Chia Power

Protein powder from this seed may help you slim down and get stoked.

July / August 2016

by Lisa James


Chia has come a long way in the consciousness of the average American consumer since first appearing as a gag gift—remember Chia Pets?—in the late 1970s. Today chia has taken its place in the world of high-nutrition superfoods, leading to its increasing use as a culinary ingredient.

Chia is also available as an organic protein powder, making this tiny seed’s considerable nutritional potency available in an easy-to-use, portable form.

Ancient Seed

The early peoples of what is now Central America understood the power of chia. Evidence suggests that chia seed was consumed as early as 3500 BC; over time it served not only as a dietary staple but also as a medicine ingredient, especially in fever remedies, and as a base for body paint. Chia was even given in tribute to Aztec rulers and used in religious ceremonies.

In fact, it was chia’s role in ancient religion that led to its suppression by the Spanish conquistadors; as the centuries passed, chia was mostly forgotten. By the time of its rediscovery by the wider world late in the 20th century, this seed was only being used by small, isolated groups of people.

Modern Benefits

Chia (Salvia hispanica) supplies a number of crucial nutrients. It is a rich source of an omega-3 called alpha linolenic acid, which has been linked to cardiovascular well-being. Much
of the carbohydrate in chia consists of fiber, crucial for proper digestion. And it provides minerals such as calcium, iron and potassium (plus a ton of trace minerals besides), as well as health-promoting phytonutrients.

But chia is probably best known as an excellent source of protein, clocking in at 19%. Chia protein is complete, containing all eight essential amino acids, and gluten-free.

Chia forms a gel when mixed with water. That makes it useful for athletes who want to increase hydration, especially during intense workouts. In doing so they are following in the footsteps of tribes native to the areas in which chia grows; members from these tribes would use chia on long treks as an energizing, hydrating fuel.

This helps explain why in one study, a 50/50 mix of chia and Gatorade provided the same performance benefits in a group of highly trained runners as Gatorade alone—but with less sugar and better nutrition (Journal of Strength and Conditioning 1/11).

That nutrient-rich, refreshing gel also explains chia’s increasing popularity among people looking to lose weight. Such water-retaining gels help improve satiety, or the sense of feeling full. In addition, lab studies indicate that chia may improve glucose tolerance, a marker of blood sugar health that is often impaired in people who are severely overweight (Nutrition 5/15).

Chia protein is best when taken from organic, non-GMO sources. Organic crops are free of agricultural chemical residues and the Organic Consumer Association says consumers are concerned about genetically modified organisms, noting that GMOs are found in “75% of all non-organic US processed foods.” What’s more, chia powder that incorporates enzymes such as bromelain, cellulase and xylanase helps the digestive system extract every ounce of energy from the protein it contains.

Want to look better on the beach or perform better in the gym? Chia protein powder may help you get the results you’re looking for.

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