of B vitamins and the bone building minerals - a combination of calcium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, boron, and copper
- Rich source of the antioxidants chlorogenic acid, caffeic acid, and flavanol glycosides
- High Omega 3 (ALA) content
- No gluten
- Low GI
Back in the middle of last century noted fitness guru Paul Bragg was already referring to chia seeds as a "super food." As told in James Scheer's book, Bragg devised a 36 hour mountain hiking endurance test by dividing a group of volunteers into two teams: one ate only chia seeds, the other ate what they wanted. The chia seed group won the contest by arriving at their destination, the peak of Mt. Wilson in California, over 4 hours ahead of the other team.Muscle Builder:
As a source of protein, the seeds are easily digested and absorbed resulting in a rapid transport of nutrients to the tissue for utilization by the cells. This efficient assimilation makes chia very effective when rapid development of tissue is needed such as during growth periods of children and adolescents, growth and regeneration of tissue of a woman during pregnancy and lactation, during any athletic training or competition and during rehabilitation from injury or illness.High Omega 3:
Chia seeds offer the highest known natural percentage of alpha-linolenic fatty acid (60-63%) or ALA, with a very favourable Omega 3:6 ratio of 3:2. This is more than the well-known, popular flax seed which needs to be ground to use, which exhibits rapid decomposition due to a lack of antioxidants, and which has a distinct taste. Fatty acids are necessary for absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins, A, D, E, & K and normal glandular activity particularly for the adrenals and thyroid gland. They also nourish the skin and are essential for healthy mucus membranes, nerves and normal functioning of the reproductive system. They can also be important in reducing cholesterol deposits.High Fibre:
About 2 tablespoons (25 g) of chia provides 7 g of fibre. The seed's outer layer is rich in mucilloid soluble fibre (chia possesses 5% soluble fibre and 2% insoluble in ideal balance) and absorbs up to 10 times its weight in water. The insoluble fibre gently "scrubs" debris and toxins from your colon walls, banishing build-up and blockage and the soluble fibre soaks up water, so stools don't get too loose.
The fibre in chia seed can help alleviate numerous digestive distresses, including:
- Bowel Discomfort
- Irritable Colon
As chia seeds can hold up to 10 times their weight in water there is a greater efficiency in the utilization of body fluids and the body's electrolyte balance is far better maintained. This also means better nutrient absorption while allowing for more efficient bowel regulation. This ability is especially of interest in cases of severe vomiting, diarrhoea, high fevers or excessive sweating where vital fluid retention is minimal.Aids Glucose Intolerance/Diabetes Management:
The gelatinous hydrophilic colloid formed by chia seeds when they are mixed with water or stomach juices, creates a physical barrier between the carbohydrates and the digestive enzymes that break them down. The carbohydrates are thus digested and converted into glucose (blood sugar) at a slow, uniform rate with no insulin surge or spike needed to lower the blood sugar level. This also, coincidentally, aids endurance.Medicinal Uses:
The Aztecs and other native, American cultures used chia medicinally to relieve joint pain, muscle soreness and skin conditions. They also used it for healing wounds, for colds and sore throats, for upset stomachs, prostate problems, constipation and even body odour. Recent research (see below) has also shown that chia helps to control blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes.Weight Control:
As chia seed contains a significant amount of soluble fibre and can quickly absorb up to 10 times its weight in water you can put it into a drink and in about 10 minutes you have a weak gelatinous, neutral tasting nutritious beverage. This chia gel coats the stomach, slows down digestion and absorption of carbohydrates and has one of the broadest ranging nutrient profiles of any food available. Chia's 30 different nutrients are delivered gradually to your system as it travels through the stomach and intestines and the slow release of this wealth of nutrients helps create a feeling of satisfaction over a significant period of time because so many of the body's nutritional requirements are being fully met. Drinking a glass of chia gel prior to a meal can significantly reduce hunger and the need to eat so much as well as decrease the craving for sweet foods.
Unlike flaxseed and most other seeds, chia can be stored for long periods - at least 5 years- without them going rancid, which makes them an ideal "survival food." This is because they contain powerful antioxidants that protect their heart-healthy oils. Even after you grind or cook them, chia's antioxidants still keep them fresh.
Black or White Chia Seeds?
Chia seeds come in two colours, black and greyish white. In the United States the white chia seed was bred up to produce a more nutritionally consistent variety that is marketed under the patented name of Salba. Some distributors of chia seed are claiming that only the white seeds are the nutritious ones. However, studies are showing the difference is not so much the seed colour but is more related to where the seed was grown and the soil nutrition of the area.White Chia
|Servings Per Package: 10|
|Serving Size: 15g ~1 level tablespoon|
|-Omega 3 ALA||2.9g||19.3g|
|-Omega 6 LA||1.1g||7.1g|
|Cobalamin (Vitamin B12)||16.5ng||110ng|
Incorporating Chia into Your Diet
Stir two tablespoons of chia into a glass of water or juice. Let stand for 10 minutes and then stir again. Start the day with this drink and repeat again before each meal if you are trying to lose weight.
- You can add it to your porridge, muesli, soups, stews, dips, spreads, sauces, gravies, salad dressings, smoothies and home-made breads.
- In fact you can blend or grind the seeds into just about any dish and you can even add it to a salad.
- You can also use it as a snack, perhaps mixed with nuts.
Here are some chia recipes from the internet, with appropriate modifications for Australian ingredients and measurements.Chia Seeds Garnish
The simplest way to use chia seeds is by sprinkling them directly on your foods (1/4 to 1 teaspoonful), either whole or ground. You can grind them in a pepper mill or coffee/nut grinder just prior to use.Chia Lime Water
To 10 cups pure water, add 1/2 cup fresh lime juice and 1/4 cup agave nectar; mix well and add 1/3 cup chia seed; shake well and serve like iced tea.Chia Apple-Lemon Slushy
Mix together 1 cup natural apple juice & 1 tablespoon chia seeds; let thicken and add 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice and crushed ice.Chia Milk
(makes 5 cups) - In a jar or glass, soak 4 tablespoons chia seeds and 2 tablespoons walnuts overnight in 3 cups of water. Pour into blender jar, add 1 cup of water, and turn on blender, running it at medium speed. With blender running, add 2 tablespoonss tahini and 1 tablespoon agave; add a dash of vanilla (optional), then add 1 more cup of water. Blend until smooth.Chia Smoothie
To 1 cup liquid of choice, add 1 banana, 1/2 cup other fruit (orange, apple, pear, berries, grapes, pineapple etc.) and 1 tablespoon chia seeds (or 2 tablespoons gel); blend and drink. VARIATION: add 1 tablespoon green powder (spelt or green barley) or handful of fresh greens for added nutrition. Using less liquid makes smoothie more like a thick shake or pudding.Chiannaise
Blend 1 tablespoon chia seeds with one small block of silken tofu, 3 tablespoons olive oil, and 3 tablespoons vinegar and extra water to give a creamy consistency. Add some garlic, salt and other spices to taste, and a touch of sweetener of choice.Super Garlic Dressing
Let 1 tablespoon chia seeds sit in 3 tablespoons water for a few minutes until gelled. Finely grate 2 cloves garlic and add to gel along with 1 teaspoon mustard powder, 2 tablespoons lemon juice 1 teaspoon sea salt. Whisk until well combined. If it is thicker than you'd like, add a little more water.Chia Herb Couscous
1 tablespoon coconut oil, 2 medium onions chopped, 2 cups vegetable broth, 4 teaspoons chopped fresh basil or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil, 2 tablespoons chia seed, 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped, 1 1/3 cups uncooked couscous, 1 teaspoon sea salt. Melt oil in a large saucepan over medium high heat. Cook the garlic and onions in the fat until the onions are crisp-tender about 4 minutes. Add the chia seeds and lightly toast for about 30 seconds. Stir in the couscous, salt, and if using dried basil add at this time. Add the broth to the saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil then remove from heat. Cover and let stand about 5 minutes. When ready to serve, use fork to fluff the couscous. Stir in the fresh basil (if fresh is being used).Chia Vegetable Stir Fry
In a large wok or skillet, saute 1 tablespoon grated ginger & 1/2 sliced onion in 2 tablespoons sesame oil over medium heat until softened (approximately 3 minutes). Add 3 tablespoons tamari, 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar, and 3/4 cup water. Stir fry for additional 3 minutes. Add 2 cups coarsely chopped kale, 2 diagonally sliced carrots, 1/2 red pepper, 3oz sliced mushrooms, 3-4 cloves thin sliced garlic, 2 chopped tomatoes, and 2 tablespoons chia seeds. Cover and cook for 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender, but still firm and sauce has thickened, stirring occasionally.Vegetarian Creamy Chia Mushroom Soup
Add 1 cup raw cashews to 5 1/2 cups water and blend until smooth to make 6 1/2 cups cashew nut milk. Add 1 1/2 tablespoons chia seeds and allow to stand for 15 minutes. Saute 250gms sliced mushrooms, 1 large chopped onion, 2 stalks chopped celery and 2 cloves whole garlic in sesame oil for approx. 4 minutes; add 1 tablespoon tamari and puree. Mix in handful of raw sliced mushrooms, a dash of cayenne and sea salt to taste and simmer slowly about 30 minutes. Serve garnished with diced fresh tomato and parsley sprig.Apricot Truffles
In a food processor, blend until smooth 1 cup raw/soaked/blanched almonds, 1 cup dried apricots & 1/2 cup pitted dates; remove and mix with 1 tablespoon lemon zest, 1/2 tsp vanilla, and 1/2 tablespoon chia seeds; form into balls and refrigerate until firm.Polka Dot Pudding
Mix together 1/2 cup soy, rice or oat milk, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, 1/4 cup agave syrup, 2 tablespoons Chia seeds; let set over night. If pudding is not thick enough, add extra chia and let set for another hour or so. VARIATION: add 1 teaspoon lemon zest & 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice in lieu of vanillaChia Fruit Delight
Mix together 1-2 teaspoon chia seeds, 2-3 tablespoons almond butter, 1 diced apple, 1/2 sliced banana, 1 tablespoon raisins or dried cranberries, 1 tablespoon agave syrup (optional), handful of nuts (walnuts, almonds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, etc.), splash of soy, oat or rice milk, pinch of cinnamon/nutmeg/allspice (optional), pure water to achieve desired consistency and 1 cup berries.Plain Chia Pudding
Place 1 cup soaked cashews (or mix of cashews and coconut milk) and 3 cups water in a blender and blend on high speed until smooth Blend in 2 tablespoons agave, 1 tablespoon vanilla extract, 1/4 tsp almond extract and a pinch of salt. Place 1/4 cup chia seeds into a large jar pour the cashew mixture into the jar and shake very well. Cover and place in the refrigerator overnight.
See also The Chia Company's online recipe book.
Summary of Research
In the first major study of Salvia hispanica, using the US patented white variety named Salba, Prof. Vladimir Vuksan of the University of Toronto and colleagues baked the seeds into white bread and assessed their effects on hospital patients with well-controlled diabetes. Subjects eating this Salba-based bread for three months (compared to controls eating wheat-bran bread) had a dramatic six-point reduction in blood pressure and a 40 percent decrease in C-reactive protein levels, the inflammation marker that is a predictor of heart disease.
At the University of Antwerp in Belgium, independent researchers found similar improvements when healthy people added Salba to their diets for one month. Data showed reductions in blood pressure and triglyceride levels, but also that the subjects' waistlines became smaller, even though none of them actually lost weight overall.
Dr. Vuksan and his Toronto colleagues considered this to be a significant finding because it is well known in medical circles that accumulating fat around the abdomen is one of the main factors implicated in the development of heart disease and diabetes.
The Toronto researchers have since identified further benefits of including Salvia hispanica in the diet. According to Dr. Vuksan there was an impressive glucose-lowering effect of up to 40 percent after meals, depending on how much Salba- based bread was eaten. It was found that on average, each gram of Salba reduced blood sugar levels by 2 percent. It was shown that Saba can be consumed either as the whole seed or finely ground because both forms are equally effective in lowering glucose levels.
Most recently, a study conducted at the University of Litoral in Santa Fe, Argentina, and published in the British Journal of Nutrition identified further benefits associated with eating Salvia hispanica. Rats were fed for months with a sucrose-rich diet causing them to develop metabolic syndrome and obesity. However their condition was reversed when Salba was added to their diet. Their triglyceride levels came down, and abdominal fat was reduced. Additionally, their blood levels of omega-3 EPA increased.
Vuksan, Vladimir et al., 'Supplementation of Conventional Therapy with the Novel Grain Salba (Salvia hispanica L.) Improves Major and Emerging Cardiovascular Factors in Type 2 Diabetes. Results of a Randomised Controlled Trial'. Diabetes Care, 2007, Aug 8, p.p.1-15.
Chicco, Adriana G. et al., 'Dietary Chia Seed (Salvia hispanica L.) rich in a-linolenic acid improves adiposity and normalises hypertriacglycerolaemia and insulin resistance in dyslipaemic rats'. British Journal of Nutrition, Vol 101, Issue I, Jan.2009 p.p.41-50.
Fernandez, S. et al., 'Impact of Chia Seed (Salvia hispanica L.) on the Immune System: Preliminary Study', Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, Vol.67. 12 May 2008.
The Chia Company
Saturday Evening Post
Ayerza, Richard and Wayne Coates, Chia: Rediscovering a Forgotten Crop of the Aztecs, Univ. of Arizona Press, 2005
Scheer, James, The Magic of Chia: Revival of an Ancient Wonder Food, Frog Books. 2001
Shipard, Isabell, How can I use Herbs in my daily life? 2008