Chia -- Omega-3 Without the Grind
By Gloria Hoover
Chia seeds have been a staple food source for the American native peoples for centuries (long before the chia pet hit the market). Aztec warriors would eat chia during hunting trips. Indians of the Southwest would consume only chia seeds mixed with water as they ran from the Colorado River to the Pacific Ocean to trade their products.
Chia is one of the highest sources for Omega-3. The oil in the seeds contains more than 60% Omega-3, the highest percentage of any commercially available source. The body converts this Omega-3 into EPA and DHA (this is the Omega-3 oil found in fish).
Chia, a complete source of dietary protein, provides all the essential fatty acids, and is also high in fiber. Four teaspoons of chia seed provide 30% of the daily requirement of fiber. This soluble fiber works in the intestines by binding and transporting debris so that it may be eliminated more efficiently and regularly. This excellent fiber therapy is first noticed within 5 or 6 days of a daily dose of chia seed.
Compared to other seeds and grains, chia seed provides the highest source of protein, between 19 to 23 percent protein by weight, is gluten free and non-GMO, and has no known allergic reactions. Most chia is grown without pesticides because insects are naturally repulsed by the leaves of the plant. The USDA considers chia seed to be a food with an established history of human use.
One of the unique qualities of chia seed is its ability to absorb more than 30 times its volume in water or other liquid. This ability can prolong hydration and retain electrolytes in body fluids, especially during exertion or exercise. Normal fluid retention ensures electrolyte dispersion across cell membranes, maintains fluid balances, and aids normal cellular function.
The gel-forming property of chia tends to slow digestion and sustains balanced blood sugar levels that can be helpful in preventing or controlling diabetes. This slower digestion also allows more nutrients to be absorbed into the body while causing a "fuller" feeling. Whole, liquid-soaked chia seeds can be easily digested and absorbed by the body. This easy absorption results in rapid transport of chia nutrients to the tissues for use by the cells. Chia also facilitates the growth and regeneration of tissue and muscles for both pregnant and lactating women as well as athletes and bodybuilders. For the dieter, this means feeling full with no more peaks and valleys in the blood sugar levels.
When chia seeds are mixed with liquid or stomach juices, a gel forms that creates a physical barrier between carbohydrates and digestive enzymes that break them down. The carbohydrates are digested eventually, but at a slow and uniform rate. There is no insulin surge or spike needed to lower the blood sugar level after eating chia.
Other benefits of chia
Chia seed contains large amounts of B vitamins and calcium. By volume, one ounce of chia contains 2% of B-2 (riboflavin), 13% niacin, 29% thiamine, and trace amounts of all B vitamins. In roughly two ounces of chia (56 grams) there are 600 milligrams of calcium compared with 120 milligrams of calcium in the same amount of milk. That's five times as much calcium as milk. This calcium helps in building bones and aiding the prevention of osteoporosis.
Chia also contains boron that is needed for bones. With much of the nation's soil boron depleted, we simply are not getting enough boron in our daily diet. Boron is needed to aid the metabolism of calcium, magnesium, manganese and phosphorus in bones and for muscle growth. Boron also can increase the levels of natural estrogen.
Chia gel is made mixing one part chia seed to nine parts of water. Stir, let set a few minutes, stir again to remove clumps. This gel can be used as a diet aid and can be added to jams, jellies, peanut butter, milkshakes, nut spreads, smoothies, hot or cold cereals, yogurts, mustard, catsup, tartar sauce, barbecue sauces, etc. as a fat replacement, for energy and endurance, or for added great taste. The gel has a slightly nutty flavor. When chia gel is mixed, for example, with salad dressing in up to a 50% mix, the fat and calories of the dressing are reduced by 50%.
All of this brings us back to chia pets. Chia seeds are too sticky for conventional sprouting jars (remember all the talk about chia gel), but sprout very easily when spread out on earthenware. Thus, the chia pet was born in Mexico in the Chiapas region (Chiapas was named after the chia seed and means "Water of Chia"). The Mexicans have long made earthenware in the shapes of chia pets, and, yes, you can eat the sprouts that grow on the chia pet. They taste like watercress (but better) and are full of vitamins and minerals just like the seeds.
More information about chia can be found in these books:
The Magic of Chia by James F Scheer
For information on the internet, visit Chia for Health