Salvia hispanica, commonly known as chia, is a species of flowering plant in the mint family, Lamiaceae, native to central and southern Mexico and Guatemala. The 16th-century Codex Mendoza provides evidence that it was cultivated by the Aztec in pre-Columbian times; economic historians have suggested it was as important as maize as a food crop. It is still used in Mexico and Guatemala, sometimes with the seeds ground or with whole seeds used for nutritious drinks and as a food source.
Chia is an annual herb growing up to 1 m tall, with opposite leaves that are 4–8 cm long and 3–5 cm wide. Its flowers are purple or white and are produced in numerous clusters in a spike at the end of each stem.
Chia is grown commercially for its seed, a food that is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, since the seeds yield 25–30% extractable oil, including a-linolenic acid.
Chia seeds are typically small ovals with a diameter of about 1 mm. They are mottle-colored with brown, gray, black and white. The seeds are hydrophilic, absorbing up to 12 times their weight in liquid when soaked. While soaking, the seeds develop a mucilaginous gel-like coating that gives chia-based beverages a distinctive texture.
According to the USDA, a one ounce serving of chia seeds contains 9 grams of fat, 5 milligrams of sodium, 11 grams of dietary fiber and 4 grams of protein. The seeds also have 18% of the recommended daily intake of calcium, 27% phosphorus and 30% manganese, similar in nutrient content to other edible seeds such as flax or sesame. Although preliminary research indicates potential for dietary health benefits, this work remains sparse and inconclusive.In 2009, the European Union approved chia seeds as a novel food, allowing up to 5% of a bread product's total matter. Chia seeds may be added to other foods as a topping or put into smoothies, breakfast cereals, energy bars, yogurt, made into a gelatin-like substance, or consumed raw.
The seeds come in variegated colors depending upon cultivar type and vary in color from black, brown to off white. The seeds measure about 1 mm in diameter and resemble like miniature pinto beans. Its smooth outer coat made of hygroscopic mucilage which absorbs water and swells up several times the original size.
Chia seeds compose almost of all the essential nutrients such as protein, omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, dietary fiber, vitamins and minerals that are essential for optimum growth and development.
Being an oil seed, chia is rich in calories. 100 g seeds provide 388 calories. However, much of their calories come from poly-unsaturated fatty acids. Chia seeds have excellent proportion of omega-3 to 6 poly-unsaturated fats; in the recommended ratio of 1:4.
An important omega 3-fatty acid in chia is alpha-linoleic acid (ALA). Studies have found that ALA and other omega 3 fatty acids by their virtue of anti-inflammatory action help lower risk of blood pressure, coronary artery disease, strokes and breast, colon, and prostate cancers. Adequate quantities of omega-3's in the diet are essential for normal development and maturation of nervous system in infants and young children.
Chia seeds compose several health benefiting anti-oxidants namely ferulic acid, caffeic acid, quercetin, etc.
100 g seeds provide about 91% of daily recommended intake levels of dietary fiber. The outer coat of chia is made of water-soluble mucilage, a non starch polysaccharide (NSP), which swells up several times and acquires gel-like consistency. Mucilage helps in digestion and smooth bowel movements.
Chia is gluten free grain. People with known sensitivity to gluten celiac's disease can safely add it in their diet.
Chia are one of the low glycemic index food and according to Nutritiondata.com has a fullness facor of 2.8. Foodstuffs low in glycemic index help in better regulation of daily blood glucose levels. Substitution of chia for rice and other cereal grains may benefit in individuals with diabetes.
The seeds are an excellent source of vitamins like niacin, riboflavin, thiamin, folic acid. Niacin is an important B-complex vitamin found abundantly in chia, nearly more than double the amount in sesame seeds. 100 g of chia provide about 8.83 mg or 55% of daily-required levels of niacin. Niacin helps reduce LDL-cholesterol levels in the blood. In addition, it enhances GABA activity inside the brain, which in turn helps reduce anxiety and neurosis.
The seeds are incredibly rich sources of many essential minerals. Calcium, phosporous, iron, manganese, and magnesium are particularly concentrated in chia. Many of these minerals have a vital role in bone mineralization, red blood cell production, enzyme synthesis, as well as regulation of cardiac and skeletal muscle activities.
Just a few tablespoon full of chia a day provides enough recommended levels of phenolic anti-oxidants, minerals, vitamins and protein.
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