“Chia” comes from the Nahuatl word “chian”, which means “oily”. The plant Salvia hispanica, which is largely cultivated for its tiny black and white seeds, is part of the flowering mint family.
Chia seeds are thought to help reduce risk factors for heart diseases, and to help lower blood pressure, but studies have proved inconclusive in this regard. Its high nutrient content, however, does warrant it to be classed with other “superfoods”.
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Chia contains fibre, protein, fat, calcium, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, vitamin B3, potassium, vitamin B1 and vitamin B3.
The Aztecs cultivated chia as a food crop as early as 3500 B.C. They’re reputed to have used these foods to give them endurance. It’s still widely used in South America and Mexico, and the plant is native to southern Mexico and Guatemala.
The Aztecs used chia as a foodstuff. They mixed it with other foods, mixed it into beverages, ground it into flour, used it as a component in medicines and pressed it for oil.
With the arrival of the Spanish conquerors in the 16th century, many local traditions were lost and it wasn’t really until the 1990s that U.S. and South American scientists took a closer look at chia seeds and their nutritional value and medicinal properties.
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Currently chia is grown in Argentina, Mexico, Bolivia and Peru. It’s also grown in Australia by The Chia Company. In fact, Australia looks set to become the world’s top chia producer.
The following are purported to be the benefits of chia seeds, but, according to WebMD, more evidence is needed to substantiate most of these claims:
- Lowering of heart disease and stroke risk in diabetics. There’s some evidence that a particular type of chia, called Salba, can reduce this risk by lowering blood pressure. It’s also a marker for inflammation.
- The antioxidants in chia may help to fight cancer.
- Chia seeds are high in fibre, which is good for your digestion. It’s also thought that this might help with weight loss, as the fibre absorbs water and contributes to a feeling of having a full stomach.
- Chia seeds are an excellent source of protein, especially for vegans and vegetarians.
- Although they contain omega-3 fatty acids, chia seeds contain a type that’s difficult for the body to utilise.
- Chia seeds can promote bone health, as they contain phosphorus, calcium, magnesium and protein. They’re a good source of calcium for people who don’t eat dairy products.
How to get chia seeds into your diet
The seeds have no particular taste apart from a slight nutty flavour, so they can be added to just about any food or drink. They’re small, and don’t need to be ground. They can be sprinkled onto anything, baked into anything, can be used to thicken sauces, and can even be used as egg substitutes in recipes.
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Just keep in mind that chia seeds, if left in liquid, will swell and form a gel.
If you’re not used to eating foods with a high fibre content, it might be a good idea to introduce chia slowly into your diet. Also make sure you drink enough fluid.
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Image: Chia seed healthy super food from Shutterstock.