Most people are aware of chia in the form of one of those goofy gag gifts that was never opened, let alone did anyone ever spread the seeds on the clay figurine and watered until it grew tiny green plants.
Today, Chia in its natural state is becoming popular, and for good reason. While chia has been around for thousands of years in Mexico, it has never been widely known or eaten as a food source until recently.
Chia (Salvia hispanica) is native to Mexico and Guatemala and has been an integral part of the diet in Mexico since Pre-Columbian times. The word chia comes from the Nahuatl word chian, meaning oily and the Mexican state, Chiapas means “chia river” or “chia water” named after the staple food in the Aztec and Mayan diets. Often visually mistaken as poppy seeds, due to the color and shape, chia is in the mint family, yet has a very mild nutty flavor. While the seed is tiny, it is packed full of benefits.
Chia is very rich in omega-3 fatty acids, even more so than flax seeds. Plus it has another advantage over flax: chia is so rich in antioxidants (four times higher than blueberries!) that the seeds don’t deteriorate and can be easily stored for long periods without becoming rancid. Unlike flax, they do not have to be ground to make their nutrients available to the body. Chia seeds also provide lots of fiber (25 grams give you 6.9 grams of fiber) as well as calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, copper, iron, molybdenum, niacin, vitamin C, zinc and lots of protein.
Another advantage of chia is when added to water and allowed to sit for 30 minutes, chia forms a gel. Research has shown that this reaction also takes place in the stomach, slowing the process by which digestive enzymes break down carbohydrates and convert them into sugar. As well, this gel, which forms when you eat chia and consume water, tends to make you feel full and is excellent for those looking to eat less and lose weight. Be sure to drink extra water as chia is very high in fiber.
Here in Vallarta, you will often see Mexican men and women drink from a water bottle filled with water, chia seeds and a stick or two of cinnamon. This is a traditional drink, called “chia fresca.” This combo packs a load of minerals and health benefits, plus cinnamon is known to help lower blood sugar. As the chia forms a gel in the stomach it is also a great way to slowly release water and hydrate the body, especially in the heat of Vallarta. You can also try it in water with lime or orange juice if you want a citrus water that is refreshing and super hydrating.
Besides using the chia as a drink, it is often added into cereals, oatmeal, smoothies or eaten mixed into yogurt or on salads. As well, when chia is made into a gel, it can be used as an egg replacement in baked goods and for vegan cooking. When baking with chia seeds, (or you can grind them into a flour) all of the nutrients remain, so you can make muffins, cookies and brownies without the heat affecting the beneficial properties.
Chia is truly a miracle seed and will be a wonderful addition to your diet and you only need to consume about a tablespoon a day. We carry chia seeds in vacuum packed pouches in Don Fresco at Los Mercados. Come on in and grab some and add some chia to your diet.
Salud! To your health!