Thursday, July 11, 2013

Chia Seeds - What Are They and Why Are They So Healthy?

For those who associate Chia seeds with funny Chia Pets, a discussion of the benefits of Chia seeds may seem a little odd. Chia seeds are actually healthy and nutritious.  I've been doing a bit of research before heading to Trader Joe's this week, and thought I'd share some of what I found out. 

What Are Chia Seeds?

Chia seeds come from a type of sage, Salvia hispanica, which grows in South America and Mexico. They come in a white or black variety, and there is said to be no nutritional difference between the colors. Chia seeds were a staple food among the ancient Aztecs and Mayans, and it is said that the men would eat Chia seeds before going on a hunt in order to increase endurance. Natives are also reported to have used Chia seeds to stave off hunger on long journeys. I guess you could say "good things come in small packages"!

What Makes Chia So Healthy?
Probably the most familiar health benefit of Chia seeds is their healthy fat content. They contain Omega-3 fatty acids (some sources claim they also contain Omega-6 fatty acids), the health benefits of which are numerous. Omega-3s have been implicated in promoting cardiovascular health, reducing inflammation, regulating hormones, and improving mood, and many of us could use a bit of mood improvement, right?

Here are some of Chia's other reported healthful qualities:
  1. Blood sugar regulation - If you put Chia seeds in water and stir them, in about 25 minutes they will form a gel-like substance that can become quite thick. Research in this area has implicated that a similar gel forms in your stomach when you eat Chia seeds and drink liquid (or mix the seeds with liquid and ingest them that way). This gel may slow the breakdown of carbohydrates into sugars, helping to stabilize blood sugar. The image might be a bit, well, icky, but it makes sense!  Sounds like a great science experiment. 

  2. Intestinal health - The smooth, gelatinous quality of Chia seeds and their fiber content are implicated in intestinal health. The gel-like consistency and fiber content may act as a sort of toxin-absorbing mass that moves through the intestinal tract with minimal irritation.

  3. Endurance and energy - As noted above, ancient peoples used Chia seeds to promote endurance and energy. The word "Chia" is said to be derived from the Mayan word for strength. Chia's reputation for generating energy and endurance may be due to its nutrients, its slowing of the digestion of sugars, or its gel-like qualities.

  4. Weight loss - Due to the gel it forms and its high fiber, Chia may slow the rate of digestion, helping you feel fuller longer. Also, its blood sugar stabilizing effects and energy-boosting properties may contribute to weight loss. 

  5. Nutrients - In addition to fiber, Chia seeds contain calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, iron and zinc.

I've mentioned I enjoy like LOVE Trader Joe's.  I found a wonderful breakfast recipe on their website, as well, for a Power Bowl, using lots of delicious ingredients including Chia seeds.

While cruising the aisles there, I also ran across this delicious Strawberry Chia Smoothy.  It is made from a strawberry puree, apple juice and Chia seeds.  Would be pretty easy to whip up, don't you think?
Have you tried Chia seeds in your diet?  What do you think?

Have fun in the kitchen,


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