Chia Seeds, The Aztec Superfood

June 5, 2011

I discovered Chia seeds through my friend Alex. He became a vegan almost two years ago, and since then he's always on the hunt for new foods that can help him maintain a balanced diet. He told me a lot about chia seeds (the so-called “Aztec superfood”) as being a good source of protein, fiber and an array of precious nutrients.
I got curious, went to Whole Foods, bought a pack, got back home and throw a handful in my green protein smoothie. And guess what: I loveeeed it. It thickens up nicely and adds a certain je ne sais quoi!
I wanted to know more about it, so I did my fair share of research and discovered the following...

Chia Seeds

What are chia seeds 

The chia (also known as Salvia hispanica) is a species of flowering plant in the mint family native to central and southern Mexico and Guatemala.
Nowadays chia is grown commercially mainly for its seed.
Chia seeds are small ovals with a diameter of about 1 mm (0.039 in). They are mottle-colored with brown, gray, black and white.
According to some literature the Aztec were already cultivating such plant in pre-Columbian times. Chia seeds were a main component of the Aztec and Mayan diets and were the basic survival ration of the warriors. I've read that one tablespoon was believed to sustain an individual for 24 hours. The Aztecs also used chia medicinally to stimulate saliva flow and to relieve joint pain and sore skin.
In fact, Chia was so valued that it was given as an annual tribute by the people to the rulers. 

Nutritional value of chia seeds

1 ounce (i.e., 28 grams) of chia seeds scores 137 calories, 9 grams of fat (8 grams poly and 1 gram saturated fats), 6 grams of carbs, 11 grams of fiber (1.2 grams soluble, 9.8 grams insoluble) and 4 grams of protein.
The protein content of chia exceeds that of other grains and seeds (chia is about 20 percent protein compared with 14 percent for wheat). In addition, the protein is of higher quality, as determined by its amino acid composition. Chia is limited in lysine, which is often the case for vegetarian protein sources. The overall amino acid score for chia is 114 (based on a target of 100 for a full amino acid profile) vs. only 43 for wheat. Chia lacks only one essential aminoacid, taurine.
Chia also offers a variety of minerals, including iron, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, zinc, manganese, molybdenum and magnesium. Chia contains niacin and folic acid too.
Chia seeds are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, as the seeds yield 25-30% extractable oil, including α-linolenic acid (ALA).

Chia Seeds Nutriition Facts
http://nutritiondata.self.com

When combined with water chia seeds form a thick gel. If you add add a tablespoon of seeds to one cup water after just 15 minutes they form a thick jelly-like mass.
It has been said that each seed absorbs water nine to ten times its weight.

Chia seeds as a weight loss food


Chia seeds have become popular as a weight loss food. It has been claimed that they may reduce cravings by blocking some of the food that you eat from getting absorbed. By preventing calorie absorption chia seeds should therefore help you dieting.
A recent study found that chia seeds did not decrease appetite or aid in weight loss. However, as they are packed with protein, fat and fiber, they might eventually slow down digestion and make you feel full longer. 
Because of that, as a part of a well balanced diet chia seeds might help with weight loss. 

Chia seeds for athletes

There’s evidence that the “chia gel” is also great for athletes because it helps with hydration No research has yet been published on this, but supposedly, once the seed has absorbed water it is difficult to remove it from the seed, so that it is a long lasting hydration source. 
Recently I've seen many triathletes ingesting a couple of tablespoons of chia seeds before the race for this same reason. I'm not 100% convinced that there's actually something to it, but who knows... 

Other health benefits
 

There's evidence suggesting that chia seeds can reduce blood pressure because of their content of soluble fiber.
They’re also among the richest plant source of Omega-3.
Because chia seeds are supposed to slow down how fast our bodies convert carbohydrates into simple sugars, there are indications that this can control blood sugar. This leads to believe chia seeds may have great benefits for diabetics.
However, none of the above claims has been subject to review.

How to use chia seeds

You can sprinkle chia seeds over cereal and muesli or use them to coat rissoles, meatloaf or burgers (they add a pleasant crunch to the exterior just like poppy seeds).
Personally, I like to add a tablespoon of chia seeds to my post-workout smoothie. But you can also mix them in juices, yogurts and soups.
My fave recipe with chia seeds is this raw chocolate pudding: Awesome!

14 comments :

  1. I really enjoyed this post. Have been wanting to try Chia seeds for some time!

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  2. Thank you Jocelyn! We'll soon publish few recipes with chia seeds as it's not always easy to integrate them in your eating regimen
    TIY

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  3. Great post. Love reading about the ancient grains. Love the versatility of chia seeds.

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  4. Hey, thanks for stopping by my blog- and thanks for the link to this page- really interesting thanks

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  5. Great post and very informative. Chia seeds are great for athletes and I'm glad you are spreading the word! The chia seed in water theory does carry some weight. I know some raw foodists who use this trick when they are stuck in an airport or on an airplane without suitable food and this offers them the nutrition they need until they can get solid food.

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  6. Hello! Thanks for sending me this way, as I enjoyed reading your conglomerate of information regarding chia seeds. I enjoy them immensely, but not for weight loss, but rather for energy and improved health through better nutrition. However, I'm in agreement with you that because they are so packed with healthy fats, fiber, and protein, they are more sustaining and nourishing that less extraneous snacking is necessary. I believe also that by having proper nutrition, blood sugar, and hydration, the body can perform at peak efficiency, which means it will maintain its best weight.

    Thanks again for inviting me. I look forward to reading more!

    Jackie @ Jackie's kitchen
    http://visualcookbook.blogspot.com

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  7. Great post. As you know (from my blog) I'm a big fan of Chia Fresca and have found it particularly energizing (and refreshing) before or after summer workouts!

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  8. thanks for the post on my blog - this is a great article! i will send it along!

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  9. Love chia seeds!! Especially chia pudding. Great review article on chia!!

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  10. I really enjoyed your article!
    Shalom,
    Moira

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  11. Great post-- this was really interesting and very informative! Thanks!

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  12. This is a great article you wrote. I have actually been wanting to write a piece myself explaining how great chia seeds are but yours is so good I am just going to post a link to your site. I love your blog and am excited to read more stuff. I hope you enjoyed the Chia Seed Power Pudding.

    Thanks,
    Jaime
    KeelyKitchen.Blogspot.com

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  13. Mike, This is a great article. I hope you will try the chia pudding. I can't eat salmon or have milk due to allergies to both which is why I added chia seeds to my diet. I've book marked your site. I just took up running this year.

    If interested check out www.kayakyak.blogspot.com as well.

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  14. Got your comment on my Chia post (http://therealdishto.wordpress.com/2011/07/08/raw-chocolate-chia-hemp-pudding/) Love your post, gotta love Chia Seeds! So small but mighty. Like the history part, very cool. Definitely try the pudding, you will love and great for recovery (post workout) as well since it's LOADED with protein.

    Cheers!
    Candice

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