Did you survive the 1990s without owning a chia pet? Those funky decorations are making a comeback, but not for the reasons you think. This time, the seeds themselves get all the credit. Despite their tiny size, chia seeds are a surprisingly nutritious, versatile cooking ingredient, and they can be effortlessly incorporated into almost any recipe.
Feeling skeptical? Read on to learn about the benefits of chia seeds and why you should include them in your diet.
About Chia Seeds
Native to Mexico, chia seeds have long been valued for their medicinal properties and nutritional value. Legend has it that ancient Aztec warriors relied on a single spoonful of chia seeds for 24 hours of sustained energy, and the word chia means “strength” in the Mayan language.
This mild, nutty seed can be consumed unprocessed as a whole grain to provide you with effortless nutrition, giving them the reputation of a superfood. Is their praise deserved? Let's see what chia seeds can offer your body to find out.
7 Benefits of Chia Seeds
Don’t let their tiny size convince you otherwise- chia seeds are packed with nutrients. It’s important to understand the benefits of chia seeds and why you should include them in your diet so you keep them on hand.
- Impressive Fiber Supply: Few people take in as much fiber as they should each day, but one ounce of chia seeds will provide you with ten grams, or more than a third of the daily requirement for adults under 50.
- Full of Nutrients: Just a teaspoon of these tiny seeds provides you with an excellent source of fiber, iron, calcium, and omega-3 fatty acids. These acids are integral for raising your levels of HDL (good) cholesterol, meaning that they will reduce your risk of suffering cholesterol-related health problems.
- Promote Better Digestion: Constipation and diarrhea are common health problems in a low-fiber diet. The absorptive properties of chia seeds make them ideal for addressing digestive issues because they naturally soak in excess water and make bowel movements easier to pass.
- Aid Weight loss: Feasting on fiber helps your body feel full longer, which is why a fiber-rich diet is often lower in calories. Adding chia seeds to your meals may reduce your urge to snack, leading to weight loss in the long run.
- Reduce Colon Problems: Your colon requires fiber to function well, and incorporating chia seeds into your diet can reduce inflammation in your digestive system and decrease the rate of flare-ups for diverticulitis.
- Better Cardiovascular Health: Consuming fiber-rich foods like chia seeds can lower your blood pressure levels and reduce overall inflammation, decreasing your risk of the conditions it develops into like cardiovascular disease and obesity.
- Lower Risk of Diabetes: Incorporating chia seeds into meals prevents blood sugar levels from spiking, consequently lowering your risk of developing diabetes. In fact, research from the USDA reveals that consuming 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories is correlated with a reduced risk of developing diabetes.
Chia seeds are such a versatile ingredient you can incorporate them into so many recipes, meal and healthy snacks. Check out these 16 ways to incorporate chia seeds into your diet.
16 Uses for Chia Seeds
Sure it’s possible to take chia seeds by the teaspoon, but there are plenty of other options for eating chia seeds as well. These versatile seeds can be eaten cooked or raw, but it’s best to add them to other food or soak them before eating so that they don’t overly expand in your stomach. Their mild, nutty flavor makes them an unassuming addition to most dishes.
Need some inspiration? These ideas will get you started.
1. Grind Them
Swallowing chia seeds whole limits the amount of omega-3s your system can extract from them. A better option is to soak and grind them so that you can obtain as much of their nutritious compounds as you can. While this isn’t essential for pulling out their nutrients, it makes them easier to digest.
A standard coffee grinder or high-powered blender works well to pulverize these tiny seeds. Once ground, chia seed flour can be used in gluten-free recipes to make bread, pasta, and desserts. Keep in mind, though, that ground seeds spoil more quickly than whole ones, so it’s vital to store them thoroughly sealed in the fridge or freezer.
2. Soak Them
Chia seeds are hydrophilic. This means that they will hold up to 12 times their weight in water when soaked. Not only will presoaking chia seeds fill you up faster, but it will prevent you from suffering unwanted side effects once they the expand anyways in your stomach.
To soak your seeds, mix one part seeds with ten parts water (roughly 1.5 tablespoons and one cup of water). Let them sit for between thirty minutes to two hours until a gel has formed, and use it as desired.
3. Blend in a Smoothie
Chia seeds are a stellar smoothie ingredient that boosts its fiber content and keeps you feeling full. Blend 2 cups of spinach with 1.5 cups of water and two tablespoons of chia seeds, and incorporate a few cups of your favorite frozen fruit into the mix to blend a second time. The chia seeds won’t be noticeable, but they will thicken the texture of the smoothie.
4. Use as a Vegan Egg Substitute
Thanks to their ability to absorb copious amounts of water, chia seeds are an excellent egg substitute for baking. Just mix one tablespoon of (preferably ground) chia seeds with three tablespoons of water, and let it sit for a few minutes to allow the seeds to swell and form a gel that can be used for cooking.
5. Blend into Recipes
A spoonful of chia seeds can transform the texture of your dish, especially if you incorporate them into foods with lots of liquid. Consider adding a serving or two to soups, crockpot meals, and fruit juices to thicken the texture and boost its fiber content.
6. Eat Them Whole
For those who prefer things simple, it’s entirely possible to eat chia seeds raw by the spoonful. You’ll still absorb the majority of their health benefits and get a midday boost of energy besides. Just be sure to drink plenty of water with the seeds so that you don’t get dehydrated when they absorb the liquid in your stomach.
A hint: make sure you look in the mirror after taking a serving, as the small seeds will tend to stick in your teeth.
7. Thicken Gravy
If you find yourself with runny gravy and without cornstarch on hand, chia seeds make an excellent thickening agent in a pinch. Add a few teaspoons at a time to your favorite recipe and add more every few minutes until the blend reaches your preferred consistency.
8. Chia Seed Jam
Store-bought jams often contain more high fructose corn syrup than fruit, but you can plump up your homemade recipes without turning to pectin. In fact, homemade chia seed strawberry jam can be yours for nothing more than berries, chia seeds, and your choice of sweetener.
9. Homemade Energy Gel
For endurance athletes sick of sucking down corn syrup-filled gels in the middle of workouts, it’s more than possible to make an energy-boosting gel with chia seeds instead. Just add a few tablespoons of seeds to a cup of coconut water, and let it sit for ten minutes minimum until it forms a gel. Take a few swigs in the middle of your workout, and you’ll refresh your energy levels without resorting to artificial ingredients.
10. Grain-Free Crackers
Because of their remarkable water retention properties, chia seeds are somewhat underappreciated when served toasted. That’s unfortunate, as these nutrient-packed seeds make for a stellar addition to homemade crackers. You can make your own by blending seeds with equal parts coconut milk and a touch of garlic powder and sea salt before baking them at low temperature. You can also consider following this recipe from Oh She Glows for a cracker that incorporates three other seed varieties as well.
11. Homemade Chocolate Chia Mousse
Want a guilt-free way to enjoy your chocolate? A chocolate chia mousse is a solution you’ve been seeking. While it’s possible to use whole seeds for this recipe from Healy Eats Real, the indulgently smooth texture is best achieved by grinding them first.
12. Grain-Free Solution to Thicken Meatballs
Few things make a pasta meal feel more complete than homemade meatballs, and chia seeds offer you a gluten-free strategy for making your own. Just skip the bread in your favorite recipe and blend in a tablespoon or two of seeds per pound of meat instead.
13. Make a Healthy Tapioca Pudding
Incorporate chia seeds into your favorite pudding recipe, and you’ll amp up the nutritional content and improve the texture at the same time. Just mix together two cups of milk (animal or plant-based is fine), ½ cup chia seeds, 2-3 tablespoons cocoa powder, one teaspoon vanilla, and one tablespoon of your favorite sweetener. Blend the ingredients until smooth, and leave it in the fridge for half an hour to thicken before tasting.
14. Sprout Them for Salads
If you’ve fawned over a chia pet as a child, then you already know how cute chia seedlings can be. Little did you know back in your youth that these tiny plants could be an edible, nutritious, and a delicious topping for salads. Sprouting the seeds couldn’t be simpler. Thoroughly soak the seeds in a jar before draining out the water and letting them sit in a protected space. Rinse the seeds with more water every twelve hours, and within a few days, you’ll have a jar filled with tiny sprouts that make for a perfect salad topper.
15. Healthy “Breading” for Baking Chicken
All on their own, chia seeds can create a tastefully crunchy coating for baked chicken. To perk up the flavor even more, consider incorporating them with a breading made from almond flour and garlic powder.
16. Sticky “Rice” Balls
Fans of Chinese snacks understand how tasty a sticky rice ball can be. If you’re trying to limit your carb intake, a better solution is to use chia seeds as a crunchy coating. You’ll need somewhat exotic ingredients like ghee and tapioca flour on hand to make this recipe, but once you try it once these guilt-free snacks will be a staple in your sweet treat rotation.
Experience the Benefits of Chia Seeds Today!
Once you understand the benefits of chia seeds and why you should include them in your diet, it’s easy to think of a dozen more ways to put them to use. So start experimenting with these nutrient-packed seeds. Your meals will be better for it.
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Article Categories: Food & Nutrition Science