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The Chia Revival

Hardly anyone knows it, but chia seeds are truly a superfood.

The Chia Revival hasn't started yet. But I'm proposing that we get it going for very good reasons, as you will see by reading what follows.

Ancient Aztec calendar

Ancient Aztec calendar indicating
when chia must be sown in Mexico
Since chia seeds have never been popular in the United States, you might ask in what sense does the word "revival" apply? It goes back centuries to Incan, Mayan, and Aztec cultures, for whom chia was a staple, along with more familiar foods such as corn and beans. So it's a revival of a tradition that pre-dates the arrival of the Conquistadoros and other Europeans to the New World.

I first learned about chia seeds back in the 60's when I had a couple of natural food stores (New Age Natural Foods, in San Francisco and Palo Alto, California). "Chia" is the Mayan word for strength. According to chia seed lore, Apache warriors would tie a bag of chia seeds to their belts to sustain them on the warpath. Aztec warriors, it is said, were sustained by chia seeds during their conquests. Chia seeds were so important to the Aztecs that they were accepted as legal tender. And they were a staple for Indians of the southwest, who depended on them, particularly on long treks to the west coast to trade with California tribes.

Chia seeds, I learned, used to be called "Indian Running Food" because they are so energizing. When I tried them, I literally could feel their energy. It was a strengthening and sustained surge unlike anything resulting from any other food. And so I often told customers about chia seeds, and had repeat customers for them because they "work".
Aztec Priest

Aztec Priest
offering chia to the gods
What makes them work? Synergy between all their outstanding features is at least part of the answer. Chia seeds are high in:
  • easily digestible protein
  • essential fatty acids, particularly omega-3
  • vitamins
  • soluble fiber
  • antioxidants
  • minerals

Chia seeds have much in common with flax seeds, which have a deserved reputation as a superfood. If you run down a comparative chart, you see a back and forth, with chia higher in some nutrients, flax higher in others. The clear advantage I see for chia seeds is that their natural antioxidants make them stable, whereas flax quickly becomes rancid.

Like flax, chia seeds are highly hydrophilic, with the ability to hold about twelve times as much water as their own weight. Thus, one of the best uses of chia seeds is to convert them into chia gel. To do this you add 1/3 cup of seeds to 2 cups of water, stir well to break up any clumps, and let sit in your refrigerator for about twelve hours. (It will gel in less than an hour, but the additional soaking increases the nutritional impact of the gel.)

Chia gel has many uses. William Anderson, writing on one of the websites I'll link you to below, calls it "a dieter's dream food" . . . "when it is mixed with foods, it displaces calories and fat without diluting flavor. In fact, I have found that because chia gel displaces rather than dilutes, it creates more surface area and can actually enhance the flavor rather than dilute it."

Anderson recommends displacing as much as 50% of all kinds of foods with chia gel, thereby increasing flavor, fiber, and nutrition, while reducing calories and fat. Good candidates for chia gel are salad dressings, dips, and spreads. Chia gel can also be used as a fat replacer in many baking recipes.

"Researchers believe this same gel-forming phenomenon takes place in the stomach, creating a physical barrier between carbohydrates and the digestive enzymes that break them down, thus slowing the conversion of carbohydrates into sugar. In addition to the obvious benefits for diabetics, this slowing of sugar conversion aids endurance." (from

In any recipe that calls for flax seeds, you can substitute chia seeds. The chia flavor is bland, so they work great in smoothies and can be sprinkled on just about anything. Two to four tablespoons a day will improve your nutrition and encourage intestinal regularity. (And, yes, the "hair" on Chia Pets is from sprouted chia seeds.)

Nutrition researchers looking at chia have called it an "almost perfect food". Its many benefits include:

  • Providing energy
  • Boosting strength
  • Bolstering endurance
  • Leveling blood sugar
  • Inducing weight loss
  • Aiding intestinal regularity
Chia Seeds

Chia Seeds

If you need more motivation to join The Chia Revival, read The Magic of Chia by James Scheer. Here's an edited version of a chia anecdote from the book, about a test performed by Paul Bragg, the famous fitness guru (who died in a body surfing accident in 1976 at the age of 95).

Talking with a group of young people at his athletic club, Bragg asked them to name which foods gave them the most energy, vitality, and endurance. Bragg was the only one to name chia seeds, saying that he got "my greatest go power from chia seeds." To which one of the young men responded, "Paul why don't we test chia seeds on some weekend?"

"There was almost unanimous agreement, and Paul Bragg structured the experiment, actually a competition-a grueling test of endurance, a thirty-six-hour hike to the top of Mount Wilson. . . He divided the volunteers into two groups. 'Members of one group were to eat only chia seeds during the climb, and the others were to eat whatever foods they wished.'

Bragg led the chia-eating group-eight men and four women-and chose another man to lead the eat-as-you-wish group. "'We in the chia-eating group took several teaspoons of chia seed in water as soon as we arose,' Bragg recalled. 'During the entire outing, we chewed on chia seeds or took them in water.

"'For the first few hours, there seemed to be no difference in our ability to climb. However, as the terrain grew rougher and the slopes steeper, things changed. Our chia-eating group started to pull ahead of the others.'"

Bragg's group of chia eaters reached the peak four hours and twenty-seven minutes ahead of the other group of twelve, of which only three men and two women actually finished.

Ancient Aztec calendar

Chia Field


"'Even before that contest,' said Bragg, 'I suspected that chia seeds were one of the greatest foods I had discovered to help refuel my body engine. Our Mount Wilson competition convinced me of that fact.

"'Chia is a wonder-an old-fashioned marvel in a modern world. It has charged me up with extra drive as no other food has. . . Test chia for yourself to determine its nutritional worth -- not necessarily on a rugged thirty-six-hour mountain hike. See if adding chia seeds to your diet doesn't give you that extra charge of energy that will help you finish your days in high gear. Chia is for everyone. No age limits. See for yourself.'"

About The Magic of Chia, from the book's jacket: "In 'The Magic of Chia", James Scheer details the seed's abundant nutrients: calcium, amylose ( a slow-burning starch helpful for hypoglycemics), a vast array of vitamins and minerals, and an unusually good ratio of omega-3 oil to omega-6 oil. The book reintroduces this wonder food to the modern palate, with numerous tested recipes for using chia to upgrade the nutritional value of hamburgers, soups, salads, breads, fruit drinks, and much more." [The Magic of Chia includes 52 pages of chia seed recipes.] " Included is the never-before-told story about the twenty-year program to domesticate the wild chia and, for the first time in modern history, grow it in large enough quantities to supply the U.S. and world markets."

The chia plant is a member of the sage family.

The following two websites stock chia seeds:

This site doesn't sell chia seeds but publishes information about them:

Here's a recipe adapted from my book Eat Fat: Your Life Depends On It:

Chia Milk
(makes full blender jar
5 cups)

4 Tbsp. Chia seeds
2 Tbsp. Walnuts
2 Tbsp. Raw sesame tahini
2 Tbsp. Unheated, unfiltered honey
dash of vanilla (optional)
5 cups water (see our webpage, How to "Make" Good Water)

In a jar or glass, soak seeds and walnuts overnight in 3 cups of water. Pour into blender jar, add 1 cup of water, and turn on blender, running it at medium speed. With blender running, add tahini, honey, and vanilla, then add 1 more cup of water. Blend only until smooth.

Chia milk is rich in EFAs and protein. Because of the soaking, it is also particularly rich in enzymes. Because of chia seeds' antioxidants, it will keep well in your refrigerator. Use it within a week as a substitute for other forms of milk. (Maybe you'll decide that chia milk isn't a substitute for anything; rather, other forms of milk are a substitute for chia milk.)

The Chia Revival will never get off the ground if this message stops with you. So do your friends and family a favor and get them to read this too
every one of them can benefit from this superfood!

A few times this year I'll do a brief update on The Chia Revival.
If you have a good experience you'd like to share about Chia seeds, email it to us, and maybe we will find a place for it here on the chia page.


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