Part 2 - The Chia Seed & Its Nutritional Value
So now that you know how the Aztecs, Mayan and the North American Indians used the chia seeds, you may be wondering if you should consider adding the this food to your diet. You probably won't be running from the Colorado River to the California coast anytime soon, and hopefully you won't be packing the seeds into gunshot wounds -- but this little seed can be just as relevant to our lives today.
"Hydrophilic ~ water loving. Such compounds have an affinity to water and are usually charged or have polar side groups to their structure that will attract water." www.wordconstructions.com
Chia seeds are tiny black seeds, and usually contain 20% protein, 34% oil, 25% dietary fiber, high concentrations (64%) of omega-3 fatty acids, and antioxidants. When chia seeds are soaked for at least 30 minutes, they will absorb 9-12 times their weight in water.
- If you are an athlete -- imagine the value of a food would hold liquid and keep you hydrated. The chia seed's high absorption rate supports a high level of activity and helps the body maintain its electrolyte balance. Anyone suffering from diarrhea, vomiting, fever or simply excessive sweating would benefit from this food that provides hydration. More advantages for athletes can also be found in the next paragraph.
- Diabetes -- If you made the drink, 'chia fresca', you've seen how chia seeds will absorb water and form a gel-like substance. The soluble fiber in chia seeds is the component that absorbs the water. It has been suggested that this mucilaginous material may prevent carbohydrates from being broken down quickly by stomach enzymes. A slow-burning starch, amylase, slows down the conversion of carbohydrates into sugar, which is very helpful to both diabetics and those with hypoglycemia. Since carbohydrates provide most of the instant energy needed by athletes, by slowing down the carbo-to-sugar change, endurance is also extended. Another advantage of this slower conversion is that "sugar blues" might be avoided, without the highs and crashes that often follow the consumption of high-carbohydrate foods.
- Digestive trouble -- The mucilaginous nature of soaked chia can be a digestive aid if you are suffering from stomach discomfort after eating. It can sooth the stomach membrane and coat foods, such as raw vegetables, that may be irritating to the stomach lining. Some have found that when the digestive tract is calm, anxiety and irritability are also often reduced.
- Intestinal support -- The high fiber content of soaked chia seeds is very beneficial in maintaining a healthy colon. Fiber is known to support proper elimination, and it also supports the body by maintaining hydration and supporting assimilation of food.
- Oil content -- Chia seeds are a rich vegetable source for omega-3 fatty acid. The unsaturated fatty acids are often called the "good" fats and are needed to help your body absorb the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, & K. The chia seed is rich in linoleic, which the human body cannot create. Unsaturated fatty acids support organs, cells and tissues by maintaining cell structure and lubrication, and combining with proteins and cholesterol to form intracellular membranes. Adrenal and thyroid glandular activity is also supported by unsaturated fatty acids, which along with vitamin D, help the body absorb calcium, phosphorus and produce vitamin A. And finally, these fatty acids may also support the normal functioning of the reproductive system and their triglyceride chains may help to reduce cholesterol on the walls of arteries.
- Minerals - Chia seeds contain boron -- which helps the body absorb calcium.
- Protein -- Hydrated chia seeds are easily digested and absorbed. In children and rapidly developing teens, this efficient utilization of nutrients can be very helpful when their diets may be less than optimal. Other periods of rapid growth or repair occur during pregnancy and breast-feeding, and muscle tissue regeneration in athletes.
- Weight loss -- Chia seeds could be called the ultimate diet food. Because they are essentially tasteless and absorb such a large volume of water, they can be added to many foods without diluting the flavor. Much like ground flax seed, the texture of the hydrated chia seeds makes them an excellent fat replacer in many recipes, and the increased volume reduces calories that would be found in the displaced food.
Chia seeds are incredibly interesting little seeds from the past that may provide us with many benefits today. Our lives are often stressful and busy, with little time for food preparation or even sit-down meals. We question the value of our soils and the nutrition in our foods. In the next article, I'll share with you ideas and recipes that you can use to begin incorporating the chia seed into your diet.
Until then -- why not become a little more familiar with this tiny seed. Take a teaspoon of chia seeds and just pop them into your mouth. Begin chewing, and then just go on with your day, continuing to chew….and chew…..and chew. It's a fun activity to share with your kids, as everyone keeps sticking out their tongues to see what each other's chia looks like. Of course, swallowing is always permissible, and you will have improved your nutrition for the day.
Sources: The Magic of Chia by James Scheer, Prevention, Dr. Weil, William Anderson