You’ve probably heard of the humble chia but more for its decorative use than for its health benefits. Chia is used in a novelty item called chia pets, where the plant grows on the head of a dummy head, acting as “hair”. But did you know that for thousands of years chia has been prized in many places because of its nutritional benefits? Today, the spotlight is slowly being turned on chia seeds once again as more and more people discover its health properties.
The chia seeds are small, black seeds that are derived from the desert plant Salvia hispanica, a plant which belongs to the mint family. This plant was originally grown in Mexico and the southwest and has been around for thousands of years. According to historians, the seeds were a staple in the diet of the Aztecs and the Mayans. Soldiers and messengers were said to have been given ample amounts of chia seeds as their meal ration when being deployed on duty because small amounts of chia can sustain for long amounts of time.
Chia is unique in that it forms a gel like substance when it is placed in water. It is said that when soaked in water, chia seeds can multiply in size as much as 12 times its original size. Scientists believe that the same reaction occurs when the chia seeds reach the stomach and what happens is that this gel like substance creates a barrier between the digestive enzymes in the stomach and the carbohydrates contained therein. When this happens, there is a more efficient and slower conversion of carbohydrates to sugar which is beneficial to the health.
Here are some more of the proposed benefits of the chia seed:
- Chia seeds are an excellent source of antioxidants—chia seeds are one of the most important plant sources of omega 3 antioxidants, more so than blueberries of even flax seeds. Chia seeds also have a very long shelf life because of this antioxidant properties which means it can keep from turning rancid for a very long time.
- Contains a high amount of fiber and many other nutrients—the fiber that is contained in the chia seeds can keep a person fuller even though he consumes lesser quantities. Fiber also aids in proper digestion and this is particularly useful for people experiencing gastrointestinal problems. Aside from fiber, chia is also a good source of protein, iron, niacin, calcium, zinc magnesium and phosphorous.
- Can help prevent heart diseases. Chia seeds are known to stabilize blood pressure which means it can reduce the risk for heart disease. Chia also has very high amounts of essential fatty acids which means it protects the body cells from free radical damage.
- Chia is beneficial for diabetics—since chia seeds prevent carbohydrates from quickly turning into sugar, a diabetics’ blood sugar level remains stable after eating chia seeds and he wouldn’t experience blood sugar spikes after eating.
- Anti inflammatory properties—some arthritis sufferers have reported decreased pain and inflammation in joints after consuming chia seeds. It is believe that the high amount of omega 3 in the chia seeds keeps the joints smooth and supple.