Chia Seeds: An Ancient Superfood Makes a Comeback

11/27/2012

Chia seeds photo

Chia seeds are the hottest new superfood on the market but this little gem of nutritional bliss is quite literally ancient. Traced back to the Aztecs and the Mayans, humans began using chia seeds around 3500 BC. Chia is actually the Mayan word for strength. These little seeds are experiencing a second life from the Cha Cha Cha Chia Pets of my childhood. They're grown mainly in Mexico and Bolivia but production is expanding to Australia as well, according to The New York Times.

Superhuman Abilities 

Chia seeds were used as an ancient energy enhancing superfood by the Tarahumara Indians, hidden in the rugged valleys of the Sierra Madre Mountains in the Mexican state of Chihuahua. The group is documented in the book Born to Run, by Christopher McDougall, for their almost superhuman ability to run marathon mileages while enduring few injuries. Chia seeds also help to keep you hydrated and since hydration and fatigue go hand and hand, this is a good thing. 

Add them to beverages, snack foods, cereal, and even baked goods. Chia seeds are rich in omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, antioxidants, and fiber. They have 18 percent of your daily allowance of calcium and four grams of protein. Chia absorbs 12 times its own weight and expands in liquid, curbing your appetite. 

ALA in the Body

Chia seeds are known for alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), the form of omega 3 fatty acids found in plants. Your body can change ALA into eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), the other two forms of omega 3 fatty acids. Deficiencies in essential fatty acids may mean that the body has trouble healing from cuts and scraps. And a lack of these fatty acids burdens the body's cardiovascular system meaning deficiencies can increase the instance of heart attacks, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. Your body cannot make omega 3 fatty acids on its own, so it must get them from your diet. You can guard against a deficiency by adding chia seeds, which actually have more omega 3's than salmon. Unlike flax seeds, chia seeds don't need to be ground and they don't go rancid either. 

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Sara Novak writes about health and wellness for Discovery Health. Her work is also regularly featured in Breathe Magazine and on SereneKitchen.com. She has written extensively on food policy, food politics, and food safety.


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