Chia is a flowering plant of the mint family. Its white, blue, and purple flower produce small, shiny, oval seeds that can be added to virtually any meal. The word “chia” is derived from the Nahuatl word chian, meaning oily. Chia was cultivated by Aztecs, Incans, and Mayans for centuries and was so valuable to the Aztecs that it was used as a currency. It has also been said that Aztec warriors and traders subsisted on chia to endure long expeditions. The Maya and Incans valued the chia seeds as a staple food. Chia seeds are native to Mexico and Guatemala, but are growing in popularity in the United States. They can be found in powder or seed form.
Chia seeds and powders have a variety of uses. They can be used much like flaxseed as an egg replacement or can be used to sprinkle on top of oatmeal, granola, cereal, or yogurt. Additionally, they can be used as a flour substitute to make bread, crackers, or other baked goods. Chia is especially good to use as a thickening agent in soups and smoothies. A common use of chia seeds among the Tarahumara people in Mexico is “iskiate,” prepared with chia, water, sugar, and lime.
Chia seeds contain an abundance of nutrients that can be very beneficial. They play an important role in managing diabetes. It is being studied as a potential natural treatment for type 2 diabetes because of its ability to slow down digestion. Chia seeds have the ability to prevent blood sugar spikes and can also fight insulin resistance, both of which are linked to an increase in belly fat. Tryptophan, an amino acid found in chia seeds has been shown to regulate appetite, which in turn can help regulate diabetes.
Chia seeds are also shown to improve blood pressure in diabetics and can potentially increase healthy cholesterol while lowering total, LDL, and triglyceride cholesterol, which is important for a healthy heart. Besides being important for heart health, they are important for brain health. Chia seeds are packed with omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for brain functions.
The minerals calcium and phosphorus present in chia seeds are essential for maintaining our bone health. Calcium maintains bone and oral health, while preventing osteoporosis. Phosphorus helps maintain healthy bones and teeth as well, but is also used by the body to synthesize protein for cell and tissue growth and repair.