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When you think of the word "chia" you probably think of chia pets, for good reason - chia pets are grown with chia seeds, but for centuries before, these tiny little seeds were used as a staple food by the Indians of the southwest and Mexico. Its use as a high energy endurance food has been recorded as far back as back as 3500 B.C. Once valued so much that they were used as currency, this unique little seed has exceptional nutritive and structural benefits. Little is known, however, of the seeds tremendous nutritional value and medicinal properties making them a true super food.
One of the exceptional qualities of the Chia seed is its hydrophilic properties, “absorbability” having the ability to absorb more than 12 times its weigh in water. Its ability to hold on to water offers the ability to prolong hydration. With Chia seeds, you retain moisture; regulate more efficiently the body’s absorption of nutrients and body fluids. Because there is a greater efficiency in the utilization of body fluids, the electrolyte balance is maintained. In addition to these benefits, when soaked in water for 30 minutes, chia seeds form a thick gel. This gel also forms in the stomach when chia seeds are consumed. Researchers believe this actually slows down the rate at which digestive enzymes turn carbs into sugar, making it especially beneficial for diabetics and others with blood sugar issues. The slowing in the conversion of carbohydrates into sugar offers the ability for creating endurance. Carbohydrates are the fuel for energy in our bodies. Prolonging their conversion into sugar stabilizes metabolic changes, diminishing the surges of highs and lows creating a longer duration in their fueling effects.
Chia seeds are about 20% protein. They are digested and absorbed very easily. This results in rapid transport to the tissue and utilization by the cells. This efficient assimilation makes the Chia very effective when rapid development of tissue takes place, primarily during periods of growth. This would also include regeneration of muscle tissue for conditioning, athletes, weight lifters, etc.
The word chia is derived from the Aztec word chian, which means "oily." Another unique quality of the Chia seed is its high oil content. Chia seeds are the richest plant source of Omega-3; they have more Omega-3 fatty acids than any other plant food, (the vital fats that protect against inflammation—such as arthritis—and heart disease). In fact, they contain more Omega-3 than salmon. It has approximately three to ten times the oil concentrations of most grains and one and a half to two times the protein concentrations of other grains. These oils, unsaturated fatty acids, are the essential oils your body needs to help emulsify and absorb the fat soluble vitamins: A, D, E, & K.
There are practically unlimited ways to incorporate the Chia seed into your diet. Chia, as an ingredient, is a dieter’s dream food. Chia seeds are popular for weight loss. They reduce food cravings by preventing some of the food that you eat from getting absorbed into your system. This blockage of calorie absorption makes them a great diet helper. Chia seeds must be prepared with pure water before using recipes. They can also help your diet by making you feel full. This is because they absorb 12 times their weight in water, forming a bulky gel which fills you up faster. Chia seeds are so high in antioxidants that they do not spoil easily and can be stored for long periods, unlike flax seeds, so they are a great addition in cooking, baking, or adding to your favorite beverage.
Use ground chia seeds mixed with water to replace eggs in baked goods such as cakes, cookies, or cupcakes. Place 1 tablespoon of chia seeds in a cup and add 3 tablespoons of water. Allow the mixture to sit for about 15 minutes. 1/4 cup of hydrated chia seeds equals approximately 1 egg. By substituting chia seeds, you'll still get the binding action of the eggs but without the dietary cholesterol or risk of food-borne illness. And, for a fresh take on classic lemon poppy seed breakfast muffins, fold chia seeds into your cake batter in place of poppy seeds.
Ground chia seeds can be added to your favorite smoothies to thicken and add creaminess to the drink while also giving a punch of slowly digestible protein. More good news for athletes is the seeds' ability to help the body retain electrolytes, great for endurance athletes like marathoners or climbers.
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