Everyone’s heard of Chia Pets, the less-than-exciting ceramic animals that grow grass as fur, but few are aware of the power of the little seeds inside. Ancient Meso-Americans discovered these seeds early on and incorporated them into their diets. As evidenced by the Tarahumara Indians of Northern Mexico (discussed in Christopher McDougall’s book Born to Run), these seeds were used as fitness supplements long before supplements became an industry! These natives were known for their long distance running and their constant ingestion of chia seeds. Legend has it that sometimes Aztec soldiers were able to sustain themselves for an entire day on just the equivalent of one tablespoon of seed! What is it about the chia seeds that generates such outstanding stamina and health? Let’s find out together!
In terms of bare composition, chia seeds are chock full of protein, carbs, fiber, and healthy fats such as Omega-3 fatty acids. Thus, as meal additive, the balanced composition chia seeds makes it the natural choice for a desert people who often went days without food (even water). On top of the compositional features, chia seeds contain incredible proportions of major vitamins and minerals. Chia seeds have nearly twice the amount of protein as other types of seeds and even more calcium, proportionately than a glass of milk. Chia seeds’ potassium levels rival that of bananas, and they have more antioxidants than the most popular antioxidant power house, the blueberry.
One of the best features of the chia seed is its incredible amounts of Omega-3s. These fatty acids are the content of many top selling supplements and can be found in natural form here. Whereas many people look to fish oils and other artificially isolated forms of the nutrient, chia seeds, as they are, contain more Omega 3 than most fish, which should be good news to vegetarians!
As researcher David Nieman of Appalachian State University made very clear, “chia is a lot of nutrition in a little package.” Thus you see why chia seeds are marketed as the “Aztec Superfood”! Here are some things they are used for:
The word chia comes from the Aztec word “chian” which was an adjective meaning “oily”. This name stuck because the hydrophilic seed absorbs incredibly amounts of water (up to 15x its weight!) and develops a gelatinous covering. This covering causes even a small spoonful of seed to grow into a large cluster of tiny berry-like pods. The benefits of this physical feature of the seed are manifold. First of all, the consumer feels fuller than they normally would with so little food. This is helpful for those hoping to lose weight, since by adding it to normal food, less becomes more without all the additional calories. Second, the gelatinous covering over the wet seeds prolongs the length of time that it takes for the seeds and their nutrients to digest, thus they have a blood sugar regulating effect. Diabetics would find this food very helpful since it forces the metabolism to process energy at a slower rate. The ideal situation for your metabolism is that it has very few spikes (either up or down) but that it remains steady throughout the day. This is why a spoonful of chia seeds between light meals can be huge for weight loss, when coupled with exercise.
The gelatinous by-product of chia seeds comes in handy for runners and other serious fitness enthusiasts in that it enables the athlete to stay hydrated for long periods of sweating without ample water. While you must still drink water (which should go without saying), the water storing effects of chia seeds help your body retain fluid and, thus, maintain proper electrolyte balance. An athlete who is not dying of thirst and getting chills is one who can go the distance! But there is another reason that chia seeds boost endurance.
Chia seeds have a great conglomeration of both soluble and insoluble fiber. Insoluble fibers digest less easily than soluble, so the digestion process becomes more prolonged after the ingestion of chia. The benefits here for athletes is that the soluble fiber provides immediate energy while the insoluble constitutes a storehouse for several hours that your body can slowly feast upon. This produces the metabolic effect described above, and keeps the athlete from feeling hungry or immediately without energy shortly after consuming food (the infamous sugar crash!). The net effect is an increased stamina and more efficient output.
Whether you consider yourself an athlete or not, chia seeds can be added to any diet for better health and improved metabolism. When coupled with exercise and plenty of rest, chia seeds can help rewire your body to function properly without crashing or feeling constantly hungry. For great recipes and ideas for incorporating chia seeds into your diet check out this site.
Author Bio: Kevin Wayne writes for Health Testing Centers, which has been offering direct access to health testing for 30 years. Check the Health Testing Centers website for info about keeping up with your health.