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Chia Seeds: The Energy Source Of The Aztecs

For the early inhabitants of Central America – the Aztecs – chia seeds were both a staple food and a remedy. In the meantime, Europe has also become aware of the superfood from Mexico, because the small seeds pack a punch.

Chia seeds: Aztec energy source

Do you know chia? The small seeds from Mexico, Central, and South America are currently conquering the healthcare market. As a superfood, they are said to have various healing powers. However, this is not a new breed for the health-conscious. The chia plant ( Salvia Hispanica ) from the mint family was already known to the Aztecs.

In that ancient culture, the protein-rich (and of course gluten-free) seeds were considered a staple food and served above all as an energy-giving companion for the messengers. According to Mexican folk medicine, a single teaspoon of chia seeds is enough to provide a person with enough energy for 24 hours.

Translated from Nahuatl (Aztec), Chia means “oily”, which indicates the high oil content of the seeds.

The nutrients of the superfood chia seeds

Chia seeds are called a superfood. Why? Because these seeds are superior to other foods in their nutrient composition in comparable quantities and also have very special properties that you won’t find in conventional foods. Below we list those nutrients that are found in relevant amounts in one serving of chia seeds (15 grams):

Omega-3 fatty acids in chia seeds

One of the most important reasons for eating chia seeds is their high omega-3 fatty acid content. Chia seeds consist of 18 percent of the omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid. Chia seeds contain almost as many omega-3 fatty acids as flaxseed (approx. 22 percent) with significantly fewer calories since chia seeds provide 10 g less fat than flaxseed.

In an American study published in July 2012 in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, the researchers were able to show that the omega-3 fatty acid level (alpha-linolenic acid, but also EPA) in the serum of human test subjects increased due to the intake of chia seeds (ground) increased noticeably.

This is very interesting for the following reason: the plant-based alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) must first be converted in the body into the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids that are actually so important (e.g. EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) or DHA (docosahexaenoic acid)). . However, it is often said that this conversion rate is so low that the consumption of plant-based omega-3 fatty acids does not have a noticeable effect on the EPA or DHA level in the blood.

However, the present study showed that after consuming chia, ALA levels increased by almost 60 percent and EPA levels by almost 40 percent. However, only the test group ate the ground chia seeds. On the other hand, no significant change in omega-3 fatty acid levels was found in the control group (they did not eat chia seeds), but the same was true in the group that ate the whole seeds. So it’s definitely worth eating ground chia seeds. Because if chia seeds can influence fatty acid levels so well, then one can also expect the health effects inherent in omega-3 fatty acids from them, such as e.g. B. an anti-inflammatory, strengthening of the heart and memory, reduced arthrosis pain, increased ability to concentrate, better eyes and much more.

Chia seed proteins

Chia seeds contain about twice as much protein as grains, namely over 20 percent with a carbohydrate content of less than 5 percent. This does not mean that you will have to eat chia instead of bread in the future, but it does show that even the small amounts of chia usually eaten can at least contribute to the protein supply. What is interesting about the amino acid profile of chia seeds is that they contain high levels of the amino acid tryptophan, which is known to be able to raise serotonin levels and thus mood.

The calcium content far exceeds that of milk

The calcium content of chia seeds is five times that of milk and is 630 mg per 100 g of chia. If you eat 15 grams of chia a day, you’ll get an additional 100 mg of calcium (without having to resort to dairy products), which is at least a tenth of the daily requirement of 1000 mg.

The iron content of chia seeds

When it comes to iron, chia seeds are also an interesting source. They contain twice as much iron as spinach. Of course, you can eat significantly more from spinach than from chia seeds, but 15 grams of chia seeds still provide 1 mg of iron, which accounts for 7 to 10 percent of the daily requirement and which is very important given the small amount consumed. If you wanted to achieve this amount of iron with the usual baked goods, you would have to eat two large slices of mixed bread (50 g each). But one does not exclude the other. It’s not an either/or, but simply that chia is consumed in addition – just like a dietary supplement that, in small amounts, can make a significant contribution to the nutrient supply.

Chia seeds can support the zinc supply

The zinc content in 15 grams of chia seeds is around 0.7 mg. Again, it is important to consider the tiny amount of chia seeds consumed, which can provide almost 10 percent of zinc requirements. Of course, you would also get this amount of zinc with 15 grams of liver or a slice of cheese. Maybe you don’t like to eat liver every day. And what if you can’t tolerate cheese (which affects more people than you might think) or you’d much rather be vegan? Then chia seeds are an easy way to support the zinc supply with little effort.

Unusually high vitamin B3 content

The vitamin B3 levels in chia seeds are unusually high. They are over 8 mg per 100 g chia seeds and thus far higher than in animal foods. Vitamin B3 is involved in many body processes: detoxification, fat reduction, carbohydrate metabolism, regeneration, and much more. You should take 15 milligrams of it every day – and a portion of chia seeds, mixed into muesli or nibbled on the side, provides you with 1.2 mg of vitamin B3. However, remember to drink a large glass (at least 200 ml) of water for every teaspoon of chia seeds that you nibble without soaking.

High fiber content

The typical Western diet contains far too little fiber. As a result, digestive issues — from constipation to colon cancer — are commonplace. However, a lack of fiber also leads to disturbed intestinal flora, and this is involved in the development of almost every disease – whether acute or chronic. Chia seeds contain 34 percent fiber. If you soak chia seeds, a so-called gel of soluble fiber is created. In contrast to insoluble fiber, soluble fiber is much more digestible and also more effective. They maintain the intestinal flora, absorb toxins in the digestive tract, regulate blood sugar and cholesterol levels and increase intestinal peristalsis, which leads to rapid (but not too rapid) stool elimination.

Chia seeds can be stored well

In contrast to linseed, chia seeds have a much longer shelf life and are therefore suitable as food for storage. Chia seeds can easily be stored for four to five years without losing their nutritional value, taste, or smell. Flaxseed, on the other hand, usually goes rancid within a few weeks and is no longer edible.

  • Joint pain: Chia seeds have anti-inflammatory effects due to their antioxidant richness and high omega-3 fatty acid content, which can also provide pain relief when taken long-term. The antioxidants in chia seeds were analyzed as early as the 1980s. In particular, flavonol glycosides, kaempferol, myricetin, and quercetin were found, which also make chia seeds a remedy against oxidative stress.
  • Diabetes: As described above, the blood sugar level is regulated by the gel-like fiber in the chia seeds. The glycemic index of the seeds themselves is of course very low. The effect of chia seeds is so good here that the Institute of Biomedical Research in Mexico already wants to develop appropriate naturopathic medicines from it – in a combination of chia seeds, cactus leaves ( Opuntia ficus-indica ), and soy protein, according to the online magazine Science Daily reported on May 27, 2015. All three ingredients work extremely well on blood sugar levels — as found in a 2012 study of people with metabolic syndrome. A study published in the Journal of Nutrition in 2008 showed that chia seeds in rats fed 60 percent sugar, i.e. an extremely carbohydrate-rich and unhealthy diet, not only improved the onset of dyslipidemia but also improved insulin resistance.
  • Weight Loss: The feeling of satiety that occurs after eating chia seeds helps with weight loss. The study mentioned under “Diabetes” also showed that visceral fat (abdominal fat), which is so difficult to break down, could be reduced with the help of chia seeds.
  • Hypertension: Regarding high blood pressure, a 2014 Brazilian study found that after consuming chia seeds (ground) for 12 weeks, blood pressure was able to lower blood pressure, which was not the case in the placebo group.
    Irritable Bowel Syndrome: Similar to psyllium husk, whole chia seeds in chia gel can soothe an irritated gut, help heal the gut lining, and help build healthy gut flora.
  • Lowering cholesterol levels: Both dietary fiber and omega-3 fatty acids are known to lower cholesterol levels that were previously too high. Both substances are found in large amounts in chia seeds.
  • Heartburn: The dietary fibers in the chia gel also help here. They absorb excess acids and have a calming effect on the mucous membranes of the stomach and intestines.

Chia seeds or better flax seeds?

Chia seeds can be used as an alternative to flaxseed. Chia seeds have a number of advantages compared to flaxseed: Apart from the better shelf life mentioned above, chia seeds do not contain high levels of hormonally active substances (lignans) like flaxseed. In turn, the lignans are extremely desirable in some situations and can be used therapeutically, e.g. B. in the prevention of breast cancer or in the treatment of menopausal symptoms. But if you don’t need phytoestrogens or if you don’t like the taste of flaxseed, chia seeds are the better choice. In addition, linseed is naturally more frequently contaminated with cadmium, a harmful heavy metal that has not yet been detected in chia seeds.

Chia seeds also have a much milder, almost neutral taste, so they combine well with other foods. There are chia recipes for smoothies, puddings, pastries, dressings, and much more. The raw seeds can also simply be nibbled out of your hand. They taste delicately nutty with a creamy note. They can also be sprinkled over salads or integrated into muesli mixtures.

As explained above, please always drink enough water if you eat the chia seeds without soaking them, otherwise, you may experience digestive problems such as constipation or stomach ache.

Chia seeds: eat whole seeds or grind better?

If you now eat whole chia seeds, you will benefit from the fiber and its benefits. You can also enjoy the water storage capacity and the ability to feel full (e.g. if you want to lose weight). However, you cannot get the full range of nutrients from chia seeds because the digestive system cannot break down the seeds to get their nutrients. They are therefore partially excreted and undigested.

So if you want to benefit as comprehensively as possible from the trace elements, minerals, vitamins, and especially the omega-3 fatty acids in the chia seeds, you should grind the seeds and only then eat them.

Grinding is not a problem and can be done in a matter of seconds with a mini blender, e.g. B. the Personal Blender, or of course with a coffee grinder or other kitchen equipment suitable for grinding. Grain mills should not be used for this, as the chia seeds are known to be very rich in oil and could clog the grinder.

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Written by Bella Adams

I'm a professionally-trained, executive chef with over ten years in Restaurant Culinary and hospitality management. Experienced in specialized diets, including Vegetarian, Vegan, Raw foods, whole food, plant-based, allergy-friendly, farm-to-table, and more. Outside of the kitchen, I write about lifestyle factors that impact well-being.

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