Mention the word “chia” to someone and chances are the first thing that comes to mind is the novelty planter from the 1980’s. Once an ancient superfood, chia is experiencing somewhat of a renaissance among the health-conscious and athletic crowds. These tiny seeds pack such a nutritional punch that expectant mothers should also consider incorporating them into their diet. Pregnancy can deplete your body of important nutrients and eating chia seeds can help replace those lost nutrients while providing a much needed energy boost. Chia seeds are easy to incorporate into your daily routine and benefit not only the mother’s health, but the baby’s development as well.
What is Chia?
Chia is an edible seed from the Salvia Hispanica plant, which is a member of the mint family. Mayans, Incas, Aztecs and even Native Americans once considered it a dietary staple. Aztec warriors incorporated it into their daily rations, as one tablespoon was said to be able to sustain an individual for 24 hours.The seeds still play an important role in the diet of Central and South Americans today.
Great Source of Omega-3
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for a baby’s brain development. Most people choose to meet their daily requirement by consuming salmon or fish oil supplements. The mercury content in fish tends to make most pregnant women skeptical, so chia is a great alternative. For such a tiny seed, chia is quite high in omega-3 fatty acids. Typically nuts and seeds with a high fat content have a short shelf life before they turn rancid, but chia seeds are so rich in antioxidants they can be kept in storage for up to four years without deterioration.
Replenish Lost Nutrients
Pregnancy is very taxing on the body. Chia seeds pack a powerful antioxidant punch to help replace some of those lost nutrients. They’re high in essential minerals like calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, copper, zinc, iron and niacin.
During the final three months of pregnancy, it’s important to get adequate calcium for proper skeletal development. Chia seeds contain almost five times the amount of calcium as milk. An added bonus — they also contain boron, another critical mineral for bone health.
Iron is essential to develop the red blood cells that transport oxygen through the body. During pregnancy, increased iron intake is necessary to accommodate the mother’s increased blood volume and for the development of the baby’s blood.
According to a study by Natural Standard Research Collaboration, Chia seeds have shown possible effectiveness for allergies, angina, athletic performance enhancement, cancer, coronary heart disease (CHD), heart attack, hormonal/endocrine disorders, hyperlipidemia, hypertension, stroke, and vasodilatation. Some evidence also suggests possible anticoagulant, antioxidant, and antiviral effects.
Slows Sugar Absorption
High blood sugar makes for a risky pregnancy. It’s been linked to complications such as high birth weight, increase chance of C-section deliveries and preeclampsia. When consumed, chia seeds create a gelatin-like substance in the stomach. This slows digestion and keeps blood sugar levels stable.
In addition to slowing sugar absorption, chia also slows down the process of converting sugars and carbohydrates from the seeds into energy. This slow-burning process, in combination with the high protein content, leads to a sustained energy boost.
Incorporating Chia in Your Diet
Chia is quite versatile. The seeds can be eaten raw, soaked in water to form a gel or sprouted like alfalfa sprouts. When eaten raw they have a nutlike flavor and are a great addition to your morning quinoa porridge, or tossed on a salad. They can absorb up to ten times their weight in water so they are a great way to thicken up soups or a smoothie. However you choose to incorporate them in your diet, it’s best to do it gradually. Chia is high in fiber so start out with a small amount and be sure to drink plenty of water. The recommended daily serving is 1 – 2 tablespoons of dry seeds, start out slow and give your body time to adjust to the increased fiber intake. Make sure to choose an organic brand, I like Navitas Naturals ($13 on Amazon.com).