Along with amaranth, chia was a staple food of the Aztecs and Mayans, who believed the seeds gave them supernatural energy and power. Chia is derived from the Mayan word for “strength,” and was also referred to as “Indian Running Food” due to the amazing energy it gave to warriors and traders going on long treks. The seeds were esteemed to be so special that they were also accepted as currency. During the Spanish conquistadors’ struggle for power over the Mexican civilizations, Cortez tried to destroy all chia crops.
Chia is such a superfood, similar to flax, that it is starting to become more widely recognized as a very healthy addition to our diet. Its botanical name is Salvia hispanica, and it belongs to the mint family Lamiaceae. The neutral tasting seeds are tiny with a diameter of about 1mm, multi-coloured black, brown, grey or white, and are indeed a cousin of the seeds of Salvia columbariae used for the Chia Pets popular in the ‘80s.
They are an excellent source of fibre, calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, boron (important for bone health), and niacin, and provide more easily digestible complete protein than any other seed or grain. They are more rich in ALA omega 3 fatty acids than flax, and have higher levels of antioxidants than blueberries.
Chia is very hydrophilic, having the ability to absorb over 12 times its weight in water, which turns it into a thick gel. This helps maintain the efficiency in how body fluids are being used, and the balance of the body’s electrolytes. The soluble fibre created helps control the body’s absorption of glucose (giving more energy), lowers cholesterol, pulls out toxins, aids digestive issues and regulates the bowels. It is soothing to the stomach and esophagus, and the gel can be taken to treat acid reflux.
Chia does not require grinding, like some other seeds such as flax require, to release all its nutritional benefits to the body. And, lucky for you, it’s completely gluten-free!