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Chia: Ancient Food and Fatigue Fighter?
James Scheer's The Magic of Chia Reintroduces This Functional Food

by Mary Shomon

Fatigue is the most frequent complaint causing patients to drag into doctors' offices, and in particular, is the number one complaint of thyroid patients. Although thyroid hormone replacement can help correct this condition in many cases, it is frequently not enough to restore energy.

In his latest book, The Magic of Chia, popular health and nutrition author James F. Scheer, presents a possibility for a food-based energy-builder -- chia seed -- that's actually so old that it's new to most physicians and patients. Scarce until recently, because it grows wild in deserts in difficult-to-harvest form, chia has more recently been domesticated, and there's n ow sufficient supply to use chia as a food supplement -- in addition to its more well-known use, the ever-present Chia Pet.

According to Scheer, a thousand years ago, chia was a prized by the ancient Aztecs as a food for energy, endurance, strength and good health, and chia seed even became legal tender. From that very period until the last few generations, natives of the southwestern deserts of what is now part of the United States depended on wild chia seed as a staple food and a source of remedies. According to Scheer, historian Harrison Doyle, who, in the early 20th century lived with various tribes, has written that "it was nothing for tribesmen to run for 24 hours on a tablespoon of chia seed and a gourd of water."

New York Times health columnist Jane E. Brody wrote a revealing article about type II diabetes rampant among Arizona Native Americans and their effort to restore their health by reclaiming ancient foods -- chia seeds among them. The Magic of Chia discusses her explanations that native foods such as chia, cholla and mesquite contain a lot of soluble fibers that form edible gels, gums and mucilages and a type of starch, amylose, that are digested very slowly.

Chia seed has the potential to help those trying to lose weight, because in water or in stomach digestive juices, it swells from seven to nine times its original weight, giving a feeling of fullness.

According to Brody, overweight patients with type II diabetes, as well as those with low blood sugar, can be helped by these foods. "The combined effect is to prevent wide swing in blood sugar, slow down the digestive process and delay the return of hunger," writes Brody. "Peaks in blood sugar increase the body's need for insulin and drops in blood sugar can bring on feelings of hunger. In the form of diabetes that strikes these Indians, their overweight bodies become insensitive to insulin, and slow digestion diminishes the need for insulin," she concludes.

Scheer discusses the work of ethnobiologist Gary Nabhan, who, helping to bring the Pima Indians and other tribes of Arizona back to native foods, remarked that prior to World War II, when Native Americans ate from their home gardens, their incidence of diabetes was no different from that of other Americans. However, when they went to work in cotton fields or defense plants or joined the military service, they began to eat junk foods. These fast foods hurried their decline in health and inordinate gains in weight. Continuing this pattern of eating today, more than half of tribe members over 35 have adult-onset diabetes - 15 times the rate in the average American community.

Scheer quotes Nabhan in the book, describing the fact that there are 250,000 diabetics among Arizona Indians. "It's a nightmare," says Nabhan. "Soon these diabetics in Arizona will cost taxpayers a minimum of $320 million a year. If adopted at an early age, nutritional intervention such as selected native foods may reduce health costs and suffering now impacting Indians genetically susceptible to diabetes."

The Magic of Chia contains almost 100 recipes for chia foods, and explains that nutrition-packed chia seeds contain all the essential proteins in quantities larger than in any other seeds or grains - 18 to 23 % -- more calcium per given volume than milk, B vitamins, the trace mineral boron, essential to calcium absorption in the bones, and the best ratio of Omega-3 essential fatty acids to Omega-6 - 60 to 40.

In his book, Scheer indicates that energy-seekers can pour a tablespoon of chia seeds into a glass of water, whisking them with a wire whisk. Within 30 to 45 minutes, they form a neutral tasting gel. Orange, lime or any other fruit juice can flavor the gel. Taken with or after breakfast, Scheer indicatest that this drink often delays hunger until hours after noon.

Scheer discusses how children's nutritional values can be upgraded by mixing chia gel into hotcake, waffle or French toast batter, into hot cereals such as oatmeal, cornmeal, wheat or eggs for scrambling, hamburger meat, yogurt, puddings, milkshakes and malts.

According to Scheer, chia gel is a great food extender, calorie-cutter and nutrient-enricher. Added to mayonnaise in an equal amount, chia gel doubles its volume without changing its taste. Mixed with a spread such as butter, it slashes calories and the amount of saturated fat.

Recipes in Scheer's book cover everything from main entrees, snacks, breads, salads and soups to wholesome, non-sugary desserts.

An interesting chapter in the book is is "Seeds: Buffer Against Cancer," in which Scheer features the research of Walter Troll, PhD., a professor of environmental medicine at New York University. Dr. Troll describes how the protease inhibitors in seeds may prevent or slow cancer development or spread. Scheer describes a study that reveals a survey of 41 countries, showing that those living where seed intake is highest have the lowest rates of breast, colon and prostate cancer.

Overall, however, Scheer's research emphasizes that enhanced energy and endurance levels and helping people to lose weight are chia seeds' major contributions to good health.

Scheer explores a key question: why is chia seed so important now? With fatigue considered the most widespread physical disorder, chia grower and distributor Bob Andersen, president of Earth Products in Vista, California, saw a need for an energy food that takes little water to grow - important ecologically today - and spent 20 years and considerable resources to domesticate this plant. Now, for the first time in modern history, there is enough chia seed to satisfy world needs. It is currently available for sale mainly in health food stores.


For more information on chia availability and distribution, please contact Bob Andersen online at or visit his web site.

chia.jpg - 53239 Bytes Note from Mary: After reading Jim Scheer's book, I had to try chia for myself. It really is fascinating how you mix a small amount of chia into a water, and in a little while, you end up with a gelatinous mixture the consistency of pudding or custard. I've mixed it into a health shake, and tried it in my salad dressing, and, surprisingly, it does fill you up and reduce hunger dramatically, and I get a slow, steady energy from it. It really has almost no taste, so it's easy to work with, and you can even sneak it into children's foods to add some nutritional punch. It's definitely worth a try for those who are trying to fight fatigue, lose weight and balance blood sugar.

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All information is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. You should seek prompt medical care for any specific health issues and consult your physician or health practitioner before starting a new treatment program. Please see our full disclaimer.