Chia seeds are more popular than ever in the health food world. With many people giving them a label as a “superfood”, these little seeds pack a powerful nutritional punch.
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What Are Chia Seeds?
Chia seeds originate from Salvia hispanica, a plant that grows in the desert and is a member of Lamiaceae, the mint family. In the Mayan language, the word “chia” translates to “strength”.
Chia seeds are brown in their raw, unripe state and turn black or white once ripened. There is no difference in the nutritional content and taste of the seed based on the color.
History of Chia Seeds
The seeds have a prodigious history, with records of chia seeds being a primary component of the ancient Aztecs’ daily diet as far back in history as 3500 BC, and it was later grown and harvested in Mexico from 1500 BC onwards by the Toltec and Teotihuacan people.
Aside from being eaten, chia seeds were historically used by the Aztecs and other South American indigenous communities for a diverse range of purposes, highly prized for the fact that it could be safely stored for lengthy periods of time (ideal for long journeys). It was used as an ingredient for certain drinks, pressed for oil, ground to turn it into flour, and used for various medicines.
Aside from its many practical uses, certain ancient civilizations also regarded chia seeds as sacred and containing mystical properties. The Aztecs would utilize chia seeds in their religious and sacrificial ceremonies.
The warriors of other ancient tribes attributed their strength and physical prowess to consuming chia seeds, and there are still indigenous peoples in South America today that praise the health and energy-granting benefits of chia seeds.
The Mexican tribe of Tarahumara is renowned for producing extremely swift runners with high stamina, attributing their athletic capabilities to a drink that is made by mixing chia seeds with lemon juice and water called Iskiate.
When the Spanish colonists began conquering Mexico and other areas in South America, chia seed planting and consummation was prohibited due to its uses in the native civilizations’ religious ceremonies, but it fortunately resurfaced again in certain Mexican regions that survived the colonialists’ purge. (Source)
Chia seeds were not only valued for their medicinal and health-boosting properties in the past: today, adding chia seeds to your diet has been discovered to have a wide range of benefits due to their nutritional content.
28 grams worth of chia seeds contain approximately 11 grams of fiber, 9 grams of fat, 177 milligrams of calcium and healthy fatty acids as well as vitamins D, A, E, and B. Important minerals such as iron, sulfur, iodine, thiamine, and magnesium are also found in chia seeds.
High fiber content is highly beneficial for digestive health and plays a significant role in regulating insulin levels in the body, thus acting as a natural balancer for blood sugar levels. Foods rich in fiber also contribute towards healthy bowel movements and reducing constipation.
Chia seeds turn to a substance similar to gel when ingested due to the soluble fiber content that then functions as a form of prebiotic that enhances probiotic growth in the gut.
The seeds are also extremely high in antioxidants such as vitamin E, containing the ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) of 10,000 vitamin E equivalents (such as gel capsules) as well as omega 3 oils. (Source)
Are Chia Seeds Paleo-Friendly?
The Paleolithic diet – also known as the paleo diet – operates off one simple principle. Individuals following the diet must eat only foods that were available to the hunter-gatherers living in the Paleolithic era, and must avoid foods that were not available.
Our Paleolithic ancestors primarily consumed vegetables, fruits, seeds, nuts, seafood and meat. The diet eliminates foods that have only come into existence relatively recently and are partly responsible for rising rates of obesity, such as processed foods and sugary snacks.
As the agricultural revolution had yet to occur, all grain-based foods are off the menu (i.e. pasta, bread, etc). Dairy products, alcohol, sugar, and legumes of any sort are also foods that are best avoided, although honey and red wine may be consumed in moderation for those who have difficulty cutting alcohol and sweeteners out of their diets. (Source)
Eating nuts on occasion is encouraged on the Paleo diet, as most nuts contain healthy fats and omega 3. However, they should not be eaten to excess. As seed consumption is also encouraged on the Paleo diet, chia seeds are an acceptable snack or ingredient to have. (Source)
Are Chia Seeds Keto-Friendly?
The ketogenic diet (also known as the keto diet) has had followers since the 1920’s, and is based on understanding key principles of nutritional and physiological science.
The keto diet involves restricting carbohydrates in order to alter the body’s fuel source to promote weight loss, lower blood sugar levels, and heighten energy levels. By limiting foods that are high in carbohydrates, the body begins to burn fat rather than glucose and the body eventually enters a ketogenic state.
The majority of foods eaten on the keto diet should be foods that contain healthy fats, consisting of up to 80 percent of daily caloric intake. Coconut oil, olive oil, certain nuts and seeds, palm oil, and butter (grass-fed) are all key components of the healthy fat principal of the diet.
Vegetables that are low in starch, such as cruciferous vegetables, cucumbers, zucchini and leafy greens should make up for a good portion of meals on the keto diet, and high protein meat, fishes, bone broth, and certain full fat dairy products, preferably raw.
Sugary snacks and drinks, processed foods, grain-based foods, and other popular foods that are high in carbohydrates are to be avoided or consumed on very rare occasions.
Nuts and seeds are both acceptable food items on the keto diet, but must be eaten in moderation, as chia seeds contain on average up to 2 grams of carbohydrates per two tablespoons consumed. (Source)
Are Chia Seeds AIP-Friendly?
The autoimmune protocol diet or AIP diet involves eating certain foods and avoiding others in order to reduce, improve, or eradicate symptoms of autoimmune diseases that may be aggravated by eating so-called inflammatory foods.
The diet involves eating foods that are high in nutritional value and help promote healthy bacteria in the gut, and entirely restricting or eliminating foods that have allergenic properties and can irritate the gut (thus aggravating the autoimmune condition’s symptoms)
Gluten, grain, dairy, sugar, alcohol, legumes, nightshade vegetables (such as tomatoes), eggs, nuts, seed-based oils and seeds are all to be avoided entirely. Fermented foods (exempting soy products), meat and fish, and all other vegetables are all acceptable to eat.
As seeds and nuts (and seed or nut-based products of any kind, such as oils) are
prohibited on the AIP diet as they can contribute towards gut aggravation, chia seeds are not to be consumed. (Source)
Health Benefits Of Chia Seeds
As chia seeds are plentiful in omega 3 fatty acids and essential vitamins, minerals and nutrients, they have a variety of related health benefits and, if regularly consumed, can improve certain health conditions.
Fiber intake is important to health, and the US Dietary Guidelines recommend men and women aged 50 or younger aim to consume approximately 30 grams and 25 grams of fiber on a daily basis, respectively. The majority of individuals consume half or less than half of the recommended fiber intake per day.
Chia seeds contain 10 grams of fiber in a portion of 28 grams, which is almost half of the recommended fiber dose for women and a third for men. Diets that are high in fiber also contribute towards reducing unhealthy cholesterol levels.
Controlled trials revealed that even a slight increase of 10 additional grams of fiber per day can reduce cholesterol levels as well as reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease. (Source)
A study investigating the effect of chia seeds on diabetes and insulin resistance on rats revealed that rats who were fed chia seeds in conjunction with a high-sugar diet avoided the insulin resistance typical of diabetes. Rats that were already affected with diabetes managed to recover entirely within two months of being fed chia seeds and a high-sugar diet.
Consuming chia seeds prior to exercise was found to produce the same energy boost as a heavily sugar-laden sports drink. A study in which runners were given either pure Gatorade or a mixture of Gatorade and a liquid made from chia seeds revealed that both groups matched their running times, but the group given pure Gatorade had needlessly doubled their sugar intake. (Source)
How To Eat Chia Seeds
Chia seeds can be mixed to prepare a drink, eaten as they are, or used in a recipe, and a single chia seed has the capacity to hold over 10 times its weight in liquid. Although they are nutritionally rich, chia seeds do not have a particularly distinctive taste.
As chia seeds have an extremely lengthy shelf life (one of the aspects that made it so popular with ancient civilizations), they can be purchased in bulk and stored in a dry, cool area.
Chia seeds that have not yet ripened tend to be brown in color, and usually have a bitter taste. Chia seeds are ripe and ready for consumption when they are white, black, or a speckled mixture of both colors.
One of the most popular recipes for chia seeds is chia seed pudding. Chia seed pudding is a fast, simple recipe to prepare and requires few ingredients. A quarter cup of chia seeds should be mixed with a liquid of your choosing (typically almond milk, coconut milk, or fruit juice), and left for 15-20 minutes or until the chia seeds have absorbed the liquid entirely and turned into a gel.
Chia pudding can be adapted depending on your personal taste, with a variety of available recipes suggesting additional ingredients such as certain spices, fruit pieces, nuts and more. If refrigerated, it can be preserved for up to three days. Some recipes call for the mixture to be left overnight in the refrigerator to enhance taste. (Source)
Chia seeds can also be mixed into smoothies, juices, dairy or nut milk, and many more options. As chia seeds are high in fiber but have little taste, consuming them in liquid form is a simple and delicious way to up your daily fiber intake.
Since chia seeds are highly absorbent, they can be mixed with practically any form of liquid, and there are available recipes for anything from chia seed coffee to chia seed iced fruit smoothies.
Most recipes recommend allowing the chia seeds to absorb the liquid of your choice (i.e. juice, milk, etc) until they swell up and turn gelatinous, and then blending the seeds with whatever other ingredients your recipe of choice calls for. Depending on the drink recipe, the chia seeds may be left for 15 minutes or overnight. (Source)
Chia seeds can also be mixed with plain water for an energy-boosting drink. One tablespoon of chia seeds can be mixed with a 12 ounce glass of water and left to sit for 10-15 minutes, until the chia seeds have turned gelatinous. Although the mixture can be consumed as is, it is possible to add the juice of one lime to increase the antioxidant properties of the drink and a teaspoon of agave nectar (or different nectar of your choice) for sweetness and flavor. (Source)
Soaking chia seeds in water to use the gelatinous mixture as an ingredient in other recipes makes the seeds easier to digest. Although chia seeds can be eaten as they are without mixing them with any liquid, it is recommended to stay hydrated due to the seeds’ absorbent properties.
To create a simple chia seed mixture that can be easily added to juice, smoothies, salad dressings and more, simply allow 5 tablespoons of chia seeds to sit in a pitcher of water overnight in the refrigerator. Once the liquid has turned gelatinous, portions can simply be taken as needed. The chia seed water will preserve in the fridge for up to one week. (Source)
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