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Surviving and Thriving on Very Little Food

There are over 5,000 known varieties of the potato, but today we eat less than a dozen of them. There are over 15,000 varieties of beans in existence, but you’ll find only five or six of them at your grocery store. Ever hear of a banana melon? Most people haven’t, and you won’t see them in stores. Yet they were once a prized melon, widely sought after.

Over the past few hundred years, we’ve seen many changes to our way of life. But perhaps the most profound change of all is to our diet. The typical diet of a hunter-gatherer consisted of over 100 different plants and animals. Today, 70% of our diet consists of just four crop species: wheat, corn, rice, and barley. We eat only about twenty plant varieties in total. And we depend on just five animals (cattle, pigs, goats, sheep, and chickens) for our primary protein sources.

Literally thousands of crop varieties have fallen into obscurity and been forgotten—not because they weren’t nutritious or delicious (which they were), but because they weren’t easily adapted to factory farming. Modern growers select only those plants that are easy to grow, harvest, and transport using industrial farming methods. (And that’s a big reason why so many of us suffer from chronic lifestyle diseases.)

Growers don’t one day deliberately decide, “Let’s decrease the variety of plants available to people and winnow it down to just a few.” They don’t say, “Let’s wipe out this crop.”

Except for one occasion… 500 years ago.

Today, any student of history knows the name Hernando Cortez. Cortez was the man responsible for conquering one of the greatest civilizations of all time, the Aztecs.

When Cortez set foot in what is now Mexico in 1519, with just 500 Spanish conquistadors, thirteen horses, and a few cannons at his disposal, he faced an Aztec population of about eleven million. What he found astonished him. The Aztecs had created one of the most advanced civilizations on the planet. The culture was vigorous and sophisticated with a complex social order, splendid feats of architecture, a rich arts tradition, robust commerce, and a strong military.

Aztec warriors were formidable. They were prime human specimens and in far better condition than their European counterparts. Lean, well-muscled, and renowned for their strength and endurance, they could march for days without stopping to rest.

How did they keep going?

It was all in the fuel.

The Aztecs grew four staple crops. Three of them remain widespread today: corn, beans, and amaranth.

The fourth staple crop was warrior’s food, a superfood so compact, so nutrient-dense, and so lightweight that they carried it with them wherever they went. Warriors wore a pouch at their waist filled with several days’ worth of this superfood. They stopped only for an occasional drink of water. Otherwise, they didn’t need to slow down (much less stop), eating a small handful of this superfood two or three times a day while on the march.

The superfood was chia seed, from the native plant salvica hispanica.

The Aztec empire was built on chia. Chia was (and still is) the perfect package of protein, healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Chia was eaten whole, ground into flour, made into drinks, applied medicinally, and offered to the gods. Their chia crop was second only to their corn and beans.

According to James Scheer, author of The Magic of Chia, “royal planters of Aztec emperors grew precious chia seeds in ‘floating gardens’ surrounding their capitol city of Tenochitlan.” The Aztecs grew many of their flowers and foods on rafts covered with dirt that floated on a shallow lake.

When Cortez saw how important chia was to the Aztecs, he knew if he could take it away from them, he could topple them. So he ordered every chia field in the Aztec empire to be burned. He shipped chia plants back to Spain, but the Spanish people refused to cultivate it or appreciate its nutritional qualities.

By 1521, the Aztec empire had crumbled. As a cultivated crop, chia was all but forgotten for nearly half a millennium.

Forgotten, But Not Extinct

Cortez couldn’t burn it all, however. Chia continued to grow wild, high in the mountains and in wilderness areas that were difficult to reach. It was through the descendants of the Aztecs, the Tarahumara Indians (a remote mountain tribe in northern Mexico) that chia was rediscovered.

The Tarahumara Indians have become known as legendary runners, and their long-distance running prowess was something that modern-day runners wanted to duplicate. In fact, the Tarahumara name for themselves, Rarámuri, means “runners on foot” or “those who run fast.”

We can surmise that this comes as a result of the chia in their diets, but what is it about chia that is so healthy for people?

A Nutritional Powerhouse…

When it comes to nutrition, chia is truly the total package. Each ounce of chia contains 4.4 grams of complete protein, 11 grams of fiber, and a variety of vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 fats. None of the usually touted omega-3 rich foods (such as walnuts, flax seeds, or salmon) have near the abundance as chia does. And while the healthiest populations of people eat plenty of omega-3 fats, today’s Americans get most of their fats from foods that are high in omega-6s, from those staple crops we mentioned before such as wheat, barley, corn, and rice.

The proper ratio of omega-6 fats to omega-3 fats is around 2:1. However, in our society our omega fat intake is horribly out of proportion – more like 20:1 omega-6 fats to omega-3. And research has shown that excessive levels of certain omega-6 fats (relative to omega-3s) probably increase the chance of a number of illnesses.

This skewed intake is associated with heart attacks, stroke, arrhythmia, arthritis, osteoporosis, inflammation, obesity, cancer, and mood disorders. In fact, many of the drugs used to treat these conditions work by blocking the action of certain omega-6 fats!

Because initial research indicated that omega-6 fatty acids helped support skin health (the largest organ in the human body), kidney function, and pregnancy health, most research was concentrated on these fats. It was only several decades ago that researchers discovered the diseases an overabundance of omega-6s could cause, and their attention began to divert to omega-3s.

High levels of omega-3s seem to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. Research has shown that when omega-3s are ingested in the proper proportions, there is a reduction in triglycerides, heart rate, blood pressure, and hardening of the arteries (or atherosclerosis).

In addition, omega-3s have an effect on brain health, providing the nutrition needed to protect your nervous system. While the United States government does not agree with this assessment, the Canadian government has recognized the importance of the omega-3 fat DHA in the normal development of the brain, eyes, and nerves. Perhaps the FDA will soon follow suit.

But How Do You Eat It?

When it comes to incorporating chia into your diet, you’re only limited by your imagination. Chia is more than ninety percent water when prepared. It resembles tapioca and blends well with other foods. For instance:

  • Chia gel (made by mixing one part chia with nine parts water) is a great way to control your calorie intake. Chia gel can be added to all kinds of foods without compromising the flavor. It helps extend the food and displace calories. The gel’s smooth texture and mild flavor makes it virtually unnoticeable.
  • It can be added to dips, milkshakes, puddings, yogurts, peanut butter, and almost any dessert to reduce the total calories you consume. Its soluble fiber acts as a barrier between simple carbohydrates and your digestive system, slowing down absorption, and ensuring that sugars and carbs are slowly and steadily available for energy. It can help you avoid those sugar spikes and sugar crashes.
  • You can sprinkle it over your cereal, or grind the seeds and mix it into your flour for baking. Because chia is shelf-stable and requires no refrigeration, it’s the perfect survival food. Kept in a cool, dark place, chia will easily last for several years.

Because of chia’s ability to absorb more than twelve times its weight in water, it’s the perfect food for maintaining hydration and electrolyte balance in the body, especially during physical exertion.

There are several varieties of chia seed on the market, but the one most recommended (and the variety those Tarahumara Indians eat) is salvica hispanica. If you’re interested in purchasing chia seed, click here for a site that is highly recommended, not just for the quality of seed that they provide, but for the competitive pricing as well.

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  1. Good info. Why doesn’t the average public know this? They are interested in fast food & don’t care what they throw down their throats or feed their kids. I want to get back into the country & forget about this city existing. It isn’t living—that’s for sure. We need more natural farmers & not fewer. Thanks for this article.

  2. The Spanish were not that stupid. The reason that they attempted to destroy only one valuable food crop while importing the rest to Europe, and happily eating them themselves, was the non-food use to which it was put in Aztec culture. What the Aztecs did to their adult human sacrifices was bad enough. What they did to child sacrifices was worse, and involved mixing the seeds with the children’s blood as part of the sacrifice. Thus in Aztec culture, this was not an innocent, useful food, but had hideous associations. The swastika is a cheerful, ancient little decorative device…but we don’t use it any more, for about the same reason. It has taken centuries for the grain to wash clean again, and just become food.

    • Guess the Spanish were saying ‘do as I say, not as I do’, in view of the Spanish Inquisition and the national sport, bull fighting. Personally, knowing of the long popularity of the Chia pets (they were offered on TV commercials when I was a child), I’d say it’s probably very easy to grow, if it has the right environment (warm & humid, NOT like the inside of most houses today). If you go to the original Chia Pet website, you will find instructions on how to grow it successfully. How ironic that seeds once used for abominable purposes involving children should become a child entertainment item. In view of other “Christian” customs highly defended and carried on by the unknowing today, it makes one wonder if the seeds are really “washed clean” after all…

      • The Spanish were not perfect. NO culture is, especially the Lucifer-worsipping Freemason infested Anglo culture. The Inquisition was a good thing. It preserved the unity of the One True Faith, thereby the unity of the Spanish kingdom. Much better than all the 10’s of 1000’s of competing heretical (Protestant) ideas, which make a mockery of the unity of the Holy Trinity and Our Lord. I would be ashamed to be an Anglo.

        • I suspect you should do a great more research into the Freemasons before you come up with any more of these half cocked assertions. In short, your are about 5 miles off base and have no idea of what your accusations claim.

          • This is supposed to be about food preservation but I had to make this comment….
            The majority of the Freemasons I know are Christians, but it is not a Christian Organization. You never hear the name “Jesus”. All you have to do is say you believe in God, or some higher power, to gain membership.
            The average Freemason has to idea, or ever will, what goes on in the ruling segment–very powerful but not Christian by any means.

        • El Cid, if the Freemason-infested Anglo culture is so bad, why are so many people from Mexico climbing fences, killing cops and becoming drug mules to get into this country? You might read the biography of El Cid. After his exile from the court of Alfonso VI of Leon and Castile, his first command was of a Moorish army–yes, Muslim, Muladis, Berbers, Arabs and Malians–under Yusuf al-Mu’taman ibn Hud, Moorish king of the northeast Al-Andalus city of Zaragoza, and his successor, Al-Mustain II. Why do you name yourself after a mercenary that worked for the Moors (Muslims) and pass judgment as if you were the only Christian alive? The way Hitler hated Jews but was one, I wonder if you aren’t at least part Anglo.

  3. Would love to know if/how chia might be grown in N. American climates, ex-the Southwest

    • I could be wrong but I believe most of our chia seed comes from Mexico. There are a few sources that claim theirs is from the volcanic regions of Argentina but I wouldn’t vouch for that unless I actually rode the truck down from the mountain.

  4. Where can I find this chia food

    • chia seed is available at sunflower market, in the bulk foods section in tucson, arizona. It was on sale the day I walked in to find it… for $3.99/Lb.

  5. Great article …. And very interesting about the sacrifices. Thank you for sharing.

  6. Chia helps cancer memory loss arthrites pain diebeates a speical blend e-mail iam a cancer surviver ive been able to help people with diferent kinds of pain and energy it truley is a super food 760-978-1021

  7. Where can I find the food? can I order it from where? It is too late to get the seed now. I will do that next year. Thank you in advance for any reply. Maria Price

  8. To preserve your grains in 5 gallon buckets fill them with nitrogen.Put your filler hose from your nitrogen bottle in the bottom of the bucket ,then fill it with your dried grain,put the lid on leaving enough room for for the hose to exit the bucket lid area,turn on the nitrogen,in a minute or so the nitrogen should fill the bucket.When a match will not light from the air coming out of the bucket its full of nitrogen,seal the bucket of grain for storage in a cool dark place..

  9. How can I get Chia? Is it available? Do you know of any stores that sell it, health food or otherwise?

    • Spiru-Tein “Gold” is a brand of protein shake powder that is made with chia, brown rice and pea protein. It could be a good way to try something made with chia. (I use it to avoid dairy and gluten, but it tastes better than the whey protein powders to me!)

  10. i can see it now everyone eatting there chia pets to see how it taste

  11. It is too bad that the Aztecs saw Cortez and his small band as gods instead of the devil he was.It is also too bad that speciallization has deminished the number of food-stuffs worldwide…and yet our governments want to tell us how to control our diets!

  12. This story about chia reminds me of quinoa. Quinoa was once banned by the Spanish for the same reasons they banned chia – it was the Incas most important food. I even read that at one time the Spanish mandated the death penalty for anybody caught growing quinoa – probably the same tactic they used with the Aztecs and chia. Quinoa is also a complete protein, and complete food you can live on. Being a vegan, I like using complete protein seed foods like cannabis, quinoa, and now I’ll be using chia too – THANKS!


    Quinoa (pronounced Keen-wah) is an ancient food that is not yet well known in North America. It has been cultivated in South American Andes since at least 3,000 B.C. and has been a staple food of millions of native inhabitants. The ancient Incas called quinoa the “mother grain” and revered it as sacred. Each year at planting time it was traditional for the Inca leader to plant the first quinoa seed using a solid gold shovel! Quinoa was used to sustain Incan armies, which frequently marched for many days eating a mixture of quinoa and fat, known as “war balls.” Beginning with the Spanish conquest in the 1500s, there was a 400-year decline in the production of quinoa. It became a minor crop at that time and was grown only by peasants in remote areas for local consumption.

    • Yep, and Sunflower Markets sell quinoa right by the chia. I would love to find a cookie or bar recipe made from those combined. Anyone know of any?

  13. To dwh, I agree with you. Obama’s fat gorilla wife is trying to tell school age kids how to lose weight. What a joke! I’ve heard she never brushes her teeth, seldom bathes, and wipes her ass with her fingers instead of toilet paper. Wonder where the hell she grew up? Africa???…..Where does she get off teaching clean American children how to be clean and eat right??

  14. El Cid
    You have no idea what the hell you are talking about. First people leaving Israel in ancient times crossed the Caucausus mountains (caucasians) and settled all of Europe, America, and Canada. We are bless by God. Why do you think we have become the super power of super powers? It’s because we are blessed by God! Why? Because until recently we worshiped the one Allmighty God. Then we took God out of our schools. That is why God is allowing things to go Helter Skelter. We have disobeyed him. We are now being tested. God is going to separate the wheat from the chaff. If you want to go heaven you better stay in Jesus! Soon the anti Christ (Satan) will return. He will claim to be Jesus and many will be seduced by him. Better stay in Jesus or you just might end up in Hell.

  15. Up with chia! Down with Masonry! Up with the Holy Catholic Church! DOWN WITH THE MODERN DAY COUNTERFEIT CHURCH (Vatican II Church)!

  16. How is it that a discussion of chia moves to religion? Those doing the ranting would be better advised to educate themselves rather than spouting bullshit.

  17. I agree, the subject was about chia, not religion. Chia sounds like something I would likd to try, as well as quinoa. I have a lot of back pain and knee pain and I’m sure it would help if I lost weight.

  18. Chia is available (as is just about anything these days) from Amazon… if you have trouble locating it locally or the price is just too exorbitant at your local health food emporium.
    Now regaining popularity, you can find it mixed in beverages (hint: you can mix it into your own drinks at home and, unlike other seeds like flax it does not need to be pre-ground) as well as in baked goods as an egg replacer (ratio 1-9, chia to water). Truly versatile with a completely neutral flavor… my daughter mixes it into cottage cheese with fruit and a bit of honey for a superfood breakfast on the go.

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