by Paulette Millis
Chia seeds may sound familiar to you, as you may have seen or heard of Chia Pets, a novelty gift that grows green “hair” on terra-cotta figurines!
Chia (Salvia hispanica) is from the Mint family. The word chia, derived from an Aztec word “chian”, means oily, and the species was named “hispanica” (of Spain) because it was described from plants cultivated in Spain. The plant, an annual, grows to one metre tall, with purple and white flowers. The seeds are mottled and typically small ovals one millimeter in diameter.
Central and Southern Mexico grew chia seeds as a major crop into the 16th century when it was banned after the Spanish Conquest because of its association with Aztec “Pagan” religion. Chia was the third most important crop behind corn and beans. This seed was used to pay tribute and taxes to the Aztec priesthood and nobility. More recently production has flourished in Latin America. The good news for us is that insects hate the chia plant, meaning we have no trouble finding organic seeds.
Commercially grown chia seed today comes from Mexico, Bolivia, Argentina, Ecuador, Guatemala, and Australia, with the latter being the world’s largest producer in 2008. It is marketed under “Chia” and also under the trademarks “Salba”, “Annuta”, “Chia Sage”, and “Tresalbio.” Health food stores are selling chia and salba as the “new superfood” due to the content of omega 3s and fibre, two essential nutrients often lacking in our typical diet.
Ancient Aztecs believed chia improved their endurance and general health. Messengers and Aztec warriors could reportedly run all day on one tablespoon, or a handful of chia seeds, thereby gaining the name of “running food”. These people used chia medicinally to relieve joint pain and skin conditions and in religious ceremonies.
Chia plants produce both black and white seeds. Salba, the “new” chia, is a result of fifteen years of white-seed breeding. White seed salba reportedly has an enhanced nutrient density, and is superior to Mexican Chia because it has been improved to contain more omega 3 fatty acids, more protein, and to have higher water absorption capacity.
NUTRITIONAL AND MEDICINAL INFORMATION
Salba seed has been shown to contain 6.8 grams of omega 3 essential fatty acids in 2 tbsp, compared to 3.6 for flaxseed. It has a healthy 4:1 ratio of omega 3 to omega 6. Omega 3 fatty acids have enormous benefits, especially related to prevention of degenerative diseases, and helping us maintain optimal health by keeping our immune system working well. We need a regular source of omega 3 everyday, and chia seeds, complemented with animal-based sources of omega 3 (for example, Krill oil) are ideal, according to Dr. Mercola. Dr. Vuksan’s team of researchers at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto calculate that 3.5 oz of Salba contains the same amount of omega 3s as 28 ounces of salmon, as much calcium as 3 cups of milk, and as much iron as 5 cups of raw spinach.
These little morsels of health boost the immune system, lower cholesterol, aid in elimination, are anti-inflammatory, and stimulate enzymes that detoxify carcinogens. All seeds contain a cancer-fighting phytochemical called lignans.
Chia seeds contain an excellent source of fibre, higher than any other food, including wheat bran. Salba is said to have 15 grams per 2 tbsp serving. Because chia, or salba seeds, have water-soluble fibre they have a gelatinous consistency when placed in water. This water-absorbing quality slows food digestion, thereby balancing blood sugar levels by steadily releasing slow-burning glucose into the blood stream. The feeling of fullness may also help with appetite control. Chia soaks up water and promotes hydration. These hydrophilic properties may aid the gastrointestinal tract as well, relieving acid reflux, food sensitivities, and indigestion. Water-soluble fibre has the wonderful benefit of lowering hormones such as estrogen (a real concern due to the amount of xenoestrogens in our lifestyles), and reducing risk of certain cancers such as breast and prostate.
Salba is said to contain all of the essential amino acids, and according to the USDA has 15.62 grams of protein per 100 grams of seeds. The protein quality is superior to wheat, corn, rice, oats, barley, amaranth, and soy. These seeds have a good balance of protein, fat, and carbohydrates.
Chia/salba seeds contain vitamins A and C, folate, and minerals, and anti-oxidants (chlorogenic acid, caffeic acid, myricetin, quercetin, and flavonols). The USDA nutrient charts show chia seeds are rich in potassium, calcium, phosphorus, sodium, zinc, copper, and manganese, contain no cholesterol, and have a balanced amino acid profile (protein). These seeds are gluten-free as well, making them a wonderful choice for those with gluten sensitivities.
The raw chia seeds are mild tasting and easily digestible, as the shells are easily broken. They may be swallowed whole as well.
University of Toronto researchers fed 21 diabetics either a supplement made from chia or grains with similar fibre content in a preliminary study. The blood pressure of patients taking chia dropped by 10 points diastolic and 5 points systolic after 3 months, while the grain group’s blood pressure remained steady.
A total intake of 37 grams or three to four tablespoons of Salba a day made blood thinner and less prone to clotting—a risk factor for heart attacks and stroke, and lowered levels of internal inflammation as measured by C-reactive protein, a protein produced by the liver. It is important to note that Dr. Vuksan cautions that because of Salba’s ability to thin blood, those on anticoagulants, blood thinners, and other blood pressure medications should consult with their doctors before taking it.
Chia seeds may be stored for long periods of time without becoming rancid. They do not require grinding to increase assimilation as do flaxseeds.
Sprinkle chia seeds on cereal, yogurt, salads, casseroles, or make burger patties with added chia. Add a couple of tablespoons to smoothies. Try chia seeds in your morning drink, whether it is water, tea, or coffee, for a great nutritional boost.
Grind chia seeds in a Magic Bullet, coffee grinder, or any piece of equipment you own that will grind small seeds. This flour is called “pinole” and can replace some of the flour in any recipe for breads, cakes, pies, cookies, biscuits, or muffins. (One source suggested one part chia seed flour replaces three parts flour.) You will want to experiment to determine the texture you prefer.
Chia seeds may be ground and used as a thickener for gravies, sauces, and soups. The Indians of Mexico often roasted the seeds before grinding and mixing with flour or cornmeal.
Remember that Chia is gluten-free, making it a healthy alternative for those with gluten sensitivities, as well as a great addition to any diet.
Sprouting chia seeds further increases their nutrient value. (See article on Sprouts: A Live Adventure in the May, 2008, issue of WHOLifE Journal.)
In addition to the many ideas above, the following are raw food recipes. They may seem quite peculiar or unfamiliar to those of you not accustomed to eating raw foods. I encourage you to experiment with them and create your own favourite way to add chia to your diet.
This treat is hard to keep around!
2 tbsp coconut oil
2 tbsp chia seeds
2 tbsp ground raw cacao nibs
3 tbsp dried goji berries
1 tbsp honey or agave
1. Melt coconut oil in a double boiler (one pan over another containing boiling water).
2. Add chia seeds and allow to stand for 5 minutes.
3. Add ground cacao, goji berries, and sweetener, and combine.
4. Pour small amount into mini muffin liners placed on a flat surface such as cookie sheet and refrigerate to set.
You will want to triple this recipe and freeze some for treats! It is sooooo… yummy.
Variations: Substitute dried blueberries or other dried fruit of your choice for the goji berries. Add chopped raw nuts and/or other seeds, and increase the oil, cacao, and sweetener slightly.
2 tsp chia seeds
10 oz pure water
juice of one lemon or lime
agave syrup or raw honey to taste
1. Stir ingredients together and enjoy!
CHIA FRUIT COMPOTE
3 small apples
8 pitted dates, soaked overnight
4 tbsp chia seeds
1/4 cup goji berries, soaked overnight
1. Place apples and 6 of the dates in a food processor, blender, or Magic Bullet and chop to desired consistency, and until well-combined.
2. Place mixture in a bowl, and stir in the chia seeds and the goji berries.
3. Chop the remaining 2 dates into pieces and combine with the fruit mixture.
Enjoy this as a snack or for breakfast.
RAW CHIA PUDDING
3 tbsp chia seeds
1 cup unsweetened Almond Breeze or milk of choice
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1 tbsp pure maple syrup
1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl.
2. Refrigerate overnight or until serving time to allow the chia to swell.
Variation: Experiment with vanilla or cinnamon in place of the cardamom.
BASIC CHIA GEL
One third cup chia seeds
2 cups filtered water
1. Combine in a glass jar and store in the fridge to use as required.
CHIA GEL MUESLI
1 cup of basic chia gel
2 bananas, mashed with a fork
optional: 1 cup oat flakes
1/4 cup raw pumpkin seeds
1/4 cup raisins or dried fruit of choice
cinnamon to taste
optional: stevia or agave to taste
Combine and serve.
References: www.CTV.ca; www.prevention
.com; Wikipedia.org; Dr. Andrew Wiel; Melinda Fowler, RN, BN, DC, www.alive.com/5995a15a2.php; Allison Tannis, Alive Expert, www.alive.com/
forum/viewtopic1679.php; Dr. Joseph Mercola; www.chiaseedandoil.com (to purchase chia online).
The above information regarding nutritious food is not intended to replace any instruction from medical or health professionals.
Paulette Millis is a speaker, author, and nutritional consultant. To contract her for speaking engagements call (306) 244-8890 in Saskatoon, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Website: www.healingwithnutrition.ca. Her books, Eat Away Illness and Cook Your Way to Health, are available at health food stores and at McNally Robinson Booksellers.