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Chia, the „running food”

Andrea Zentai, Nutritionist

Is there such a thing as a super food? Officially, there is not. However, there are certain ingredients that stand out on account of their beneficial physiological characteristics. First and foremost, they contain no harmful substances at all (like salt or trans-fatty acids), and their regular consumption provides us with nutrients that are known to contribute to the preservation of our health. An average diet fails to ensure a sufficient intake of fibers, omega-3 and calcium. This is why the regular consumption of chia seeds, which are rich in these nutrients, is highly recommendable.

Chia seeds

Historical documents show that chia seeds or the Aztec sage (in Latin Salvia hispanica, i.e. Spanish sage) used to be one of the staple foods of the Aztec and Maya people in addition to corn and leguminous vegetables. It is native to South America, growing in Mexico and Guatemala. The Tarahumara Indians, legendary for their exceptional endurance in long distance running, were also fond of this plant, this was how it got to be named “the running food”.

Why we should eat it?

 

  • It is rich in soluble and insoluble fibers, which allows for a slower absorption of carbohydrates whether consumed in itself or used in a dish. Due to this feature, the regular consumption of chia seeds is especially recommendable for people suffering from diabetes, insulin resistance, overweight-obesity or constipation, or those wishing to lose weight.
  • Particularly favorable is its omega 6-3 proportion, which seems to have shifted towards the omega 6 fatty acids in our days in both the average child and the adult population (compared to the 6:1- 4- 4:1 proportion stated in international recommendations).
  • Therefore, it is definitely recommendable for expecting and nursing mothers (as a sufficient intake of omega 3 fatty acids is indispensable for the healthy mental and visual development of babies); for people suffering from heart and vascular problems or high blood pressure (as it assists in preserving the healthy condition of blood vessels), and for those doing regular sport.
  • It contains calcium and iron and can thus have a beneficial role in the replenishment of these minerals in various cases of milk protein allergy or vegetarianism.

 

How to use it?

It is mostly the seeds of the chia that are used but in fact its leaves, similarly to those of the sage, are also edible. Chia oil is cold pressed from the seeds, and its flour can also be utilized by grinding the remaining dry material.

Its taste is rather uncharacteristic. Chia seeds do not contain gluten, so they can form part of a gluten free diet, too, provided that packaging takes place in a gluten free factory and that care is taken to keep its condition after opening.

 

  • We can put it in porridge, yoghurt or kefir, use it for sauces and salads as well as in bread, baked goods or cakes, or prepare pudding from it.
  • It is an excellent substitute (e.g. for eggs or gluten) to thicken or improve the consistency of a dish in certain cases of food allergy or food intolerance.
  • This effect of the chia seeds is also very advantageous in making breads or cakes from whole grains. When soaked, they gain a jelly-like consistency with high hydration ability, therefore, we must bear in mind that the food needs more water than what would be required by the normal recipe.
  • With regular consumption, we must pay special attention to liquid replacement and drink more than usual because of its high hydration ability.

 

Chia provides sufficient intake of fibers, omega-3 and calcium.

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