Tuesday, 19 February 2013

The Newest (to me, anyway) Ancient Grain

I’ll start this particular blog with my usual disclaimer.  I am not in any way promoting any products or methods for weight loss.  This is just about sharing my personal opinions, experience, hits and misses as well as any information I come across in all different forums.

I have never been a fan of “quick fix diets”, diet pills, shakes or any other products promoting “easy” weight loss.  There’s no such thing as an easy way to lose weight.  It’s always a matter of calories in being less than calories out.  It’s planning, good healthy choices, portion control, self control, information, movement and hard work.  Lots of hard work.  Lots of really hard work!

But what happens when your stomach feels empty?  I don’t mean a little peckish or suffering a craving, I mean really, stomach growling, caving in on itself empty.  And let’s face it, it happens.  Often it happens to me when I know I’ve had enough to eat but my stomach disagrees.  Tips I’ve read to combat those empty stomach, hunger-like pangs are: chew gum, brush your teeth, go for a walk or, drink some water.  Well, I’m here to tell you that when MY stomach is growling so loud that the neighbours worry about a bear roaming the neighbourhood … none of those things work.

So when I was flipping through a back issue of Chatelaine magazine (December 2012) and I came across a few little lines in the corner of a page title “Curb Cravings with Chia Seeds” you can be darn sure it caught my attention.  Chia seeds?  All I could think of were the fuzzy little green growing “pets” from back in the 70’s and 80’s.  And yes, these are the same seeds that you smeared on the pottery to grow your Chia Pets.  The article went on to say, “These little seeds, which come from a flowering plant in the mint family, may help you avoid over indulging.  When exposed to water, the tiny omga-3-rich seeds increase in size and weight without adding calories.  Add a handful to a glass of water before hitting your next holiday potluck, and your body will fell full before you go back for that second (or third) helping”.  Hmmmm?  I read that little blurb two or three times and was tempted to stop at the health food store on my way to work to pick up a package of these little miracle seeds.  I would have too, except the store isn’t open before I need to be at work.  Drat!  The fact that I have to be at work at 8:30 a.m. did give me a chance to look into it a little more before parting with my hard earned money.  I’ll share what I found here, but also tell you now that I did go and pick some up on my way home.  More on that later.

The Chia (pronounced chee-ya) plant is a member of the mint family and originated in southern Mexico and Guatemala.  There are two seed colors, white and black.  In pre-Columbian times Chia was one of the four basic foods of Central American civilizations.  It was less important that corn and beans, but more important than amaranth.  Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec Empire, received between 5,000 and 15,000 tons of Chia as an annual tribute from conquered nations.  Chia Seed was not just a food but was also used for medical purposes and as an offering to the Aztec gods.  The Spanish conquistadors tried to eliminate Chia, along with corn and beans, because of their use in religious ceremonies, trying to replace them with species brought from the old world.  Because Chia was unable to adapt to production under European climatic conditions, it was pushed into obscurity for five hundred years.  Chia survived only in very small cultivated patches in scattered mountain areas of southern Mexico and Guatemala until a research and development program began in 1991.  The idea behind the project was not only to provide growers with alternative crops, but also to improve human health by reintroducing Chia to western diets as a source of omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants and fibre.  Chia contains no cholesterol.

Chia is a sustainable and environmentally friendly product.  The high oil content of its leaves acts as an extremely potent insect repellent and eliminates the need for pesticides.  Solvent extraction and artificial preservatives are not needed when Chia is used in human or animal diets.

Chia Seeds contain no gluten.  This makes it ideal for anyone with gluten sensitivities or anyone wanting to find a replacement for gluten-containing grains such as wheat, barley, rye and oats.

Chia is an excellent source of complete proteins, minerals and vitamin B, is simple to use in food preparation, and safe for both humans and animals.

Black is the original color of Chia Seeds.  The myth stating that the white Chia is nutritionally superior over the black is completely false.  Some companies promote this opinion only to trick consumers into paying a higher price.  Black Chia costs less because it is more common than the white.  The higher price of white Chia is not indicative of nutritional superiority.  The only real difference between the two is the color, which may be a deciding factor for those who find either more appealing in food preparations.

A 12-page report on a scientific study conducted on Chia can be read at docstoc.com by following the link: http://www.docstoc.com/docs/documentpreview.aspx?doc_id=30773448

Whew!  That’s the history and the science.  Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty here … how does this aid in weight loss and health?

Lose weight without starving.  The tiny, healthy seeds can be made to taste like whatever you want, and their unique gelling action keeps you feeling full for hours.  Hunger is a main enemy of real weight loss, and you don’t want to fight it with jitter causing expensive pills.  When a Chia Seed is exposed to water, it forms a coating of gel, increasing in size and weight by nine to twelve times.  Since the gel is made of water, it has no calories.  It’s also difficult to remove from the seed, meaning that it helps your body think it is full, without adding calories.

Cut cravings for food.  Being deficient in minerals or vitamins can create a craving for food.  For example, if you are low in calcium, you may feel compelled to eat lots of cheese or ice cream.  This happens because your body knows that cheese is a source of calcium, and it hasn’t been getting enough.  But what if dairy and whole milk are a “diet don’t”?   You can always add calcium to your body by drinking Chia.  By weight Chia has more calcium than whole milk.  It also has magnesium and boron, essential trace minerals in the absorption of calcium and other vitamins.  By balancing your vitamins and minerals with Chia, you may curb cravings that might tempt you.

Balance blood sugar.  Blood sugar may spike after meals, especially if you eat high-starchy foods or sweets.  This can lead to slumps in your day where you feel tired and out of energy.  By balancing your blood sugar, you not only lower your risk for type-2 diabetes, but also ensure steady, constant energy throughout your day.  Chia Seed helps with this through the gelling action of the seed, and its unique combination of soluble and insoluble fibre to slow down your body’s conservation of starches into sugars.  If you eat Chia with a meal, it will help you turn your food into constant, steady energy rather than a series of ups and downs that wear you out.

High source of fibre.  With the abundance of processed foods and white flour on the market today, rich sources of fibre are hard to come by.  To help ensure regularity, you need plenty of soluble and insoluble fibre in your diet.  If you do not want to eat celery and whole-grain everything … or piles of bran flakes, the Chia helps.  Each seed is coated with soluble fibres which aid in its gelling action.  The insoluble fibre is unable to be digested so instead, it helps keep food moving smoothly through the digestive process.

Add healthy omega-3 oil to your diet.  Omega-3 oil is usually thought of as “that healthy stuff in fish”.  But, what if you don’t want to eat fish every day?  What if you’re a vegetarian?  Chia is the richest plant-source of this healthy oil.  By weight, Chia contains more omega-3 than salmon.

Feel more energized all day long.  Don’t want to feel like you need an afternoon nap?  Your energy levels have a lot to do with what you eat.  Chia is one of nature’s highest plant-based sources of complete protein.  The combination of compete protein, vitamins, minerals and blood-sugar balancing gel all work together to make sure you have steady, never jittery energy.

Bake with less fat.  Chia gel can substitute half the butter, oil or eggs in most recipes.  The food will bake the same and taste the same.  All you need to do is divide the amount of butter or oil in half, and then use the same amount of Chia gel to fill in.  The anti-oxidants in Chia can even help keep the food tasting fresh longer. 

Chia Gel Recipe

2 cups of water
1/3 cup Chia Seeds

Mix the Chia Seeds and water is a small, sealable jar.  Shake for 15 seconds and let rest for 1 minute.  Shake another 15 seconds and refrigerate until gelatinous.  Chia gel can be refrigerated for up to two weeks.

Add age-defying anti-oxidants.  Anti-oxidants have been in the news lately due to their super healthy benefits.  You know that blueberries and other fruits are not always in season.  At room temperature Chia will stay fresh and ready to eat for over two years.  That’s without a single chemical additive or preservative.

There are no known allergies to this seed.

Back at the start of this post I mentioned that after doing the research, I did buy some Chia Seeds.  I purchased the black Chia Seeds at Bulk Barn (because they were substantially less expensive bulk than packaged at the health food store … I made a few phone calls to discover that tidbit).

The first thing I tried was adding them as a topping to my oatmeal.  They did not alter the taste of the oatmeal in any way, but did add a certain crunch element.  Some recipe ideas I read stated that Chia seeds had a slightly nutty taste.  I did not find this to be the case at all.  I found them truly without a distinctive taste of their own.  The closest comparison I could make is that they are similar in texture to poppy seeds.  I also added approximately a tablespoonful to a glass of water to check out the gel-coating property.  Again, it was not unpleasant to drink the water with the Seeds floating in it.  The comparison that comes to mind is Bubble Tea.  My next test was adding them to a smoothie.  There was no change in the taste of the smoothie.  It may have made it a little more filling because it added more volume to the smoothie, but if I wanted the health benefits of the Chia I think I would invest in the ground version since it did make the smoothie just that much thicker as to make it a little difficult to drink through a straw.  Either that or invest in some milk-shake size straws.

Did they make any difference in appetite?  Hard to say when sprinkled on the oatmeal since that is a filling breakfast on its own.  In the glass of water, about an hour before dinner I would have to say yes I did feel more satisfied with my smaller portion.  The biggest difference was that I ate more slowly because that feeling of intense hunger I usually feel between dinner prep and actual eating seemed abated a little bit.

The only thing I am going to say about the high fibre claim is that it definitely aided in regularity.  Like any increase in the fibre in your diet … it takes your body by storm until you reach the equilibrium point.  Yes, it helps in the digestion and elimination, but not to the point of being uncomfortable.  Good  poops … ‘nuff said!

I am going to continue using it because aside from any weight loss side benefits, it really does seem to be a truly “good for you”, inexpensive, easy to use addition to a healthy eating regime.  Please do not think Chia Seeds are a meal substitution plan.  They are definitely not that.  But if they help curb the hunger pangs, then that is something to cheers about.

There are other foods on the market that work in pretty much the same way.  Rice cakes and anything made from puffed grain work on the same principle … make your stomach feel full on as few calories as possible.  The problem with the puffed grains is that they are empty calories.  At least the Chia Seeds have a high nutritional value.  I consider this a plus.

The only down-side that I came across was a warning stating that if you are consuming the seeds “dry” to drink lots of water with them.  Apparently they absorb so much water that they could cause you to become dehydrated.  Personally I feel that you would have to consume a very large amount of seeds to affect your body water levels to the point of dehydration.  But why take the chance?  If you are on a weight loss program you should be drinking eight to ten 8-ounce glasses of water daily anyway.

As with any “new” product it’s often difficult to decide how to use it.  Apparently the nutritional value of the seeds is not diminished by heat, so they can be used in cooking and baking, in drinks as well as raw.  Some recipes I found intriguing and there is no shortage of others on line.

Apparently a favorite drink in Southern California and Mexico is called a Chia Fresca. (I had never heard of it before)  Because the original recipe for the Chia Fresca includes a high amount of sugar, I am posting this variation which sounded interesting but has less sugar.

Refreshing Chia Fresca

Half a cup of lemon or lime juice
Half a cup of pomegranate juice
1 tablespoon chia seeds
9 cups of water

Pour lemon juice and pomegranate juice into the water.
Add chia seeds and stir or shake vigorously until the seeds are evenly dispersed.
Shake or stir again after a few minutes to prevent the seeds clumping together.
Shake or stir again before serving.
Serve over ice
Cranberry Juice can be substituted for pomegranate juice

I’m going to have to try the next recipe when my daughter comes home for a weekend.  It sounds a lot like “bubble tea” which she loves, but her body does not react well to the tapioca usually found in the tea.  This could be the answer.  So, if like me, you live in a colder climate you might be interested in the following recipe as a warm and energizing pick-me-up:

Chia Fruity Green Tea 

2/3 Tablespoons of fruit juice. (blueberry juice, orange juice or lemon juice,
but any fruit juice or mixture of juices is fine.
1 teaspoon of chia seeds
1 teabag of good quality green tea

In a mug, soak the chia seeds in the fruit juice for 10 minutes to allow the seeds to soften and swell.
Add the teabag to the mug and pour in boiling water. Stir thoroughly to disperse the seeds. Let stand for a few moments until it is the strength you like. Sip slowly, and occasionally stir the mixture as the seeds will have a tendency to settle on the bottom of the mug.

Overnight Chia Breakfast

1 cup almond milk
2 tbsp chia seeds
1 tsp grated orange zest
a pinch of ginger (to taste)
1 tsp almond extract (optional, but I seriously love this stuff)
dried cherries (to taste)
2 tsp unsweetened coconut
Pistachios (as many as you’d like)
A drizzle of honey for sweetness (optional, but I think it really adds to it)… can use any other sweetener you’d like

All you have to do is combine one cup of almond milk and 2 tablespoons of chia seeds in a container.  Cover and set in the fridge.  If you do decide to do this without waiting overnight, let the seeds set at least 20 to 30 minutes before carrying on.

Finally, all you have to do is assemble.

Something sweet?  Vegan Chia Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 1/4 C. Flour 1/3 C. Virgin Coconut Oil
1/2 C. Brown Sugar
1/4 C. Turbinado or Granulated Sugar
1/4 Tsp. Baking Soda
1/3 C. Water
2 Tbsp. Chia Seeds
1 Tsp. Vanilla (Be sure to check the label to make sure it doesn't contain glycerin!)
1 C. Vegan Chocolate Chips (if you can't find vegan chips, check for dark chocolate chips. Often times they won't contain any dairy)
Pinch of Salt

Preheat the oven to 375. Grind up the chia seeds in a coffee grinder, or in a Magic Bullet. Mix the chia seeds with the water and let stand for at least 5 minutes. When the chia seeds are combined with water they create an amazing gel that works great as an egg substitute. With a mixer, beat together the virgin coconut oil, sugars, and baking soda until well combined. Add in the chia gel and vanilla and mix again until combined. Add in the chocolate chips, pinch of salt, and flour and mix together on low until combined. Pinch off about 2 tbsp. of dough and roll into a ball. The cookies don't really spread out, so flatten the ball until it is about 1/2 " thick and place it on an ungreased cookie sheet. Repeat until the cookie sheet is filled. Bake until golden brown around the edges, about 8-10 minutes. Try really hard not to burn your mouth when you bite into that right outta the oven, scorchin' hot, cookie.

Something savoury?   Sauteed Zucchini with Toasted Chia Seeds

1 large zucchini, cut into half moons
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 1/2 tbsp chia seeds
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp olive oil

In a dry skillet heated to medium high heat, add the chia seeds; shaking the skillet frequently. DO NOT walk away from the skillet. When they start to darken in color, remove from the skillet and set aside.
Reduce heat to medium and add the olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper; and cook for 3 minutes, stirring consistently, so it doesn’t burn.
Add the zucchini and increase the temperature to medium high heat, cook stirring occasionally for 7 to 8 minutes, or until the zucchini begins to color.
Remove from heat and stir in chia seeds. Serve hot.

And I’ll close this with some interesting Odds and Ends

Chia seeds absorb seven times their weight in water. It is best to moisten them before eating, or they can absorb water from the body, leading to dryness and constipation. When well moistened, they provide wonderful lubrication for the body. They are an excellent food for body builders, athletes and those wanting to lose weight as they enable one to feel full on smaller amounts of food than the body is accustomed to.

Soak one quarter cup chia seeds in 2 cups pure water overnight and stir well to prevent the seeds from clumping. Allow to stand overnight on the counter or refrigerator. Add more water if needed. The seeds do not need to be ground up in order to be digested, but if one suffers from diverticulitis, grind the amount you would consume in one day for even easier digestion. In the morning, add chopped apples, a handful of raisins, blueberries, chopped nuts, honey, as you wish, for a simple breakfast. Even adding chocolate, banana and nuts for a delicious sugar and dairy free pudding.

Any moistened seeds not consumed can be stored in the refrigerator for several days. Even take chia seeds and mix with leftovers such as tomato sauce, basil pesto and spread the mixture thin onto a dehydrator.  Dehydrate till crisp to make gluten free crackers. Chia has also been used successfully as a superfood for cats, dogs and chickens.

Chia seeds have a long shelf life and are slow to oxidize. Chia seeds have been used topically as a poultice, once moistened with water to draw out infection, and even to treat gunshot wounds in the Wild Southwest. Chia seed oil had been used in cosmetics and as a wood preservative.

If you find the concept interesting you’ll have to try Chia Seeds and make up your own mind.  If you do … let me know how you added it to your eating plan and what your thoughts are.

Additional sources for this blog were:

Monday was Family Day in my little corner of the world.  That's a stat holiday in my Province so there was no TOPS meeting and no weigh-in.  I'll have to wait until next week to see if these little seeds hindered or helped my progress.  Although I usually avoid weighing myself between the official
weigh-ins because 1. my scale is not calibrated correctly and, 2.  I am prone to jumping on and off the scale and that is a sure-fire way to make myself crazy, but I may have to sneak on this week.  

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