If when you hear the name “chia,” your mind immediately jumps to the sprouts in fad figurines that have somehow been around since the 80s, then you’re in for a treat when you learn what this plant really has to offer. Over the past decade, this ancient seed has gained popularity for its nutritional and medicinal value. Chia seeds are an excellent source of essential fatty acids, making them a great addition to a healthy diet.
Incorporating sufficient amounts of essential fatty acids (EFAs) into your daily diet can be a challenge, but it’s one worth taking on—EFAs support our immune, cardiovascular, nervous, and reproductive systems. EFAs like omega-3 and omega-6 can’t be synthesized by our bodies, so it’s important to obtain them through foods like fish, shellfish, flax seeds, leafy green vegetables, walnuts, and—that’s right—chia seeds.
My introduction to this intriguing seed came years ago when a friend brought me some chia seed chocolate pudding from a local health food store. This delicious, tapioca-texture pudding was accompanied by a pamphlet touting its many health benefits. Curious, I explored further.
I learned that chia is a member of the mint family with highly nutritious seeds (either black or white). Originally grown in Mexico and the Southwest between 1500 and 910 B.C., chia seeds served many purposes in Aztec and Mayan life. A dietary staple, Aztec warriors used chia as their main source of fuel during conquest. Chia was used medicinally to stimulate saliva and relieve joint pain. Chia also played a role in Aztec religious ceremonies, leading to its ban in the wake of the Spanish conquest, and subsequent fall from status as one of Mexico’s major crops. Today, however, commercial production is increasing. You can find chia seeds online, in health food stores, or at your local supermarket.
In addition to reducing blood pressure and supporting heart health, chia seeds offer other substantial benefits.
Blood sugar stabilization. Chia seeds slow down digestion and assimilation rate of complex carbohydrates. The soluble fiber helps to stabilize blood glucose levels, resulting in steady, sustained energy. In a study with diabetic patients, Dr. Vladamir Vuksan (St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto) found that after three months of daily chia seed intake, patients’ blood pressure was lower, their blood thinner, and less prone to clotting.
Energy. “Chia” comes from the Mayan language, meaning “strength.” Chia seeds are a balanced blend of protein, carbohydrates, fats and fiber. It’s said that one tablespoon of chia can sustain a person for twenty-four hours, and athletes claim that chia seeds help sustain longer periods of optimal performance.
Anti-inflammatory properties. A number of arthritic chia seed consumers report reduced pain and inflammation after a few weeks of regular intake. The high concentration of omega-3 helps lubricate joints and keep them supple. Additionally, omega-3s are converted into prostaglandins, which have both pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory effects.
Weight loss. Chia seeds’ EFAs help boost metabolism and promote lean muscle mass. Chia seeds can be added to food to provide bulk and nutrients without adding a high number of calories, making them useful in weight loss and maintenance.
Detoxification and elimination. Similar to psyllium (another plant-based fiber), chia’s swelling action helps cleanse and soothe the colon. It also lubricates, absorbs toxins, and strengthens peristaltic action.
High quality protein. Chia seeds contain about twenty percent protein, a higher percentage than other grains, like wheat and rice. Chia seeds also contain strontium, which helps assimilate protein and produce high energy.
Antioxidants, fiber, and other nutrients. Chia seeds are an excellent source of antioxidants, containing even greater amounts than fresh blueberries. (The antioxidant levels also keep the oils from going rancid – contributing to long shelf life.) Besides EFAs, chia seeds provide fiber, iron, calcium, niacin, magnesium, zinc and phosphorus. Two tablespoons of chia are equal to seven grams of fiber, two grams of protein, 205 milligrams of calcium, and five grams of omega-3!
Brain power. EFAs are known to make cell membranes more flexible and productive, which increases nutrient availability and nerve transmission efficiency, thus improving brain function (including memory and concentration).
Chia seeds are an easy addition to your daily diet. I add them to my morning protein shake or sneak a bit into my chicken meatballs and other favorite recipes. Loaded with all these benefits, aren’t they worth a try?
Catherine Stack is owner, facilitator, and Doctor of Naturopathy at Journey II Health. She specializes in colon health and bio-identical hormone replacement and is a practicing staff midwife at Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital. Her books, Free Yourself from a CONSTIPATED Life and PUSH, Labor & Delivery from the Inside Out are available on amazon.com. Visit cathistack.com for more info.