What are Chia Seeds?
When most people think of the Aztec and Mayan cultures of Central America, we automatically think of corn and beans as the main culinary contributions to the food we currently eat today. However, these important civilizations contributed several other important crops to today´s food system including products such as amaranth, tomatoes, and chia seeds. Chia seeds were actually one of the most consumed products in these ancient empires, alongside corn and beans.
Chia seeds were so important to these ancient empires that they were actually given as an offering to the priesthood. Chia seeds have thus been recognized for their extraordinary health benefits for thousands of years. While this crop was relatively unknown outside of small pockets of Central America for much of history, today the benefits are being discovered by people around the world.
Benefits of Planting Chia Seeds
The chia plant is known as salvia hispanica in Latin. The actual plant is a tall stalk that offers bright, purple flowers before the flower heads dry into seed heads. As an annual herb, it can routinely grow to over 2 meters in height. The bright purple flowers are excellent to attract bees and other pollinators, and some permaculture farmers have planted chia around gardens and orchards to help increase pollination efforts. It is also known to attract beneficial insects such as parasitic wasps that can help with biological control of other pests in the garden or on the farm.
Chia seeds are renowned for their incredible health benefits. The small, ovular seeds might not seem like much, but they are packed with hundreds of different vitamins and minerals and are one of the highest protein content seeds you can find. While the ancient Mayans and Aztecs used chia seeds as a part of their everyday diet, often eating them raw, chia seed seeds today can easily be added to any number of foods or drinks including smoothies, breads, and the like.
For people interested in cultivating chia, this crop traditionally grows in hot, humid areas of the Tropics. While you could attempt to grow chia seed in areas with long, warm summers, the University of Kentucky has been involved in research to develop hybrid chia seed plants that can be grown in more northern latitudes and in places with cooler, shorter summer climates.
10 Health Benefits of Chia Seed Powder
For people constantly on the lookout for quality, nutrition-packed superfoods, chia seeds should definitely be on your radar for the following reasons.
Huge Amounts of Protein
Chia seeds contain abundant amounts of protein which can seem improbable due to the small, inconspicuous size of the chia seed itself. In an ounce serving of chia seeds or chia seed powder, you will be getting 4.4 grams of protein which is close to 10% of your daily value. With 2 tablespoons of chia seed powder added to your morning fruit smoothie, you will thus get upwards of a quarter of all the protein you will need for the day. For vegetarians and vegans looking for ways to get more plant protein into your diet, chia seeds are a great alternative to meat and soy-based protein products.
Omega 3 Fatty Acid Source
Additionally, chia seeds are also a fantastic source of omega 3 fatty acids. While most of us know that our industrial food system fills us with way too much fat and oils, the natural fatty acids in chia seeds are “good” fatty acids which are beneficial to our bodies. While you can extract and oil from chia seeds, simply eating the seeds or ground up seed powder will similarly get you the beneficial fats your body needs.
High in Potassium and Calcium
Chia seeds are also known to be high in several important vitamins and minerals including potassium and calcium. Potassium is essential for several bodily functions, and calcium is a great dietary addition for aging women who are at risk for osteoporosis. A little bit of chia seed powder into a milk-based smoothie or shake will drastically increase the amount of available calcium.
High Antioxidant Food
Recent research has shown that chia seeds are extremely high in antioxidants, almost twice as high as previously thought. As a high antioxidant food, chia seeds are great for your skin and hair health.
Extremely Great Source of Fiber
Most people know that we need lots of fiber in our diet for overall gut and digestive system health. Chia seeds are a great source of dietary fiber with close to eleven grams of dietary fiber per ounce. This makes this superfood a great food source for people who have problems with regular bowel movements or with other digestive issues.
Weight Loss Support
While any supposed weight loss miracle cure should be approached with caution. There are certainly a number of benefits to consuming chia seeds that could help you lose weight. First and foremost, as mentioned above, chia seeds are high in healthy fatty acids, which unlike the saturated fats that characterize our industrial diets, are actually healthy for you.
Secondly, the high fiber in the chia seeds will actually absorb water making you feel fuller. The feeling of fullness could benefit to eating less and the subsequent weight loss that is associated with chia seeds being eaten on a regular basis.
Fosters the Growth of Probiotics
Many people are aware of the benefits that come with probiotics. From probiotic yogurt to the explosion in fermented foods, people all over the world are discovering that putting the right type of bacteria into your gut is essential for overall health. What is much less discussed, however, is the fact that your stomach needs to be prepared to receive these probiotics in order to maximize the benefits that they offer.
Eating chia seeds can help your digestive system make the most out of your probiotic intake. People familiar with chia seeds know that they have a slightly gelatinous texture. When consumed, chia seed powder coats your stomach in this gelatin-like substance which in turn fosters the healthy growth of stomach flora, including probiotics to keep you healthy and resilient.
Lowers Blood Pressure
Chia seeds have also been shown to significantly reduce blood pressure in people who consume them regularly. Lowered blood pressure obviously leads to all sorts of long-term health benefits, including better heart health and decreased risk for heart attacks and strokes. The healthy fats, such as linoleic acid, which are so high in chia seeds are also essential for your heart health as this acid aids in the absorption of certain vitamins and minerals that your body (and heart) need to stay healthy.
Strong Bones and Muscle Growth
Athletes around the world have increasingly been turning towards chia seeds because of the growing body of scientific evidence related to how this food increases the strength of bones and makes muscle growth more efficient. Related to bone health, not only does chia seed have high amounts of calcium as mentioned above, but it is also a great source of boron. Boron helps your body metabolize other minerals needed for a healthy skeletal structure such as magnesium, manganese, and phosphorous.
Reduce the Risk of Cervical and Breast Cancer
Lastly, chia seeds might also help women reduce the risk of high-risk types of cancer such as cervical and breast cancer. The alpha lipoic acid (ALA), which is a type of omega 3 fatty acid present in high concentrations in chia seeds, is shown to limit the growth of certain cancer cells and even kill off cancer cells without hurting or limiting healthy cell growth.