Years ago, we all saw the chia pets advertised on TV or on department store selves. Perhaps, you even have one of these sprout-covered clay sculptures sitting on your counter right now. But you might not know that the chia seeds that create that fluffy green afro are packed with amazing benefits for your health.

What are Chia seeds?

9 Step Body Cleanse Kit | Ultimate Full-Body CleanseIf you live in the American Southwest, chances are you pass by chia plants every day and don’t even know it. The Mexican mint, Salvia hispanica, is a plant native to the central Mexican plateau and Guatemala that naturally ranges as far north as Texas, Arizona, and southern California. The plant grows about 3 feet (1 m) tall, with leaves alternating on opposite sides of the stem. The white or purple flower spikes produce mottle-colored white, brown, purple, or black seeds about 1 mm (0.04 in) in diameter.

The tiny chia seeds were once the basis of ceremonial beverages favored by the Aztecs, its name in the Nahuatl language meaning “oily.” In Aztec times, chia was the third most important crop after beans and corn, and more important than quinoa. Chia was essential not just in the diet but also to the economy. Taxes and tributes to the emperor were paid in chia seeds.

Health Benefits of Chia Seeds

What are the health benefits of chia seeds? Nutritionally, chia seeds are beneficial because of their extraordinarily high content of omega 3-fatty acids. About 64 per cent of the weight of the seed is omega 3-fatty acids. They contain about 20 per cent protein and 16 per cent fiber.

Quercetin, myristicin, and kaempferol are also in chia seeds. These are naturally occurring antioxidants that help stabilize tissues that otherwise would be affected by allergies.

The greatest benefit of chia seeds today seems to be minimizing the dietary side effects of an uncontrollable sweet tooth, a diet of 50 per cent or more simple sugars. Laboratory experiments with animals find that adding chia seed to a high-sugar diet gradually reduces insulin resistance.

When cells in the muscles and liver are more sensitive to insulin, the pancreas does not have to release as much insulin to keep bloodstream glucose levels normal. When less insulin is released into the bloodstream, fewer fatty acids are stored in fat cells. This is because insulin is approximately 300 times more efficient at storing fatty acids than it is at storing glucose.

The net effect of long-term consumption of chia seeds, in laboratory studies, is reduced body fat, lowered insulin levels, and lowered blood sugars.

How to make a Chia Smoothie?

The key to making a perfect chia smoothie is to use no more than 1 tablespoon of seeds to 8 ounce of liquid added to the smoothie. Chia seeds have the ability to soak up 12 times its weight in water. Unless you want a thick chia gel smoothie, you will need to drink your smoothie immediately after blending.

It is beneficial to soak the seeds with the liquid of the smoothie for about an hour prior to blending. Pour the chia gel into the blender with the frozen fruit of choice and blend. Add more liquid, if needed.

DaNae Johnson, M.H.

Selected references:

Chicco AG, D’Alessandro ME, Hein GJ, Oliva ME, Lombardo YB. Dietary chia seed (Salvia hispanica L.) rich in alpha-linolenic acid improves adiposity and normalises hypertriacylglycerolaemia and insulin resistance in dyslipaemic rats. Br J Nutr. 2009 Jan;101(1):41-50. Epub 2008 May 20.

Ulbricht C, Chao W, Nummy K, Rusie E, Tanguay-Colucci S, Iannuzzi CM, Plammoottil JB, Varghese M, Weissner W. Chia (Salvia hispanica): a systematic review by the natural standard research collaboration.
Rev Recent Clin Trials. 2009 Sep;4(3):168-74.

Vuksan V, Whitham D, Sievenpiper JL, Jenkins AL, Rogovik AL, Bazinet RP, Vidgen E, Hanna A. Supplementation of conventional therapy with the novel grain Salba (Salvia hispanica L.) improves major and emerging cardiovascular risk factors in type 2 diabetes: results of a randomized controlled trial.
Diabetes Care. 2007 Nov;30(11):2804-10. Epub 2007 Aug 8.

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