Back when I was still entertaining the idea that I could be a long distance runner (I have since decided to tackle long distances on my bike), I read the book “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall. In his book, McDougall discusses the sport of ultra-running. I am not going to lie, before reading this book, I had no idea that this was a real sport. Never mind, that there are human beings capable of running this far. The book brings you to Northwestern Mexico where the Tarahumara live. These people are renowned for their ability to run long distances. What truly peaked my interest though is that a tiny seed called “Chia” helps fuel their runs. You may have seen or heard about Chia seeds recently due to their reemergence as a nutrition powerhouse.
For this post, Allison Brooks, an anthropologist who studies the effects of biomedicalization on cultures, is bringing you an overview on Chia. She became interested in nutrition and natural health after seeing the many ways in which biomedicalization changes the way people heal, view healing and their diet. Allison researched the evidence available on these little nutrition powerhouses to bring us a great overview of what Chia seeds are all about. Check it out:
By Allison Brooks
Consumed as the main staple in the diets of both the Aztec and Mayan cultures, chia seeds are making a comeback as the newest superfood. Nutrient-dense and loaded with antioxidants, chia seeds have provided lasting energy to everyone from ancient warriors to long distance runners.
Scientifically referred to as Salvia hispanica, chia seeds are produced by a flowering plant that is a part of the mint family. Chia means oily and serves as an appropriate name for this seed that yields nearly thirty percent of extractable oil. Chia seeds have a black, brown, gray, and white mottled appearance and are quite small; only one millimeter in diameter, but packed with nutritional benefits.
Everyday, environmental pollutants, harsh product chemicals, and host of other toxins result in the formation of free radicals. These unstable molecules lead to premature aging and are the precursor to countless diseases, including cancer; hence environmentally encouraged cancers like mesothelioma, black lung, and many stomachs cancers. Antioxidants reduce the body’s oxidative stress load by neutralizing free radicals. Foods that are more effective at fighting free radicals receive an Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity, or ORAC, rating. Chia seeds have a higher ORAC rating than blueberries.
Twenty-two amino acids are required by the body to ensure protein synthesis and healthy cellular function. Nine of these amino acids cannot be produced by the body and must come from dietary sources. Chia seeds are complete protein, which simply means that they contain all nine of these essential amino acids.
Chia seeds boast the unique abilities to not only absorb but also retain water in the stomach. This makes them ideal for extending hydration and retaining electrolytes during demanding activities. This is why many endurance runners and marathon participants consume these magical seeds. They assist in the maintaining of lean muscle mass as well as muscle regeneration. Chia seeds promote overall fat loss by blocking cravings and delivering a feeling of satiety.
Chia seeds can stabilize blood sugar levels by causing a slower energy release from carbohydrates. This makes them ideal for diabetics as well as those trying to lose weight. These nutritious little seeds are bursting with vitamins and minerals. Packed with fiber, they provide a detoxifying effect on the gastrointestinal tract.
In addition to all of this, chia seeds improve digestion, enhance energy, and reduce inflammation. They are low in calories and contain alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA, which is rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
Unlike flax seeds, chia seeds do not require grinding to release nutrients. They are shelf stable and to not need to be refrigerated. Safe for men, women, and children, chia seeds can be sprinkled or mixed in virtually any type of food, including oatmeal, cereal, yogurt, baked goods, stir-fry dishes, sauces, salads, soups, or casseroles. Chia fresca is a Central American drink that can be made by mixing chia seeds in water with sugar and lime or lemon juice.
Ready to start incorporating Chia seeds into your diet? Here are 40 Ways to use them. Enjoy!