Integrate This: Chia seeds

click to enlarge Rollin' Oats' associate Alain Del Rio displays organic bulk chia seed. - Kimberly DeFalco
Kimberly DeFalco
Rollin' Oats' associate Alain Del Rio displays organic bulk chia seed.
  • Kimberly DeFalco
  • Rollin' Oats associate Alain Del Rio displays organic bulk chia seed.

For the warriors of the Aztec and Mayan cultures, their spears were only as mighty as their food source.

Chia seeds (Salvia Hispanica L), once at the top of the Mayan and Aztec food pyramid, faded into relative obscurity just as their civilization did.

Evidence reveals that chia seeds were first used as a food source as early as 3500 B.C. and served as a cash crop in central Mexico between 1500 and 900 B.C.

Chia seeds were the go-to staple — eaten as a stand-alone grain, mixed with other seed crops, drank as a beverage, ground into flour and included in medicines. The seeds were pressed for oil and used as a base for face and body paints.

Atzec rulers often received these tiny seeds as an annual tribute from conquered nations. The seeds were also offered to the gods during religious ceremonies.

During battles and hunting expeditions, Atzec and Mayan warriors relied on the seeds as their primary fuel. They would eat as little as a teaspoon of chia seeds during a 24-hour march.

But situations changed.

Even the mighty chia couldn’t save the Aztecs and Mayans from their tragic fate.

When the Spanish dropped anchor in the 1500s, they conquered the natives, suppressing their traditions and means of survival. Many crops revered in pre-Colombian American diets were banned because of their close association with the natives’ religion.

Exit stage left, the almighty chia seed.

Deliberately eliminated, chia survived in regional pockets of Mexico for 500 years.

Fast forward 37 years when Joe Pedott, a California entrepreneur, learned of Chia pets at a housewares show. Recognizing their potential as his own cash crop, Pedott invented the Chia Ram, the first widely marketed Chia Pet in 1982.

“Ch-ch-ch-chia!” the catch-phrase synonymous with the Chia Pets, brought the power seed back into the public spectrum.

But it was the early 1990s when a group of American and South American scientists, nutritionists and agriculturists began collaborating in commercial production to rediscover the ancient cultures' lost nutritional plants.

As modern scientists and nutritionists recognize the lack of certain nutrients in the standard American diet, they are looking to history for natural solutions. So welcome back, chia seeds.

  • A flowering chia plant.

Considered a superfood because they deliver the maximum amount of nutrients with minimum calories, chia seeds have several of the same benefits as the more well-known flax “super seed.”

Unlike flax seed, chia seeds don’t need to be grinded to reap their health benefits.

Chia seeds have a nutritional resume that includes fiber, omega fatty acids, calcium, antioxidants and protein. They’re what you want if you’re stranded on a desert island, or hunkered down in the outback for an extended period of time.

Eaten raw or tossed into salads, yogurt, smoothies, omelets and baked goods, these tiny black and white seeds have a mild, nutty flavor.

They contain up to 25 percent omega-3 fatty acids, including ALA (alpha-linolenic acid.) Ounce for ounce, chia seeds have more of these fats than salmon. They’re one of the most concentrated sources of omega-3 in any food. Chia also contains high amounts of omega-6.

These EFAs (essential fatty acids) build new cells and regulate various processes of the body. Chia seed is the ultimate brain food, giving new credibility to the “chia head.”

These little bitty seeds support heart health and feed the skin, hair and nails.

Just one ounce of seed contains approximately 4 grams of protein, 9 grams of fat (the good kind) and 11 grams of fiber. The seeds contains all 10 essential amino acids that are a must for your diet, so they're considered a top source of complete plant-based protein.

To avoid the “chia trot,” start out slowly when introducing this concentrated source of fiber.

And then there’s that weight-control bonus. When chia seeds are soaked, they can absorb up to 12 times their weight in liquid. When ingested, chia seeds form a gel inside your stomach, which slows down sugar and carbohydrates, keeping electrolytes in balance and your belly satiated.

Trying to build muscle or conquer a triathlon? Chia to the rescue!

In 1997, Cirildo Chacarito, a 52-year old Tarahumara Indian, won the Nike-sponsored 100-mile Angeles Crest race along California’s rugged mountain trails to bring attention to his tribe.

Wearing sandals made from old car tires, the Mexican-Indian tribesman crossed the finish line in 19 hours and 37 minutes, racing against some of the world’s best young endurance runners.

Chacarito’s fuel? The almighty chia seed, eaten before and during the race, is a lifestyle choice his ancestors have been making for centuries.

Readily available in health-food stores and big-box venues, pre-packaged or in bulk, chia seeds are everywhere.

Chia nutritional bars, oil and chilled snacks inhabit nearly every section of the grocery store, including the beauty aisle. Chefs also infuse them in their offerings.

“When they were first introduced a few years ago, we experienced a strong wave of interest,” said Angie Provenzano, a Rollin’ Oats vitamin, supplement and nutrition associate. “Chia has remained pretty constant.”

So whether you’re trying to up the ante on your personal health or get more bang for your buck nutrition-wise, chia seeds are the superheroes of the superfoods. And they make great gifts!

Ask the Chia Pet Vet

Q: What is the life expectancy of my Chia Pet?

A. Ten to 19 days, depending on care (water and humidity). The seeds germinate into salad sprouts and may be eaten. New seeds may be applied, thus resuscitating your loved one.

Q: Why can I only purchase a Chia Pet during the holidays?

A. Chia Pets and Chia Heads are handmade pottery items. It takes an entire year to produce enough pet
heads for one holiday season. Originally manufactured in Mexico, production now takes place in China.

Q : What types of Chia animals are available?

A: Currently, Chia Pets are available in Chia Bunny, Chia Frog, Chia Hippo, Chia Kitten, Chia Pig, Chia Puppy, Chia Bear, Chia Turtle and Chia Tree. In 1996, the company introduced Chia Heads: Chia Guy, Chia Clown, Chia Professor and Chia Kid. President Barack Obama Chia Heads are big sellers.

Words of wisdom “To keep the body in good health is a duty ... otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.” — Buddha

Honor thy herb The annual Herb Day takes place Saturday, May 3. Herb Day is an international celebration of herbs and herbal products. In recognition of the day, independent events around the world will showcase herbal education. Established in 2006, Herb Day is celebrated the first Saturday in May.

Herb Day celebrations Saturday, May 3. Herbalists and lovers of herbal medicines will celebrate the importance of plants in health through the National Herb Day Festival. Hosted by Acupuncture & Herbal Therapies, the event will feature lectures, food and herb tastings, plants for sale and kava. There will also be live music by the Urban Gypsies and Jun Bustamante. Free. 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. 222 Second St. N., St. Petersburg, 727-551-0857.

Cool herbal websites The American Botanical CouncilAmerican Herbalists Guild and American Herbal Pharmacopoeia.

Stay in the loop with Bay area outdoor markets Tampa Bay Markets and St. Pete District Markets are collectives of community farmers markets that feature locally grown foods, crafts and live music. Both can be found on Facebook.

Granny’s remedies For minor burns, vanilla extract will take away the pain. Aloe vera juice also works wonders for soothing and healing. Simply apply gently.

Documentary pick of the week Hungry For Change exposes hidden agendas of the food, diet and weight loss industries. From the creators of the acclaimed documentary Food Matters, Hungry For Change features interviews with best-selling health authors and leading medical experts as well as the folks who got tired of being sick and tired. (Available on Amazon Prime and Netflix.)

I am not a healthcare professional, but I am a passionate advocate of natural health, as well as a voracious reader and lecture attendee. I just want to learn and share. If you have any suggestions, news events or feature ideas please email me at [email protected]

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