Sustaining a healthy lifestyle is often a challenging feat. Since most convenience foods seem to typify the antonym of health, extra effort is required to strategically map out nutritionally-rich preparations that integrate well within a busy lifestyle; to the health enthusiast this is part and parcel of the daily health regimen. Yet everyone knows that seeking out the most nutritionally-dense “superfoods” aids in simplifying the quest towards optimum health. It alleviates some of the strain involved in trying to consume considerable amounts of salubrious nourishment often not readily available on-the-go. One such “superfood” is the chia seed which packs a punch so strong that it is virtually unmatched in its nutritious profile.
Chia, or salvia hispanica L, literally means “strength” in Mayan and can be traced back over 3,000 years to Central America where the Aztecs utilized it as one of their primary plant sources of food, notably their third most important crop next to corn and beans. Chia was considered more valuable than gold and was often used to pay taxes and tribute to the Aztec nobility.
When the Aztec civilization fell during the Spanish conquest, the Spanish banned chia and many other crops due to their close association with the religious systems of these ancient cultures and replaced the native crops with foreign ones such as wheat and carrots. Remnants of both the Aztec and Mayan civilizations remained in portions of Mexico where small people groups continued using the seeds for making flour, oil, and drinks from the gel that forms when the seeds are mixed with liquid.
Though essentially obfuscated throughout many generations, chia would eventually reemerge as a popular superfood identified as being rich in omega-3 fatty acids, protein, antioxidants, and dietary fiber.
One of the primary benefits of chia seeds is their high concentration of essential fatty acids (EFAs), which are up to four times the concentration of other grains. EFAs are important for the respiration of vital organs, yet the human body is unable to manufacture them itself; they must be obtained through diet.
Chia is also touted as having the highest omega-3 content of any plant-based source, containing 64 percent alpha linolenic acid (ALA). Flax, another popular source of ALA, contains 55 percent. The omega-3 to omega-6 ratio is also highly auspicious in chia, representing a healthy balance of 3:2.
Chia is high in complete protein, containing about 23 percent protein per seed. All essential amino acids are present and appropriately balanced within the protein, making it complete and nutritious in and of itself. Packed with essential vitamins and trace minerals, chia is a phenomenal whole food for any diet. They also behave wonderfully when ground and used in gluten-free recipes.
A great antioxidant source, chia provides high levels of chlorogenic acid, caffeic acid, and flavanol glycosides. These are all strong polyphenols that maintain proper function of bodily organs and tissues and that protect against cancer and cardiovascular disease through the removal of damaging free radicals.
High in fiber, chia is known for its easy digestibility. Its layer is a strong source of mucillois soluble fiber which aids in maintaining healthy digestion and assimilation of nutrients. Absorbing more than seven times its weight when placed in water, chia seeds form a gel that, when eaten, produces a physical barrier between carbohydrates and digestive enzymes in the stomach. This process effectively slows the rate at which carbohydrates are converted into blood sugar, rendering chia a great addition to a diabetic diet.
Similarly, chia consumption contributes to maintaining balanced hydration and electrolyte levels within the body, steadying water intake, assimilation, and absorption.
Chia seeds have an amazingly long shelf life when stored in their natural, dry state. Unlike flax seeds which have a highly impenetrable outer shell, requiring them to be ground into a meal that can turn rancid rather quickly, chia seeds can be stored and eaten just as they are for their full benefits.
All in all, chia seeds are a wonderful, whole superfood that is great for a variety of creative uses. Since they have no flavor of their own and actually perpetuate the flavors of the foods with which they are combined, the uses for chia are limitless. Additionally, chia seeds offer a great protein alternative to soy-based products that contain harmful plant estrogens that can severely alter hormonal balance in both men and women.
As chia continues to gain popularity in the West, it is sure to continue attracting the attention of the medical community and consumers alike who are recognizing it as more than just a seed for growing potter animals. Quickly becoming a staple among the health-conscious, chia is gaining the spotlight as arguably the most diverse superfood available.
Chia: The Natural Answer for Omega-3. Vitamin Retailer. Sept. 2009: 54.