Since posting the recipe for chocolate pinole, I’ve received a bunch of questions about chia seed. Perhaps not surprisingly, it seems most people still haven’t heard of the ancient “superfood” known as chia. Although, in reality, you’re probably more familiar with it than you think…
Chia (salvia hispanica) is a plant in the mint family that is common to much of Mexico and Guatemala. Chia has a history as a food source that reportedly dates back as far as 3500 BCE. Chia was one of the major food sources for much of ancient Mexico. The Mexican state of Chiapas even derives its name from the crop. However, terra-cotta notwithstanding, chia really hasn’t had a prominent place in the modern world.
In recent years, there has been a resurgence in the use of chia as a food source. Here are a few reasons you should consider jumping on the chia bandwagon.
Chia seeds are a great source of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids. In fact, a 1oz serving of chia seed contains almost two-and-a-half times as much Omega-3 as a 6oz serving of salmon, and 160 times as much Omega-6. To put that into perspective, consider that to get as much Omega-6 as is in a single ounce of chia seed, you’d have to eat almost 1,000 ounces of salmon. That’s a heck of a lot of fish.
Chia seeds are a good source of all essential amino acids. Out of the twenty-two amino acids required by the human body for enzyme production and protein synthesis, eight are regarded as essential. That is, we have the ability to naturally synthesize all but eight of the amino acids we require. Those that can’t be synthesized must be supplied by the foods we eat. If you don’t get enough of the essential amino acids through your diet, bad things can start to happen to your body.
Most foods contain only a small subset of the essential amino acids. Eaten in combination with other foods which have complementary acid profiles, these foods help form a complete diet. However, chia provides good amounts of all eight essential amino acids, meaning that they are nutritionally complete by themselves. That’s especially good news for vegans and vegetarians, for whom it can be difficult to get certain amino acids most commonly found in meat.
Chia seeds are cholesterol and gluten free. Speaking of dietary restrictions, chia turns out to be a great source of nutrition and a wonderful grain substitute for the gluten intolerant or those with celiac disease. Ground chia, either by itself or mixed with another gluten-free flour (most often rice flour), can be substituted 1:1 for wheat flour.
And if you’re looking to lower your cholesterol, it makes a great egg substitute as well. For as much as chia is cholesterol free, bear in mind that there is no proven relationship between dietary cholesterol and blood cholesterol – that dubious honor belongs to saturated fat, in which chia is low at only four percent per serving.
The fiber in chia seeds can help prevent constipation, diverticulitis, and high blood sugar. Most Americans don’t get anywhere near the minimum recommendation of twenty-five grams of fiber per day. A single ounce of chia provides eleven grams of dietary fiber, almost fifty-percent of the RDA. According to the Mayo Clinic, the advantages to having a diet high in fiber include lowered risk for various intestinal maladies, lower blood cholesterol levels, more consistent blood sugar levels, and increased regularity. And who wouldn’t want to be more regular?
Chia can help keep you feeling fuller for longer. Chia seed is covered with a bunch of microscopic fibers. When exposed to water, these fibers form attachment points that allow the seed to build a hydrating shell around the seed.
Chia has the uncanny ability to hold up to nine times its own weight in water. When mixed thoroughly, it forms a gooey substance not unlike tapioca. This coating of water is virtually impossible to separate from the seed once it has formed. In addition to the increased volume making you feel full (thus reducing consumption), the water is also absorbed more slowly like this causing you to stay hydrated for longer.
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So, there you have it. Five great reasons to add chia seed to your diet.
If you’re having trouble finding chia seeds, I typically order my supply through iHerb.com. First time shoppers can use the coupon code RUF029 to knock $5.00 off your first order. And, as a bonus, orders made using the coupon code help support articles like this one.
Finally, if you’re looking for chia recipes to help you fuel your runs, you should check out No Meat Athlete’s recipe book: Fuel Your Run The Tarahumara Way! Matt’s vegetarian-friendly pinole recipes will definitely become some of your favorite running fuel. The pinole buckwheat pancakes alone are reason enough for me to affiliate this one.
Are you already eating chia or have you found some benefit that I’ve missed? I’m always excited to hear more from other chia eaters about all the benefits we get from one little seed. Why not fill me in in the comments section?