Chia seeds have been a staple food source for the American Native people for centuries (long before the Chia Pet hit the market). Aztec warriors would eat chia during hunting trips, and the Indians of the Southwest would eat only chia seed mixed with water as they ran from the Colorado River to the Pacific Ocean to trade products.
Chia seed is a complete source of dietary protein, providing all the essential amino acids. Compared to other seeds and grains, chia seed provides the highest source of protein, between 19 to 23 percent protein by weight. One of the unique qualities of the chia seed is its ability to absorb more than nine times its volume in water or other liquid. This ability can prolong hydration and retain electrolytes in body fluids, especially during exertion or exercise. Normal fluid retention ensures electrolyte dispersion across cell membranes, maintains fluid balances, and aids normal cellular function.
The gel-forming property of chia seed tends to slow digestion and sustain balanced blood sugar levels, which can be helpful in preventing or controlling diabetes. Whole, water-soaked chia seeds can be easily digested and absorbed. This results in rapid transport of chia nutrients to the tissues for use by the cells. Chia also facilitates the growth and regeneration of tissue during pregnancy and lactation, and aids the regeneration of muscles for conditioning athletes and bodybuilders. For the dieter, this means feeling full with no more peaks and valleys in blood sugar levels.
The fastest and easiest way to take chia seed is to add one tablespoon chia seed into an eight-ounce glass of water or juice, stir to break up any lumps, let sit about five minutes, stir again, and then drink. You can also use it to make a versatile gel, which can be added to jams, jellies, peanut butter, milkshakes, nut spreads, smoothies, hot or cold cereals, yogurts, mustard, catsup, tartar sauce, barbecue sauces, etc. as a fat replacer, for energy and endurance, or for added great taste. Here’s how to make the gel, which has a slightly nutty flavor:
Put nine parts water in a sealable plastic container. Slowly pour one part seed into the water, then mix with a wire whisk or fork. This process will avoid any clumping of the seed. Wait a few minutes and stir again to break up any clumps, let stand ten minutes, and stir again. Store up to two weeks in the refrigerator. Add the gel, between 50 to 70 percent by volume, to any of the above-mentioned foods, mix well, and taste. You will notice a very smooth texture, with the integrity of the flavor intact, but you have added 50 to 70 percent more volume to your food and have displaced calories and fat by incorporating an ingredient that is ninety percent water!
Chia gel causes a slow release of carbohydrates and an equally slow converting of carbohydrates into glucose (blood sugar) for energy. The outer layer of chia seeds is rich in mucilloid-soluble fiber, intended to keep the seeds from drying out in desert air. When chia seeds are mixed with water or stomach juices, a gel forms that creates a physical barrier between the carbohydrates and the digestive enzymes that break them down. The carbohydrates are digested eventually, but at a slow and uniform rate. There is no insulin surge or spike needed to lower the blood sugar level after eating chia.
Other benefits of chia gel include:
- Helping to control weight: mixed with orange or other fruit juice, the gel-like seeds make a nutritious breakfast that leaves one feeling full and without hunger until noon.
- Research is being conducted to show how chia may prevent and/or overcome Type 2 (non-insulin dependent) diabetes.
- Chia seeds contain high levels of both omega-3 and omega-6 oils, needed by all people, but especially by pregnant women or those with PMS.
- Chia seeds contain greater alpha-linolenic acid concentrations than any other seed or grain. This substance lowers the risk of heart disease, blurred vision, and numbness.
- Native people have used chia gel on wounds, for colds and sore throats, for upset stomachs, body odors, prostate problems, and even constipation.
- Chia seed contains large amounts of B vitamins and calcium. By volume, one ounce of chia contains two percent B-2 (riboflavin), 13 percent niacin, and 29 percent thiamin, and trace amounts of all B vitamins. In roughly two ounces of chia (100 grams), there are 600 milligrams of calcium, contrasted with 120 milligrams of calcium in the same amount of milk. That’s five times as much calcium than milk!
- Chia also contains boron, which is needed for bones. With much of the nation’s soil boron depleted, we simply are not getting enough boron in our daily diets. Boron is needed to aid the metabolism of calcium, magnesium, manganese, and phosphorus in bones and for muscle growth. Boron also can increase the levels of natural estrogen.
- Early results in current cancer research with chia show promise in this area.
- Chia is an excellent source of fiber.
All of this brings us back to Chia Pets. Chia seeds are too sticky for conventional sprouting jars (remember all the talk about chia gel), but sprout very easily when spread out on earthenware. Thus the Chia Pet was born in Mexico in the Chiapas region (Chiapas was named after the chia seed and means “Water of Chia”). The Mexicans have long made earthenware in the shapes of Chia Pets, and yes, you can eat the sprouts that grow on the Chia Pet. They taste like watercress (but better), and are full of vitamins and minerals, just like the seeds.
Gloria Hoover is the owner of natures-emporium.com and frontporchcoffee.com. She has been using chia seed for over a year, and has noticed improved health, more energy, and a stable blood sugar level. More information about chia can be found in the book The Magic of Chia by James F. Scheer.