Ancient Wisdom Part 17: Lowering cholesterol to weight loss; amazing benefits of chia seeds
The tiny oval-shaped seeds were consumed by athletes and warriors for strength in ancient times. Even today, chia seeds are trusted for many benefits.
Note to readers: Ancient Wisdom is a series of guides that shines a light on age-old wisdom that has helped people for generations with time-honoured wellness solutions to everyday fitness problems, persistent health issues and stress management, among others. Through this series, we try to provide contemporary solutions to your health worries with traditional insights.
Small additions to diet can at times work wonders for your health. One of the tiny superfoods that is quite a rage these days is chia seed. Internet is full of chia seeds recipes suggested by nutritionists and wellness experts to help lose weight, get protein and loads of soluble and insoluble fibre. The oval-shaped and shiny seeds are derived from Salvia hispanica plant, which is native to Central and South America. They come in black and white colour when ready for use and are brown when immature. They are rich in omega-3 fatty acids which could work in favour of your heart health, diverse amino acids which can prove to be an excellent source of protein for vegetarians and also has calcium, phosphorous, zinc and fibre. (Also read: 8 ways to use chia seeds in your diet)
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Chia seeds is quite popular among weight loss enthusiasts and not without a reason. Chia seeds have this incredible property of absorbing 10 times their weight in water and thus it forms a gel-like consistency. This can not only help in curbing cravings but also in hydration and providing sustained energy. Even for people with type 2 diabetes who are looking for a power-packed snack that keeps them full for long, chia seeds can be soaked overnight and had in yoghurt, oatmeal, smoothies, puddings and other such meals. Chia seeds are known to lower cholesterol and being heart healthy. (Also read: Ancient Wisdom Part 16: 5 delicious ways to add amaranth to your diet; know health benefits)
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"Chia seeds are tiny, oval-shaped seeds derived from the Salvia hispanica plant, which is native to Central and South America. These seeds were a staple in the diets of ancient Mayans and Aztecs, who prized them for their nutritional value and energy-boosting properties. Chia seeds have gained popularity as a superfood due to their nutritional profile and versatility in cooking. They are often recommended for their potential health benefits, including heart health, weight management, and digestive well-being," says Abhilasha V, Chief Clinical Nutritionist, Cloudnine Group of Hospitals, Bengaluru.
Benefits of chia seeds
When soaked in liquid, chia seeds can absorb several times their weight and form a gel-like consistency. This gel can be used in various recipes, including puddings, smoothies, and as an egg substitute in baking.
Here are some of the benefits of chia seeds:
1. Heart health: Chia seeds are an excellent plant-based source and storehouse of omega-3 fatty acids which are beneficial for heart health.
2. Digestive health: Chia seeds are a good source of dietary fibre, promoting digestive health and contributing to a feeling of fullness.
3. High protein source: Despite their small size, chia seeds contain a decent amount of protein, making them a valuable addition to vegetarian and vegan diets.
4. Antioxidants: Chia seeds contain antioxidants that help protect the body's cells from damage caused by free radicals.
5. Essential vitamins and minerals: Chia seeds provide essential nutrients such as calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and manganese.
6. Weight management: The combination of fibre, protein, and gel-forming properties helps you feel full, potentially aiding in weight management.
7. Hydration: Chia seeds can absorb water, helping maintain hydration and electrolyte balance.
8. Nutrient boost: They provide essential nutrients like calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and manganese.
9. Blood sugar regulation: The fibre and protein content may contribute to stable blood sugar levels.
How chia seeds were consumed in ancient times
“The use of chia seeds goes back to 3500 BC when it was used as offering to Gods by Aztecs. In ancient times, it was believed that chia seeds provided supernatural powers. The seeds were believed to provide very high amount of energy, and this was the reason ancient warriors consumed it for building stamina and strength. The Tarahumara tribe from Mexico used to make a chia seeds drink with lemon and water for their runners who used to run hundreds of miles after consuming this nutritious drink,” says Abhilasha V.
"Chia seeds have a rich history of use, dating back to ancient civilizations in Mesoamerica. The Aztecs and Mayans considered chia seeds a staple in their diets. These cultures not only consumed chia seeds but also used them for medicinal and cultural purposes. As a dietary staple, chia seeds provided a concentrated source of energy and nutrients. They were ground into flour, mixed with water to form a gel, or used in beverages like Chia Fresca. The gel-forming property of chia seeds was particularly beneficial for sustaining energy during long journeys or battles. Chia seeds were not only a source of nutrition but also held symbolic and economic importance. They were used in religious ceremonies and as offerings to gods. Additionally, chia seeds served as a form of currency in trade and tribute. The knowledge and usage of chia seeds largely faded after the decline of these ancient civilizations but experienced a resurgence in recent times due to their recognized health benefits," adds the nutritionist.
“The ancient civilizations like the Aztecs and Mayans consumed chia seeds by grinding them into a flour, which was then mixed with water to create a gel-like substance. This chia gel was used as a base for beverages, often combined with other ingredients like fruits or spices. Additionally, chia seeds were sometimes pressed to extract oil for cooking or as a component in body paint. The versatility of chia made it a valuable and nutritious part of their diet. The Aztecs and Mayans, particularly in regions that are now parts of Mexico and Central America, cultivated chia seeds as a crucial food source. The seeds were highly valued for their energy-boosting properties, providing sustained endurance—important for warriors and messengers,” she further said.
Chia seeds were ground into flour, called "pinole," which served as a base for various dishes. The most notable was a beverage called chia fresca or Iskiate. This drink was made by mixing chia gel with water, adding a touch of honey, and sometimes flavoured with citrus juices or spices. The gel would hydrate the drinker, offering a refreshing and nutritious beverage.
- The history of chia seeds goes back to 3500 BC. Aztec consumed it as their staple food and even offered it to the God
- Between 1500 and 900B.C, chia seeds were grown in Mexico by the Teotihuacan and Toltec people. These people had some surprising uses for the chia seed.
- In ancient Mexico, chia seeds were combined with lemon and water to prepare a special energy drink for runners who could cover hundreds of miles after having it.
- In Mayan, chia means strength. In many ancient civilizations chia seeds were trusted for strength and stamina.
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How chia seeds can be added to the diet
"In ancient times, particularly among civilizations like the Aztecs and Mayans, chia seeds were consumed in various forms. One prevalent method was grinding chia seeds into a flour known as "pinole." This chia flour was then mixed with water to create a gel-like substance or used as a base for different dishes. One of the notable traditional drinks was ''Chia Fresca' or ‘Iskiate.’ To prepare this, chia gel was mixed with water and often combined with honey, citrus juices, or spices to create a refreshing beverage. The gel-forming property of chia seeds was beneficial for providing sustained energy, making it suitable for long journeys or physically demanding activities," says Abhilasha V.
Chia seeds were also integrated into the diet by mixing them with other staples, forming a nutritious porridge or gruel. Additionally, chia seeds were pressed to extract oil, which could be used for cooking or as a component in body paint.
Abhilasha V shares amazing ways chia seeds can be consumed daily.
1. Chia seed pudding: Mix 1/4 cup of chia seeds with 1 cup of your favourite milk (almond, coconut, or dairy). Add a sweetener (honey, maple syrup, or agave) to taste. Stir well and let it sit in the refrigerator for at least a few hours or overnight. Top with fresh fruits, nuts, or granola before serving.
2. Chia seed smoothie: Blend 1 cup of frozen berries, 1 banana, 1 cup of yogurt, and 2 tablespoons of chia seeds. Add a splash of milk or a dairy-free alternative for desired consistency. You can also sweeten it with honey or maple syrup.
3. Chia seed parfait: Layer chia pudding with Greek yogurt and fresh fruit in a glass. Repeat the layers until the glass is filled. Top with a drizzle of honey or a sprinkle of granola.
4. Chia seed berry jam: Combine 2 cups of berries (strawberries, blueberries, or raspberries) with 2 tablespoons of chia seeds and a sweetener to taste. Simmer over low heat until the mixture thickens, stirring occasionally. Let it cool and refrigerate. Use it as a spread for toast or topping for yogurt.
5. Chia seed energy bites: Mix 1/2 cup of chia seeds with 1/2 cup of nut butter, 1/2 cup powdered makhana, 1/3 cup of honey, and 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract. Add 1 cup of rolled oats and any additional mix-ins like chocolate chips or dried fruits. Form small balls and refrigerate until firm.
Interesting facts about chia seeds
Nutritionist Abhilasha V shares interesting facts about chia seeds from it being an ancient superfood to a sustainable crop.
Ancient superfood: Chia seeds have been consumed for centuries, with origins traced back to the Aztecs and Mayans. The word chia is derived from the Aztec word for strength.
Hydration power: Chia seeds can absorb up to 10 times their weight in water, forming a gel-like consistency. This property aids in hydration and can be beneficial for athletes or those needing sustained energy.
Omega-3 fatty acids: Despite being a plant-based source, chia seeds are one of the richest sources of omega-3 fatty acids (ALA), beneficial for heart health and brain function.
Complete protein: Chia seeds contain all nine essential amino acids, making them a complete protein source, especially valuable for vegetarians and vegans.
Versatility in cooking: Chia seeds are incredibly versatile and can be used in various recipes. They can be added to smoothies, yogurt, baked goods, or even used as an egg substitute in vegan recipes.
Stable shelf life: Chia seeds have a long shelf life due to their high antioxidant content, which helps prevent them from going rancid.
Diverse nutrient profile: In addition to omega-3s and protein, chia seeds are rich in fibre, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, and antioxidants.
Sustainable crop: Chia plants don't require pesticides or herbicides for cultivation, making them a relatively environment-friendly crop.
Who should not consume chia seeds?
While chia seeds are generally considered safe and nutritious for most people, there are certain situations where individuals should be cautious or avoid consuming chia seeds, says Abhilasha V.
Allergies: Individuals who are allergic to chia seeds or other members of the sage family (such as sesame seeds) should avoid them
Swallowing difficulties: Chia seeds absorb water and form a gel-like consistency. In some cases, people with difficulty swallowing may find this texture challenging. It's important to consume chia seeds well-hydrated to prevent any choking risk.
Gastrointestinal issues: Some individuals may experience digestive discomfort, gas, or bloating when consuming chia seeds, especially if they are not well-hydrated. It's advisable to start with a small amount and gradually increase intake while staying adequately hydrated.
Blood pressure medications: Chia seeds contain omega-3 fatty acids, which can have a mild blood-thinning effect. Individuals taking blood-thinning medications or anticoagulants should consult their healthcare provider before consuming large amounts of chia seeds.
Medication interactions: Chia seeds may interact with certain medications due to their fibre content. For individuals taking medications, especially for diabetes or blood pressure, it's essential to consult a healthcare professional.
Pregnancy: While chia seeds can be beneficial during pregnancy, pregnant women should be cautious and consult with their healthcare provider to ensure that chia seeds are incorporated in a safe and appropriate manner.