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Best known for being used to create “Chia Pets,” chia seeds (Salvia hispanica) are an ancient food once used by Aztec warriors as traveling food, and it is said that 1 tablespoon of chia seed could sustain a warrior for 24 hours.Recently rediscovered, they have remarkable nutritional value, and are one of the few plant foods that provide complete proteins. In addition, they’re a rich source of antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, alpha-linolenic acid, and both soluble and insoluble fiber; as well as providing the minerals calcium, potassium, phosphorus, copper, iron, manganese, magnesium and zinc; and the B vitamins niacin, riboflavin, and thiamine. One of the most unique properties of the chia seed is its ability to absorb water and create a gel that can be mixed with foods to increase their bulk without decreasing or changing the flavor or increasing the caloric value, making it an invaluable addition to a weight-loss diet. In fact, a study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (Apr 2010) suggested that adding chia seeds to the diet could help control blood glucose levels, and helped the subjects feel fuller for longer. To create chia gel, add one-quarter cup of chia seeds to two and a quarter cups of water, whisking well to prevent clumping. Wait a few minutes and whisk again, then allow to sit for 5 to 10 minutes until the gel has formed, and add to foods at the rate of half chia gel, half food. (Whisk again before using it.) Chia gel can be kept in the refrigerator for up to two weeks; and can be added to hot or cold cereals; condiments like ketchup, mustard, salad dressings, or bbq sauce; jams or jellies; dairy products like yogurt or sour cream; and other similar foods. The gel can also be used to replace up to a third of the oil in homemade breads, reducing the calories and increasing the amount of fiber. (Note: Always use either filtered or bottled water to make chia gel. Because of its ability to intensify and distribute flavors, using tap water can make your gel taste “funny.”) This gel has other benefits as well:
- With its high water content, chia seed gel helps to maintain proper hydration levels in the body, as well as maintaining electrolyte balance.
- It aids in digestion, and can reduce indigestion and heartburn caused by spicy or acidic foods.
- The high fiber content, and ability to absorb and retain water, aids in maintaining regularity.
- Soluble fiber has been shown to help regulate and reduce cholesterol levels.
- Soluble fiber is also known to slow the conversion of carbohydrates to simple sugars in the digestive system, which helps to regulate blood glucose levels and prevent spikes and crashes. This is especially important in managing Type 2 Diabetes, and may explain the results in the study mentioned earlier.
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