Contributing Monkie Angela Stokes
Published on April 25, 2008
Chia seed is an ancient superfood that’s currently experiencing a glorious renaissance. It’s a member of the sage family (Salvia Hispanica), and its little black and white seeds were once a staple of the Incan, Mayan and Aztec cultures, along with the Native Americans of the southwest.
“Chia” is actually the Mayan word for strength. The seeds were used by these ancient cultures as mega-energy food, especially for their running messengers, who would carry a small pouch of it with them. Chia has been called “Indian Running Food” and gives an incredibly sustaining surge of energy. I’ve definitely noticed for myself the “running energy” that chia seems to impart. If I eat chia and then run later that day, my endurance and ability to run further is greatly enhanced…pretty impressive stuff!
The chia available at Raw Reform is imported from Mexico and certified organic. In Mexico, they say that one tablespoon of chia seeds can sustain a person for 24 hours. Chia also happens to TASTE great, looks cute (like tiny dinosaur eggs) and is ready to eat really quickly. It also has an off-the-scale nutritional profile.
Why would you want to eat chia?
Chia seeds are said to have two times the protein of any other seed or grain; five times the calcium of milk — plus boron, which is a trace mineral that helps transfer calcium into your bones; twice the potassium of bananas; three times the reported antioxidant strength of blueberries; three times more iron than spinach and copious amounts of omega 3 and omega 6, which are essential fatty acids.
They are a complete source of protein, providing all the essential amino acids in an easily digestible form. They are also a fabulous source of soluble fibre.
Like flax, chia is highly “hydrophilic” – the seeds absorb water and create a mucilaginous gel. They can hold 9-12 times their weight in water and they absorb it very rapidly – in under 10 minutes.
One advantage of chia is that because of its high antioxidant content, the seeds stay stable for much longer — whereas flax, for example, may turn rancid. Chia seeds can easily be stored dry for 4-5 years without deterioration in flavour, odour or nutritional value. You can substitute chia in any recipe that calls for flax.
The taste of chia is very mild and pleasant. That means you can easily combine it with other foods without changing the taste dramatically. People add chia to their sauces, bread batters, puddings, smoothies and more. The flavour is retained, plus masses more nutrition is added.
The “Dieter’s Dream Food”
Chia has been called a dieter’s dream food because when added to foods, it bulks them up, displacing calories and fat without diluting the flavour. Thus, someone can eat a typical serving, yet only consume about half the calories they might have eaten, because the food has been bulked up with chia. PLUS, the eater gets a bellyful of nutrient-rich superfood goodness, which hydrates and sustains them – magic!
What are some other benefits of eating chia? It can provide energy, boosts strength, bolster endurance, level blood sugar, induces weight loss and aid intestinal regularity.
If eaten together, chia slows the impact of sugars on the system. Chia gel creates a physical barrier between carbohydrates and the digestive enzymes that break them down, which slows the conversion of carbs into sugar. That means the energy from the food is released steadily, resulting in more endurance. This is clearly of great benefit to diabetics in particular. It also means that I can combine chia with super-sweet tastes (like apple juice) and not get super-spiked.
Due to the exceptional water-absorption quality of chia, it can also help you prolong hydration and retain electrolytes, especially during exertion. Chia seeds also bulk up, then work like an incredible digestive broom, sweeping through your intestinal tract, helping to dislodge and eliminate old accumulated waste in the intestines. Plus, it’s versatile. Chia can be used in so many kinds of recipes – savoury, sweet – it works with anything. You might want to try them in salad dressings, cookie mixtures, smoothies, crackers, ice creams, juices and so on. Chia seed protein also contains no gluten. This makes it ideal for anyone with a gluten sensitivity or simply wanting to find a replacement for gluten-containing grains like wheat, barley, rye and oats.
In the traditional cultures like that of the Aztecs, chia was also regarded as a medicine. It was used in myriad ways – from cleaning the eyes to helping heal wounds, topically, to relieving joint pain and so on. It was considered extremely valuable for healing. Today, chia is reported to be beneficial for a vast range of issues, like weight loss/balance, thyroid conditions, hypo-glycemia, diabetes, IBS, celiac disease, acid reflux and the lowering of cholesterol. Chia aids rapid development of tissue, due to its incredible nutrient profile and easy assimilation. It can be very beneficial for those healing from injuries — people like bodybuilders who are always re-forming tissues and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
How do you use chia?
The most common way to eat chia is to first soak the seeds. They can very rapidly absorb a large amount of liquid – between 9-12 times their volume, in under 10 minutes. To make a basic chia gel, simply add 1/3 cup of seeds (2 oz.) to 2 cups of water. Stir the mixture well (to avoid clumping), then leave it in your fridge in a sealed jar. This will yield around 17 oz. of chia gel. You can begin to eat the gel almost immediately if you like. Just 10 minutes is enough time for the gel to be formed. More of the nutrients will be easily accessible after a few hours. However, so many people like to make up a batch like this and leave it in the fridge. It will stay good for about three weeks. Then you can just reach into the fridge and take out some of the ready-made gel whenever you need it. You might add it to smoothies, mix it with salad dressings, puddings or granola, or simply take it by the spoonful.
Chia will absorb anything – it doesn’t have to soak in water. We like soaking it in things like apple juice for example. That way, the intense sweetness of the apple juice is also offset by the chia and it tastes yummy ;). We also often blend fruits – for example bananas and persimmons, then stir the chia into that mixture. Again, the longer the seeds are left to soak, the more their nutrients will be readily available to you, yet you could easily eat a meal like this 10 minutes or less after preparing it.
You can also sprinkle the dry seeds onto salads or add them to granola mixes. You may also want to experiment with grinding them first in a coffee grinder to make a “chia flour” you can then add to smoothies, soups and so on.
For further information and chia recipes, click here.