June 7, 2012
Are Chia Seeds The Perfect Superfood?
In South America, as far back as 3000 BC, Chia Seeds (Salvia Hispanica) had been a staple of daily nutrition and commerce in Pre-Columbian societies. In Mayan and Aztec life, the seed was so important, it was incorporated into religious ceremonies and tribal trading, even having the harvest time for the seeds outlined in ancient Aztec calendars. It seems it only took modern day humans another 5000 years to revive the importance for these super seeds which are truly amazing and whose health benefits are still being discovered. It may be the single best all around food!
Consider these facts about Chia seeds:
- 2.5 times more protein than kidney beans
- 3 times the antioxidant strength of blueberries
- 3 times more iron than spinach
6 times more calcium than milk
- 7 times more vitamin C than oranges
- 8 times more omega-3 than salmon
- 10 times more fiber than rice
- 15 times more magnesium than broccoli
Because they have a mild taste, the seeds can be added to any variety of meals, said Wayne Coates, author of Chia: The Complete Guide to the Ultimate Superfood. Sprinkle them on yogurt or salad, add them to smoothies or juice, use milled seeds for baking or soak the seeds until they form a gel that can be added to a variety of recipes.
Chia is a nutritional powerhouse, according to Dr. Coates, professor emeritus in arid lands studies at the University of Arizona, who earned a PhD in agricultural engineering. He says the seeds are loaded with vitamins and minerals, are an excellent source of fibre, protein and antioxidants, and are the richest plant source of omega-3 fatty acids. Consumption of chia seeds could help reduce joint pain, aid in weight loss, deliver an energy boost and protect against serious ailments such as diabetes and heart disease.
The seeds are gluten-free, which also makes them appealing to people with celiac disease or an aversion to gluten.
The case for adding chia seeds to your kitchen cupboard is strong. Doug Cook, a Toronto-based dietitian, agrees with claims that chia delivers protein, fibre and antioxidants. “It is worth the hype in the sense that it packs a lot of bang for the buck,” he said.
Chia seeds are the definitive hydrophilic colloid for the 21 century diet. Hydrophilic colloids, (a watery, gelatinous, glue-like substance) form the underlying elements of all living cells. They posses the property of readily taking up and giving off the substances essential to cell life. The precipitation of the hydrophilic colloids cause cell death.
Chia seeds are a source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a type of “short-chain” omega-3 fatty acid, whereas fish is a source of the “long-chain” fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). While growing research has linked consumption of EPA and DHA to heart health, improved brain function and possible other health benefits such as improvement in depression or rheumatoid arthritis, studies are now suggesting that ALA may bring about redistribution associated with heart and liver protection.
The study, published in The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, reports that rats fed chia seed supplements were protected from heart and liver problems associated with a high-fat diet, including improved insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance, reduced visceral adiposity, decreased liver fat, and lower cardiac and hepatic inflammation and fibrosis.
The research, from the University of Queensland, Australia, revealed that the chia seeds brought about lipid redistribution in the rats, with lipids trafficked away from the visceral fat and the liver.
If you try miixing a spoonful of Chia in a glass of water and leaving it for approximately 30 minutes or so, when you return the glass will appear to contain not seeds or water, but an almost solid gelatin. This gel-forming reaction is due to the soluble fiber in the Chia. Research believe this same gel-forming phenomenon takes place in the stomach when food containing these gummy fibers, known as mucilages, are eaten. The gel that is formed in the stomach creates a physical barrier between carbohydrates and the digestive enzymes that break them down, thus slowing the conversion of carbohydrates into sugar.
In addition to the obvious benefits for diabetics, this slowing in the conversion of carbohydrates into sugar offers the ability for creating endurance. Carbohydrates are the fuel for energy in our bodies. Prolonging their conversion into sugar stabilizes metabolic changes, diminishing the surges of highs and lows creating a longer duration in their fueling effects.
One could obtain a healthy and more sustaining life by consuming Chia Seeds. They were known in ancient society as the "Running Food" and is said ancient warriors would sustain themselves on long journeys with a single spoon full of the seeds daily.
One of the exceptional qualities of the Chia seed is its hydrophilic properties, having the ability to absorb more than 12 times its weigh in water. Its ability to hold on to water offers the ability to prolong hydration. Fluids and electrolytes provide the environment that supports the life of all the body’s cells. Their concentration and composition are regulated to remain as constant as possible. With Chia seeds, you retain moisture, regulate, more efficiently, the bodies absorption of nutrients and body fluids. Because there is a greater efficiency in the utilization of body fluids, the electrolyte balance is maintained.
The Top Benefits of Chia Seeds
1. Lose Weight Without Starving
The Chia Seed is a dieter’s dream come true. The tiny, healthy seeds can be made to taste like whatever you want, and their unique gelling action keeps you feeling full for hours. Hunger is a main enemy of real weight loss, and you don’t want to fight it with jittery expensive pills. Since the gel made of water, it has no calories. It’s also difficult to remove from the seed, meaning that it helps your body think it is full, without adding calories!
3. Add healthy omega-3 oil to your diet
2. Balance Blood Sugar
Keeping balanced levels of blood sugar is important for both health and energy. Blood sugar may spike after meals, especially if you eat high-starchy foods or sweets. This can lead to ‘slumps’ in your day where you feel tired and out of energy. By balancing your blood sugar, you not only lower your risk for type 2 diabetes, but you also ensure steady, constant energy throughout your day.
But how does the Chia Seed help with this? Both the gelling action of the seed, and it’s unique combination of soluble and insoluble fiber combine to slow down your body’s conversion of starches into sugars. If you eat chia with a meal, it will help you turn your food into constant, steady energy rather than a series of ups and downs that wear you out.
The shells are easily broken down, even when swallowed whole. This is an improvement over flax seed, which have to be ground up to be digested properly. If you eat flax seed whole, it will just pass through.
Omega-3 oil is usually thought of as “that healthy stuff in fish”. But, what if you don’t want to eat fish every day? What if you’re a vegetarian, or simply worried about pollution adding harmful substances to your fish dinner?
Chia is the richest plant-source of this healthy oil. By weight, chia contains more omega 3 than salmon, and it still tastes like whatever you want! Omega 3 oil is important in heart and cholesterol health. It’s also recently been targeted as a weight-loss helper. USA Weekend magazine also reports on a study where overweight dieters who included omega 3s in their eating plan lost 2 more pounds monthly than the control group, who did not.
Chia seed provides ample calcium and protein to your tissues. The seeds are also rich in boron, which helps the body assimilate and use calcium. The nutrients also support proper brain functioning.
5. Feel more energized all day long
Don’t want to feel like taking an afternoon nap? Your energy levels have a lot to do with what you eat. Chia is one of nature’s highest plant-based sources of complete protein. Usually protein from items like peanut butter and some beans are incomplete, meaning you have to combine them with other foods to get the full benefit. Not Chia though, it’s protein is complete to raise your energy levels. The combination of complete protein, vitamins, minerals and blood-sugar balancing gel all work together to make sure you have steady, never jittery energy.
6. Bake with less fat
Do you enjoy making baked goods at home, but hate all the butter and oil that has to go into them? Chia gel can substitute for half the butter in most recipes! The food will bake the same and taste the same (or better) from the addition of the chia gel. All you need to do is divide the amount of butter or oil in half, and then use the same amount of chia gel to fill in. The anti-oxidants in chia can even help keep the food tasting fresh longer. Everything from cookies to cakes to muffins, pancakes and waffles can be made with chia gel as your butter replacement. Which recipe will become your new favorite?
7. Add age-defying anti-oxidants
Anti-oxidants have been in the news lately due to their super healthy benefits. You know that blueberries and several exotic fruits (that aren’t always in season) have them, but did you know that chia is extremely high in anti-oxidants too? These helpful substances are what makes the Chia Seed stay fresh for so long. At room temperature, they’ll stay fresh and ready to eat for over two whole years! And that’s all without a single chemical or preservative. This amazing ability is not found in other seeds like flax or sesame, because those seeds don’t have the same rich anti-oxidant content.
Anti-oxidants help prevent free-radical damage in your body. Free radicals lead to problematic conditions such as premature aging of the skin and inflammation of various tissues. Fight free radical damage by staying fresh and healthy with nature’s anti-oxidant powerhouse
8. Cut cravings for food
Being deficient in minerals or vitamins can create a craving for food. For example, if you’re low on calcium, you may feel compelled to eat lots of cheese and ice cream. This happens because your body knows that cheese is a source of calcium, and it hasn’t been getting enough. But what if dairy and whole milk are a “Diet don’t”? You can always add calcium to your food by sprinkling on the chia. By weight, chia has more calcium than whole milk. It also has magnesium and boron, essential trace minerals used in the absorption of calcium and other vitamins. By balancing your vitamins and minerals with chia, you can curb cravings that might tempt you.
9. You can pack in more flavorful punch
How can a seed with NO flavor help the foods you already like to taste better? First, because they have no taste of their own, chia seeds will never cover up or add to the flavor of your food. Second, when the seeds hydrate, they magnify the taste of whatever they were added to. Put them in pudding?
Chocolaty! Swirl them into a smoothie? Fruity! The same thing goes with dressings, dips, salsas, sauces and more. These two factors combine to let chia seeds take on the taste of whatever you add them to. They distribute and never dilute, the flavors you love.
Unlike some seeds, the flavor is very mild. The mild taste makes it easy to put in sauces, smoothies, breads, puddings, and whatever you want. They won't really change the taste, but will add to your nutrition!
10. Save your money
Why should eating less cost you more? You already know diet pills are expensive, and ‘box meal plans’ can run up to $500.00 a month. If you’re buying ‘calorie counting packs’ or other individual portions in the store, you can also end up paying more because more preparation and materials go into these foods. More than enough chia for 1 month costs less than a dollar a day. You can use as much or as little as you want to achieve your own desired results. There are no preparations required for these simple seeds, not even pesticides need to be used to grow them. They’re always safe and 100% chemical free. A measuring spoon is all you’ll need when you’re ready to take advantage of chia for yourself. It doesn’t get any easier or more inexpensive.
Chia seed may be used in conjunction with almost any diet your doctor or nutritionist feels is necessary for your condition. The Chia’s hydrophilic colloidal properties aid the digestion of any foods contributing to the patients suffering as a result of a sour stomach. Even if you have sensitivity to certain foods, they may be tolerated with slight discomfort or none at all if a hydrophilic colloid is made a part of your diet. The positive effects on the digestion in the upper portion of the gastrointestinal tract often leads to puree their foods may find benefits from hydrophilic colloids which may lead to eliminating the necessity for pureeing. Even raw vegetables, green salads and fruits, which are largely restricted, may often be given to these patients with little or no discomfort after a short time.
Inflammation plays a big part in increased risk of heart attack. In many ways in can be an early indicator of various problems associated with heart disease in healthy adults, both men and women. Weight loss, drugs and improved diet can act as interventions and some studies have reported reduction of inflammation levels.Chia seed could be offered to anyone with a family history of heart disease or stroke.
Blood Pressure Reduction
Millions of adults are at risk hypertension, and many of those receiving using traditional drugs don’t get the results they require. In many ways a good diet may do as much as pharmacy prescriptions. Studies have shown eating Chia seed regularly may help reduce D and S blood pressure which may be comparable to the effects of medically supplied anti-hypertensive agents. The nutrients above in Chia seed may be the reason for these amazing effects and is rarely seen in other plant/food sources.
Blood Thinning Benefits
The problem of thicker blood can reduce circulation and be the precursor to various heart problems. Similar to Aspirin, Chia seed has been shown to have positive effects on the treatment and prevention of heart disease ailments. This is done by reducing inflammation and displaying properties similar to that of traditional blood thinners, like the aforementioned Aspirin. Even without any signs of heart problems this can be beneficial as a preventive procedure and is certainly important to those who are predisposed to diabetes. Diets rich in nutrients are essential in preventing numerous cardiovascular diseases and increasing overall longevity.
Diabetes Maintenance and Prevention
People suffering from diabetes today have some help in the form of drugs, some taking more than 5 per day. Studies of multiple patients done at the University of Toronto have shown promise with regards to the use of Chia Seeds in ones diet to help prevent and or treat Type 2 Diabetes. There are a number of causes for diabetes including poor diet and heredity but the possible side effects of diabetes are severe.
Proper treatment can be aided with a carefully monitored diet high in nutrient rich foods, lifestyle treatment and in many cases drugs. Chia seeds are dense in nutrients and have a unique composition that, based on the above mentioned study, may result in improved control of diabetes if eaten regularly and may help decrease the amount of medical interference required.
There are additional benefits from the Chia seed aside from the nutritive enhancements when used as an ingredient. It was also used by the Indians and missionaries as a poultice for gunshot wounds and other serious injuries. They would pack the wounds with Chia seeds to avoid infections and promote haling. If you place a seed or two in your eyes it will clean your eyes and will also help to clear up any infections. There is a wealth of benefits beyond the information outlined in this article and treasure-trove of benefits yet to be discovered. Chia seed, having a qualitatively unique situational richness along with a profound nutritive profile is one of man’s most useful and beneficial foods and is destined to be the Ancient Food of the Future.
April McCarthy is a community journalist playing an active role reporting and analyzing world events to advance our health and eco-friendly initiatives.