In lands not-so-far away, and in a time well before the novelty of the Chia Pet, the ancient Aztec and Mayan civilizations highly revered Salvia hispanica, or chia, for its “magical” ability to increase strength and stamina over time. Named for the Mayan word for “strength,” chia was valued as a sacred food and medicine as early as 3500 BCE, and it was used in a variety of religious ceremonies, foods and beverages, making it a very valuable staple crop to the ancient peoples. Aztec soldiers took a mixture of chia flour and corn flour during military exercises, because chia’s healthy oils provide for the body’s need for energy both in the form of easily usable, rapidly assimilated calories, and as a highly efficient energy reserve that provides protection from external stress (like cold weather). One tablespoon of the seeds was considered capable of sustaining a warrior for 24 hours!
With the Spanish conquest of Latin America and introduction of traditional Spanish fare, chia farming was prohibited by the new conquerors. Though the art of chia farming was still preserved despite the Conquistador presence, the knowledge of its health benefits remained largely only with the indigenous people. In 1977, chia found a surge in identity, not as a food, but a trademark houseware when Joseph Enterprises, Inc. released the first Chia Pet and its catchy jingle “Ch-ch-ch-chia!” Though millions of people raced to watch it grow, the Chia Pet’s rise fizzled just as rapidly into novelty item status.
Today, with scientists and health gurus looking for dietary alternatives in a nutrient-lacking society, chia is enjoying a fabulous resurgence in popularity with its true identity as a superfood. Like superfruits, chia seeds deliver the maximum amount of nutrients with minimum calories. They have several of the same benefits as the more well-known flax seed, without the need to grind them to reap the health benefits. The nutritional benefits of chia include fiber, omega fatty acids, calcium, antioxidants and even protein. Chia is also one of the most concentrated sources of omega-3, having even more omega-3 fatty acids than even salmon. And with nearly 11 grams of fiber per ounce, chia delivers 42% of your recommended daily value of fiber in a single serving. Because chia absorbs up to 12 times its own weight, it expands in the system and curbs appetite, so adding just an ounce or so of chia seeds to your diet can reduce caloric intake and help lower the energy density of foods, plus double the amount of fiber your body gets. It makes a great hydration tool for athletes, too, because when placed in water, chia can absorb more than twelve times its weight in water due to the expansion of the soluble fiber, which creates a super-gel. This translates into long-term energy provided to your body at a steady pace, which is ideal for people looking for the maximum long-term hydration without the need for fast burning energy drinks laced with sugars and carbs. Chia seed is 19%–23% protein, and is naturally 100% gluten free, making it a terrific addition to people looking to not only reduce their cholesterol but maintain a steady blood sugar rate. On top of all of these benefits, chia also contains calcium, a whopping 18% of the daily value per ounce, three times more than a serving of skim milk, which is great news for dairy-intolerant people or vegetarians!
Though frequently sprinkled on cereal, ground into flour or made into puddings, chia is enjoying a rise in appearance in many beverages. GT’s Kombucha has introduced a special line of its kombuchas packed with organic chia seeds. Not only will consumers get the amazing chia benefits, but also can enjoy the benefits of active enzymes, viable probiotics, amino acids, antioxidants, and polyphenols, in one beautifully delicious health elixir. All of these combine to create a refreshing beverage that immediately works with the body to restore balance and vitality. If the thought of kombucha is too off-putting to some consumers, then the Mamma Chia line would be an excellent introduction into the chia beverage realm. Organic juices and light agave are combined with the magic of the chia seed to create a syngergistic combination of refreshment and healthfulness. Christopher McDougall, author of Born to Run, sums up the virtues of chia very succinctly when he stated, “If you had to pick just one desert-island food, you couldn’t do much better than chia, at least if you were interested in building muscle, lowering cholesterol, and reducing your risk of heart disease; after a few months on the chia diet, you could probably swim home.” So trek on down to your local downtown Liquid Planet, where a full line of these vitality-packed beverages can be found, and you can experience for yourself the wonders of chia!