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No.79 Chia: Ancient Food, Modern Marvel

Applied Health Journal

Applied Health Journal

Topics of Health and Natural Healing
Issue 79
ISSN: 1525-6359



Too tired even to tell the doctor how tired you are? You are not alone. Fatigue is the most common complaint that drags itself into the physician’s office. Sadly, doctors are often at a loss to recommend a remedy, aside from thyroid supplementation (which is helpful, in many case).

Now there is a new energy-builder that is so old most physicians and patients are not aware of it: chia seed. Scarce, because it grows wild in deserts in a difficult-to-harvest form, chia has been domesticated for the first time in modern history. There is supply enough for the world.

In a new book, "The Magic of Chia", James F. Scheer writes that a thousand years ago chia was a prized food, which the ancient Aztecs used for energy, endurance, strength, and glowing good health. This food was considered so valuable that it was singled out as an offering of thanksgiving to their deity. The Aztec emperor insisted that his subjects pay their taxes in chia seed, and soon it became legal tender.

From the same period, until the last few generations, natives of the southwestern deserts of what is now part of the United States depended on wild chia seed as a staple food and a source of tribal remedies. Historian Harrison Doyle, who in the early 20th century lived with various tribes, writes "it was nothing for tribesmen to run for 24 hours on a tablespoon of chia seed and a gourd of water."

Doyle states that running long distances was often boring to members of the tribe, so chia-eating young braves turned it into a competition, racing non-stop, each one kicking a fur object stuffed with weeds, their equivalent of a ball. The purpose was to kick their "ball" across the finish line first. Often their goal was 25 miles away. Invariably all competitors finished, thanks to chia seed and fear of losing face.

Not long ago, the New York Times health columnist Jane E. Brody wrote a revealing article about Type II Diabetes rampant among Arizona Native Americans, and their effort to regain their health by reclaiming ancient foods - chia seeds among them. A part of this article, "Desert’s Bounty Beats Overweight and Diabetes," is quoted in "The Magic of Chia". Ms. Brody explains that native foods such as chia, cholla and mesquite contain a lot of soluble fibers that form edible gels, gums and mucilages and a type of starch, amylose, that are digested very slowly.

Type II overweight diabetics and those with low blood sugar can be helped by these foods. "The combined effect is to prevent wide swings in blood sugar, slow down the digestive process and delay the return of hunger," writes Brody. "Peaks in blood sugar increase the body’s need for insulin and drops in blood sugar can bring on feelings of hunger. In the type of diabetes that strikes these Indians, their overweight bodies become insensitive to insulin, and slow digestion diminishes the need for insulin," she concludes.

Ethnobiologist Gary Nabha, helping to bring the Pima Indians and other tribes of Arizona back to native foods, remarks that prior to World War II, when Native Americans ate from their home gardens, their rate of diabetes was no different from that of other Americans. However, when they went to work in cotton fields or defense plants or joined the military, they began to eat junk foods. Their health declined, and they gained inordinate amounts of weight. Continuing this eating pattern today, more than half of tribe members over 35 have adult-onset diabetes - 15 times the rate in the average American community.

There are 250,000 diabetics among Arizona Native Americans. "It is a nightmare," says Nabhan. "Soon these diabetics in Arizona will cost taxpayers a minimum of $320 million a year. If adopted at an early age, nutritional intervention such as selected native foods may reduce health costs and suffering, which is now impacting those genetically susceptible to diabetes."

"The Magic of Chia", a book with almost 100 recipes for chia foods, explains that the nutrition-packed chia seeds swell by seven to nine times in water or in stomach acids, so a feeling of fullness discourages excess eating. They contain all the essential proteins in quantities larger than in any other seeds or grains - 18 to 23%; more calcium per given volume than milk; B vitamins; the trace mineral boron, essential to calcium absorption in the bones; and a better ration of Omega-3 essential fatty acids to Omega-6 than any other seed or grain - 60 to 40.

Most authorities consider an excessive intake of Omega-6 a natural health disaster that invites every kind of sickness, saps energy and shortens the lifespan, citing it as a major cause for an increase in heart attacks, high blood pressure,strokes, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, depressed immune function, depression and difficulty in thinking and remembering.

The reason? From the 1960’s to the end of the 20th century, when people were urged to slash their intake of saturated fats and substitute unsaturated fats, no one was aware that certain kinds of unsaturated fats could throw off the balance between essential fatty acids. So, the most frequently eaten salad dressings, mayonnaise, margarines and cooking oils are derived mainly from corn, peanut, soy, safflower, sesame and sunflower seeds - all rich in Omega-6 and poor in Omega-3.

Mary Clarke, PhD, of the Department of Nutrition Education at Kansas State University, says that this ratio between Omega-6 and Omega-3 was about one to one a half century ago. Today, it is an alarming 25 to one - even worse in breast milk of many pregnant women: 45 to one.

This imbalance is critical to the normality of fetuses. Excess Omega-6 blocks them from desperately needed Omega-3, the basic fatty acid from which docosapentaenoic acid (DHA) is converted. DHA is a must for creating healthy brain and brain nerve cells and the retina of eyes, the part of the eye that receives images. Best sources of Omega-3, in addition to chia, are salmon, bluefish, herring, sardines, anchovies and turbot.

To consume the chia seeds, slowly pour chia seeds in water, whisking them with a wire whisk, and within 30 to 45 minutes, they become a neutral tasting gel. Some individuals add orange, lime or any other fruit juice to them. Taken with or after breakfast, such a drink often delays hunger until hours after noon.

Inasmuch as children often eat nutrient-deficient food, mothers can upgrade their children’s favorite foods with chia gel. For instance, it can be mixed in hotcake, waffle or French Toast batter; in hot cereals, such as oatmeal, cornmeal or wheat; scrambled in eggs; added to hamburger meat, yogurt, puddings, milkshakes and malts. A great food extender and calorie-cutter, in addition to a nutrient-enricher, chia gel can extend the volume of mayonnaise when added in an equal amount without changing its taste. Mixed with a spread such as butter, it slashes calories and the amount of saturated fat. Nearly 100 recipes in Scheer’s book cover main entrees, breads, salads and soups, as well as wholesome, non-sugary desserts.

One of the most fascinating chapters in "The Magic of Chia" is "Seeds: Buffer Against Cancer," featuring the research of Walter Troll, PhD, Professor of Environmental Medicine at New York University, who describes how protease inhibitors in seeds may prevent or slow cancer. A study in this chapter reveals a survey of 41 countries, showing that those where the seed intake is highest have the lowest rates of breast, colon and prostate cancer.

The question is why is chia seed so important at this time? Businessman Bob Andersen, President of Earth Products in Vista, California, saw a need for an energy food that takes little water to grow - important ecologically today - and spent 20 years and considerable money in domesticating this plant. Now, for the first time in modern history, there is enough chia seed to satisfy world needs. It is for sale mainly in health food stores, until supermarkets get the word.

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For more information or to order chia seed, contact: Earth Products 760-727-9764 11345 Specialty Dr. Unit C Vista, CA 92083 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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