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The ancient Mayans and Incas called chia seeds “warrior’s food” and I think that says a lot about the powerful punch these little seeds pack. “Chia” actually meant “strength” in the Mayan language. Chia seeds give you tons of energy and are full of body strengthening and healing nutrients. Runners have been known to swear by their sustained energizing power – they’re the natural answer to sports foods like protein bars (they’ve got 4g of protein per 1 ounce) and Gatorade (there’s 5mg of sodium in 1 ounce so they’ll keep your electrolyte levels up). And unlike those packaged energy or sports foods, chia seeds do not contain high levels of refined sugar that will leave you crashing as your blood sugar levels try to regulate themselves. For day-to-day use, chia seeds are an easy way to get necessary nutrients in one go, and can replace a cabinet full of expensive, bad smelling vitamins and supplements. It doesn’t get much better than chia seeds!
What Are Chia Seeds?
Chia plants, or salvia hispanica, are large, flowering plants in the mint family known for their highly nutritious seeds. The seeds can be found inside the flower’s pods and are black and white, or golden in color if they’re unripe.
How Do Chia Seeds Grow?
These plants grow to be about 5 feet tall and a few feet in diameter, with yellow-green leaves and lavender colored flowers. They’re a really pretty addition to any garden, but make sure to anticipate the space they need to flourish and grow. This is not your herb in a pot plant. These plants need lots of light and warmth, which is why they are native to warmer climates like Mexico, Argentina and Guatemala. The flowers bloom about four months after the plant germinates.
When most of the flower’s petals have fallen off, the seeds are ready for harvesting. The seeds can be can easily be removed from the pods by rolling and crushing dried flowers. Once everything is loosened up, separate the seeds from the flowers by rolling everything across a colander with small holes.
Are Chia Seeds Healthy?
Chia seeds are one of the most popular and talked-about superfoods right now, and that makes sense because they neutralize a lot of the primary health concerns the modern eater is faced with. Every period has its main health issues and bodily causes of death, and high blood pressure, high blood sugar levels and obesity are ours. The modern diet, particularly in America, is full of fast-food and highly processed, hydrogenated, refined, grains, fats and sugars. More people than ever are sitting behind a desk all day for work instead of the more physical, active jobs of the past.
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Chia seeds are a great nutrient source, but they don’t have a lot of calories – which is why they are a perfect fatty acid and protein source for someone trying to lose weight. They are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce inflammation. That can help fight issues like heart disease, joint pain and arthritis, and skin issues like psoriasis. There are 11 grams of fiber in only 1 ounce of chia seeds, so they’re great for detoxing and boosting the metabolism. Chia seeds are one of the two highest plant-based sources of protein (the other is spirulina, another superfood for another day.) Because they absorb so much water, chia gel has amazing hydrating abilities. They are also rich in calcium, B complex vitamins, various minerals like selenium, manganese, zinc and magnesium, and antioxidants.
How Do You Eat Chia Seeds?
Chia seeds have a very mild taste, so you can add them to basically anything with little to no taste disruption, just an energy and nutritional boost. I would not suggest eating the seeds dry (see the side effects of eating chia seeds below) and making chia gel is as easy as mixing the dry seeds with some water. You can play around with the ratio depending on how liquidly you want your gel or how fast you want the water absorbed, but I usually use about 1 cup of water for 2 tablespoons of chia seeds. Let them sit for 10 to 15 minutes or longer, stirring halfway through so that the top layer can absorb the water as well. The gel can be added to your water bottle and drank throughout the day, added to morning yogurt, or added to smoothies. If you’re vegan or have an egg allergy, the gel can be used to substitute eggs in baking (1/4 cup of gel substitutes one egg).
Homemade chia pudding is also a lovely, delicious way to eat the seed. The gel lends itself nicely to pudding, giving it a thick, creamy texture. You can have fun experimenting by soaking seeds in different non-dairy milks, like coconut milk almond milk and hemp milk, and adding different natural flavoring like fruit or cacao. You can also put the pudding in a blender for an extremely creamy texture almost identical to standard pudding. One recipe I love is a chocolate chia pudding from “The Minimalist Baker.”
- 1 1/2 cups (360 ml) unsweetened almond milk.
- 1/3 cup (63 g) chia seeds.
- 1/4 cup (24 g) cacao or unsweetened cocoa powder.
- 2-5 Tbsp (30-75 ml) maple syrup if not blending (can sub 5-9 dates, pitted if blending).
- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon (optional).
- 1/4 tsp sea salt.
- Optional: 1/2 tsp vanilla extract.
- Add all of the ingredients except for the sweetener to a mixing bowl and whisk vigorously to combine. If not blending (which I preferred!), sweeten to taste with maple syrup at this time. If blending, you can sweeten later with maple syrup or dates.
- Let rest covered in the fridge overnight or at least 3-5 hours (or until it’s achieved a pudding-like consistency).
- If blending, add to a blender and blend until completely smooth and creamy, scraping down sides as needed. Sweeten to taste.
- Leftovers keep covered in the fridge for 2-3 days, though best when fresh.
- Serve chilled.
— WebMD (@WebMD) December 27, 2016
Another fun way to eat chia seeds is by sprouting the seeds, which is probably the healthiest form of chia seeds to eat. Sprouted chia micro-greens have all of the nutrients in chia seeds, with the added advantage of the chlorophyll found in the leaves. Chlorophyll is high in antioxidants and helps cleanse your body of environmental pollutants. To sprout your own chia seeds, just sprinkle them on a plate and spritz some water on them (but not enough to make the gel). Cover them and mist again once a day until the desired effect is achieved.
Are There Side Effects From Eating Chia Seeds?
Chia seeds lower blood pressure, which an unfortunately large number of folks can stand to benefit from. However, if you have low blood pressure, chia seeds may exacerbate the problem. Chia seeds also reduce glucose levels in the blood which, again, is helpful for the average person in today’s world, but is harmful for someone with hypoglycemia. These seeds are usually eaten in their gelatinous form, soaked in water which they absorb. This is definitely recommended because if eaten dry, they will soak up water inside your body and can dehydrate you.
Additionally, it can be dangerous to eat the seeds dry because they can expand inside of the esophagus and form a blockage there. Lastly, if your body isn’t used to the high amount of fiber in chia seeds, you may experience some digestive issues or discomfort. Therefore, it’s best to introduce them gradually into your diet. An allergic reaction to chia seeds might cause symptoms like hives or watery eyes, and a strong chia allergy would result in vomiting, diarrhea, and even difficulty breathing. The bright side is that chia allergies are extremely rare, but still – always exercise caution.
When the Spanish came into South America, the Aztecs had been including chia seeds in everything from food and drink to medicine and religious ritual practice. The last bit kind of freaked them out, and they banned the Aztecs from cultivating the plant, introducing crops that were more familiar to the Spanish diet. Chia seeds were left in the past for the most part of 400 years and only resurfaced in very recent history, when a group of scientists began to cultivate chia plants in Argentina in the early 1990’s.
We are facing an epidemic of adult and child obesity, and pollution levels are higher than they’ve ever been. It would seem then, that the Aztec gods are looking out for us, because the timing for this plant to be found and popularized again could not be more perfect.
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