Chia: the benefits of the seed loved by the Aztecs

Chia: the benefits of the seed loved by the Aztecs
Picture: Mona Makela | Dreamstime
Victoria Mamaeva
Pharmaceutical Specialist

Chia seeds were an important ingredient in the cuisine of the Aztec Empire in ancient Mexico, and today they form the basis of the so-called Aztec diet.

Chia seeds are rich in fiber and valuable omega-3 fatty acids. Therefore, chia seeds are recommended for weight loss, as well as for improving concentration, depression, prevention of diabetes and atherosclerosis.

What are chia seeds?

Chia or, as it is also called, Spanish sage is a plant from the pale family that grows in Latin America, or rather, in areas of Mexico and Guatemala.

Chia was cultivated by the Indians living in these areas, including the powerful Aztecs, long before this part of the world was conquered by the Spanish conquistadors.

In the agricultural system of this mighty civilization, chia seeds were a priority crop, in addition to beans and corn. Chia grows up to 1 meter in height. It has large leaves and white or purple flowers. However, chia seeds are of particular value.

What are the benefits of chia seeds

Chia seeds are valued primarily for their very high concentration of omega-3 fatty acids, much higher than, for example, the concentration in salmon meat. In addition, chia seeds are high in protein (about 20 percent) and dietary fiber (about 25 percent).

chia seeds
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They also contain a very large amount of minerals, primarily calcium, as well as magnesium, zinc, iron and phosphorus. To this should be added vitamins B1, B3 and E, as well as flavonoids. No wonder chia seeds are so widely used in natural medicine. The most common products available on the market are chia seed oil and chia seed drink.

Chia for weight loss

Now let’s move on to the medicinal uses of Spanish sage – true and false, although in light of insufficient or lack of scientific research, it is sometimes difficult to use accurate facts.

Do Chia Seeds Lose Weight?

Chia seeds are now promoted as the basis of the so-called Aztec diet, based on foods grown by Indians in the pre-Columbian era. Chia seeds are believed to have weight loss properties, including due to their high dietary fiber content.

They regulate the processes of digestion, accelerate intestinal motility, improving the cleansing of the digestive tract from digested food. In addition, chia seeds swell in the stomach, causing a feeling of satiety and thus suppress hunger.

Sesame: 7 useful properties
Sesame: 7 useful properties

Proponents of the Aztec diet claim that thanks to it, you can lose 4 kilograms per week. It sounds like a miracle, and skeptics even call such statements nonsense.

Recipe with chia seeds infused flavored water:

  • 2 tablespoons squeezed lemon juice
  • glass of water
  • 2 teaspoons of honey
  • 1 tablespoon chia seeds

Seeds for depression, diabetes and atherosclerosis

Due to the high content of omega-3 acids and a number of other ingredients, chia seeds are recommended as a means to positively affect the level of concentration. Chia seeds also have a calming effect on the nervous system, some crediting them with a mild anti-depressant effect.

chia seeds
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In addition, chia seeds are thought to help lower bad cholesterol levels, so they may be helpful in preventing diseases like atherosclerosis.

Although high in calories, chia seeds have a low glycemic index, so they reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. In addition, chia seeds have a positive effect on the cardiovascular system.

How to eat chia seeds

Chia, which in modern times is still grown mainly in Central America, is relatively little known in Europe. Therefore, many people may wonder how to handle it. How to consume chia seeds – drink or use differently? Chia seeds can be eaten or drunk if mixed with any liquid.

Almond – a small nut with big benefits
Almond – a small nut with big benefits

There are several options for their use, including:

  1. chia seeds with milk
  2. chia seeds with yogurt
  3. chia seeds with coconut milk
  4. chia seed cocktail
  5. chia seeds – pudding

Usually, this delicacy does not require any effort to prepare – for example, chia seeds with milk is … milk sprinkled with seeds.

How to prepare chia seeds for consumption? A more complex dish containing chia seeds that is gaining popularity is pudding. It is prepared from milk mixed with chia and, for example, honey for sweetness, with the addition of fruit mousse.

We must not forget that the consumption of chia seeds should not exceed 15 grams per day – that’s about 3 teaspoons.

Side effects

To make it less rosy, there are also side effects from eating chia seeds, or at least there are suspicions. They have not been fully researched or confirmed, but the medical world has become interested in chia seeds in the context of cancer prevention, and this is due to the properties of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) found in Spanish sage.

chia seeds
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There are scientific reports that ALA reduces the risk of breast cancer in women, but at the same time increases the risk of prostate cancer in men. This issue is still the subject of scientific research and has not been fully elucidated.

In 2009, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) issued an opinion that mentioned the low allergenic potential of seeds. However, the report that was produced mentioned the occasional occurrence of cross-allergy (that is, in people who are allergic to plants from the same family – Labiatae).

Kiwi is a valuable juicy green fruit
Kiwi is a valuable juicy green fruit

Chia seeds are a healthy product without contraindications for use during pregnancy. However, there are no official data on the positive and negative effects of their use. It is especially important to be careful for pregnant or lactating women who during this period are prone to various intolerances and allergies.

Substitute for chia seeds

Spanish sage is a premium product. A cheap alternative recommended for those on a budget is flaxseed, which can be up to 10 times cheaper than chia seeds.

Like Spanish sage, seeds regulate hormonal balance, protect and restore the digestive system. However, the amount of fiber in the substitute is 2 times less than in chia seeds, which contain antioxidants and are useful for professional athletes (to retain water in the body).

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