Lose Weight and Control Diabetes with Chia Seeds
By Sheela Rani Chunkath
he last time I visited the United States, I wrote about the quinoa seed which is a nutritional powerhouse and a great source of protein. Quinoa still remains popular there. I continue to regularly make quinoa kichadi at home.This time around I decided to find what had caught the fancy of Bostonians. Health store assistants pointed out to chia seeds which they said was wonderful and could easily be incorporated into one’s diet. Like the quinoa which had been used by the Aztecs, the chia seeds had been a main component of the Aztec and Mayan diets and used to be a basic survival ration of Aztec warriors. Apparently chia seeds are a great source of energy.
The wonderful thing about chia seeds is that it seems to be more of a nutritional powerhouse than quinoa. Chia seeds are so rich in anti-oxidants that they store well and do not go rancid with time. Chia seeds contain huge amounts of fibre and are rich in calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, copper, iron, molybdenum, niacin and zinc. They are a very rich source of omega-3 fatty acids and therefore are a great boon to vegetarians.
So how does one consume chia seeds? No, you can’t make kichadi out of it. It looks a bit bigger that seeds of amaranthus and a bit smaller than sabja seeds (Please refer to my earlier article on sabja). Two colour varieties, black and white, are available but they are nutritionally the same. Funnily, it reacts in the same way that sabja seeds do to water. Soak chia seeds in water and they swell up much like sabja seeds back home. Both the seeds are from plants belonging to the family Lamiaceae. Sabja plant (Ocimum basilicum) belongs to the genus Ocimum which is the tulsi genus. The scientific name of chia seeds is Salvia hispanica and this plant was cultivated by the Aztecs in pre-Columbian times.
Both sabja and chia can be used by those who would like to get more fibre in their diets and by those who want to lose weight in a healthy manner. The advantage of chia seeds is that it is a much better source of omega-3 fatty acids.
Chia has a nutlike flavour much like sabja seeds. If you are only looking at the nutritional aspects of the seeds and not about losing weight, you can have it like the Mexicans and Central Americans. Mix a spoonful of the seeds in a glass of water and add lime juice and sugar to make a drink known as ‘chia fresca’. It reminds me so much of our own lime juice and faloodas with sabja seeds.
Here in the US, whole chia seeds are being sprinkled on cereals or are being ground and added to flour while making baked goods. I haven’t tried making chapatis with it as yet, but I think it should be quite amenable to being mixed in with our wheat flour. The Aztecs used to add it in a corn-based gruel called pinole and this preparation continues to be made as such in Mexico. The Aztecs, it is said, roasted the ground seeds and made a flour known as chianpinolli. This was used to make tortillas and tamales.
So now vegetarians have a good source of omega-3 fatty acids other than avocados. Omega-3 fatty acids help lower blood pressure and are also good in lowering inflammation. Chia being a hydrophilic seed (meaning it can absorb large quantities of water) keeps the body well hydrated, balances blood sugar levels, soothes the digestive tract and gives a feeling of fullness which helps with weight loss because of its high fibre content. It is cooling, much like our sabja seeds and contains calcium and boron.
I don’t use much sabja seeds in winter as it is too cooling for me. I would like to try chia seeds in the summer and assess its cooling properties. Anyway, I made myself a ‘chia fresca’ drink and am enjoying it in sunny Boston.
The writer is retired Additional Chief Secretary, Government of Tamil Nadu. She can be reached at Sheelarani.arogyamantra@gmail. com.
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