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7 Things You Didn't Know About...Chia Seeds!

April 21, 2014

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Chia seeds are the superfood du jour. They’re not only popping up in every health food store and wellness blog, but are also making their way into just about every food category, from drinks to desserts and everything in between.

Whenever I talk about chia seeds, I can’t help but call them nutritional powerhouses. They’re jam-packed with fiber, omega 3’s, and minerals like calcium and manganese, they’re an excellent source of sustainable energy, they aid in weight loss by keeping you satiated longer, and they’ve been shown to support heart health. Yup, powerhouse.

But, I bet you already knew that, so here are 7 facts you may not have known about chia:

  1. Chia comes from the Mayan word for strength: Chia was an important part of the Mayan and Aztec civilizations, where  the warriors ate it to improve strength and endurance. It was also eaten by messengers, who would run all day long with chia gel as their main source of fuel. If you’re into any sort of long-distance or endurance sports, adding chia to your diet may help with performance.
  2. Chia is a food valuable enough for the gods: Not only did the Aztec warriors eat chia, they also used it in their rituals as an offering to the gods. The Aztec’s reverence for chia was so strong that when Spanish conquerors arrived in the early 16th century, they banned the use of chia, citing its ties to the Aztec religion. Prior to that, chia was a major crop in Mexico, with its first use dating as far back as 3500 BC. 
  3. You can trace commercial chia production to one man: After the Spanish banned chia, it was wiped off the continent for 500 years, save for a few small family farms that grew the plant. In the 1990’s, Dr. Wayne Coates and a team of scientists, nutritionists, and agriculturalists began collaborating on the commercial production of chia in Argentina, in hopes of rediscovering the lost nutritional plants of the Aztec tradition. The rest, as they say, is history. Chia is now commercially grown mainly in Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru, and Australia.
  4. Chia Pets are indeed grown from chia seeds: Who would’ve known eating your chia pet could be so good for you? The popular potted plant of the 90’s, which would grow in the shape of Marge Simpson’s hair or a furry hedgehog, is indeed the same chia you’re mixing into your morning smoothie. While you could eat the leafy green sprouts of chia, the seed is traditionally consumed and revered for its benefits.
  5. You should always soak your chia before eating: They may be tiny, but chia seeds can absorb up to 10 times their weight in water. Soaking them in water before eating them takes advantage of this fact, making them  more satisfying, filling, and hydrating. Plus, this avoids the issue of having the seeds absorb liquid in your stomach after you’ve eaten them dry, which may cause minor gastro-intestinal issues. Luckily, chia gel (the substance you get after soaking your chia seeds) really doesn’t taste like anything but water. Simply add 1 tablespoon chia seeds to 1 cup water, and let it sit for at least 10 minutes. They’ll expand throughout the liquid, creating a beautiful speckled gel. You can drink as is, or flavor the water with a little bit of fresh fruit juice. You can also turn chia into a decadent and healthy dessert, like this coconut chia seed pudding, which calls for you to soak the seeds in coconut milk.
  6. Chia has an incredibly long shelf life: Without any added preservatives, chia seeds can last up to four to five years in a cool, dry place. While other nuts and seeds tend to go rancid more quickly, chia, with its high antioxidant content, is quite stable.
  7. Chia makes fruit juice healthier: Vegetable juice is great, but fruit juice is no longer considered a health food. That is, unless you add a little chia to it. Straight fruit juice is similar to sugar water with some added nutrients. Sure, it has vitamins, but without the fiber that is present in the whole fruit, the sugar is absorbed too quickly and can spike your blood sugar in the same way a sugary cookie would. Chia seeds add this fiber back in. This may very well be my favorite tip about chia seeds. Because they can slow the breakdown of carbohydrates into sugar, adding them to a sugary beverage, like fresh fruit juice, can help lessen the blood sugar spike, and the negative health consequences associated with it, without changing the flavor.

How do you use chia? Tell us in the comments below!