—Revival of an Ancient Aztec food

By Roxanne Sumners Utzman


chia_march2011Would you like to stabilize your blood sugar, decrease your cholesterol levels, lose weight and increase the nutrient content of your foods?  Try chia seeds!

The chia plant (Salvia hispania) belongs to the mint family and grows naturally from Mexico to South America.  The tiny seed was so valuable that it was used as currency until the conquering Spaniards prohibited its’ cultivation.  Chia was known as “Indian Running Food” because a small handful of seeds and plenty of water was known to sustain a man traveling for an entire day.

Indeed, chia seeds have valuable nutritional properties. They contain no gluten, have the highest fiber content of any food in the world, and are a complete protein with all 9 amino-acids in the appropriate balance.  They contain more antioxidants than blueberries, more calcium than milk and more Omega-3 fatty acids than flax seed.

Richard Lucas, in Common and Uncommon Uses of Herbs for Healthy Living, recommends chia be prepared as a gel and then used with other foods or liquids.  The flavorless gel can be mixed into juice, yogurt, oatmeal or just about any other food, thus displacing calories and fat while increasing the food’s nutritional value.

Studies in the US and Canada indicate that daily ingestion of chia seeds can lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels.  Chia gel holds moisture, helps retain the body’s electrolyte balance, absorbs toxins and creates a physical barrier between carbohydrate foods and digestive enzymes, thus slowing the release of carbohydrates and preventing an insulin surge – especially helpful in people with diabetes.

Some merchants claim white seeds are superior to black ones, but Dr. Wayne Coates, foremost researcher on chia, says that there is virtually no difference between the two.  In his book, Chia: Rediscovering a Forgotten Crop of the Aztec, he writes that the nutrient content in chia seeds relates to where and how they are grown.  Coates also says they can be stored for long periods of time without becoming rancid and can easily be grown organically because insects and other pests are not attracted to chia.

The Magic of Chia, by Jim Scheer, contains nearly 100 recipes created by a group working to upgrade meals served in school cafeterias. They cite the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, which recommends using chia gel to replace 25% of oil and/or eggs in cakes, muffins, and other baked goods.

Chia is known to thin the blood and bring down diastolic blood pressure, so people who take blood thinners or have low blood pressure should use chia with caution, as should people who are allergic to mustard seeds or salvia.

To prepare chia seed gel, use 9 parts water to 1 part chia seeds:

In a sealable glass container, fill 3/4 with pure water.  Mix in chia seeds using a whisk or fork.  Wait ten minutes and mix again.  If the mixture resembles pond scum, it is ready to use or it can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

Start with about 1/3 cup of gel twice a day.  But don’t take it too late in the day, as it increases energy and may keep you awake!

We have found that the easiest way to use the gel is to mix it with equal parts of fruit juice before breakfast and mid-day.  You can also toast seeds and use them on cereals, potatoes, or as a coating on meatloaf, burgers, etc.  They add a nutty taste and nice crunch (like poppy seeds).

Chia seeds can be found online and locally in many natural food stores.

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