Thinking back to the first time I heard about the ability to eat chia seeds brings a fond visual of my face contorted with an expression resembling that of, “What the?!?!” I wasn’t comprehending that the seeds I used to smear on my Chia Pet or Chia Head were actually a delicious, anti-oxidant-packed, and nutritious superfood. These native South American seeds have been a staple to the ancient Mayan and Aztec civilizations….and even more interesting, there are and have been groups of adventure runners and warriors who survived solely on chia seeds for weeks on end while trekking through the wilderness (if you’re looking for a cool book to read that touches more on this topic of tribal runners, check out, “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall). Many endurance athletes now use crushed chia seed powder as a source of fuel before, during, and after races to replenish nutrient stores. Believe it or not, you could live entirely off of chia seeds because they have 19 amino acids, with all of the essential amino acids except taurine. I found chia seeds as an awesomely easy and tasty way to add omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, protein (4 grams per 2 tablespoons!), antioxidants, and minerals (namely calcium) into my diet with the added benefits of filling me up, keeping me full, and pulling dangerous toxins out of my intestinal tract. Chia seeds actually have more iron than spinach, more calcium than milk, and even more antioxidants than blueberries. The best part? Your kids (and other family members) will probably like them, too! Because they have such a mild taste (if any, at all), you can incorporate chia seeds into yogurt, puddings, oatmeal, drinks, or sprinkled on top of pretty much anything, with salads and cereal being my top pick. A note of advice in advance – chia seeds are hydrophyllic (meaning they absorb water) – that hold around 10 times their weight in water. They will absorb much of the liquid they come into contact with and become gelatinous (jelly-like) in texture after sitting in moisture for a bit, so be sure to store them in a dry place and know that if you mix with anything liquid and let them sit for a bit, you will feel little slimy chia seeds (which may bother some people, although the taste does not change).
OMEGA-3 POWER: Chai seeds are rich in polyunsaturated fats, especially omega-3s. The omega-3 fatty acids in chia seeds are one of their best health benefits. Packed with 5 grams of omega-3s in only 2 tablespoons, you can add a hefty amount to your daily regimen without having to take supplements. Chia seeds’ lipid (fat) breakdown is composed of 60% omega-3s, making them one of the richest plant-based sources of these fatty acids (specifically, of alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA). What better way to get inflammation-reducing, cholesterol-reducing, cognitive-boosting, and heart-protecting goodness into your family?
BETTER THAN FLAX SEEDS? We hear so much about flax seeds as the seeds of choice for omegas, which don’t get me wrong – they are a great healthy choice – but flax seeds need to be ground in order to be of any benefit (flax seeds will pass right through your body unless they are ground) and they need to be used within optimally 72 hours before they can go rancid. Chia seeds, on the other hand, can stay fresh for much longer periods of time and they do not need to be ground in order for your body to digest and utilize it. Chia seeds also contain higher amounts of omega-3s per serving than flax, making them more nutrient-dense.
FIBER AND GUT CLEANING: As we know, fiber is important and we want as much of it in our diets. Fiber helps reduce inflammation in the body, lower cholesterol, and keep our bowels healthy (while pushing toxins out that we don’t want hanging out in our body too long). Making sure our families eat lots of fiber through the day is not too easy to do, however. You’ll like this fact about chia seeds – they are an excellent source of fiber – 10 grams in only 2 tablespoons!!! That’s 1/3 of your daily recommended intake! How easy is that?!?! With chia seeds being hydrophyllic, this is helpful, especially for athletes, as it will help with hydration during exercise and periods of extended activity. If you eat the chia seeds raw (which most people do), they form a gel in your stomach and intestines (from absorbing surrounding fluids). Some researchers believe that this gel helps coat the stomach and slows down the absorption of sugars and even calories at a fast rate – which keeps you fuller longer and helps to prevent the sugar crashes often associated with an imbalance of consumption. Chia seeds can play an important role in regulating insulin levels. They can reduce insulin resistance and decrease abnormally high levels of insulin in the blood.
Most importantly about chia seeds being hydrophyllic, they absorb harmful toxins from your digestive tract and safely and smoothly removes them from your system. With the high fiber content and ability to absorb, think of chia seeds as a great way to flush your system clean. Now do it every day and you will feel great knowing toxins are not building up in your system as easily. Want to feel fuller longer? Do your kids complain about being hungry the second after they eat something? Chia seeds could help with that. Satiety is the feeling of being full and satisfied, which helps lower food cravings between meals. The combination of protein, fiber and the gelling action of chia seeds when mixed with liquids all contribute to their satiating effects.
With chia seeds being hydrophyllic and possessing a gel-like form after absorbing fluids, they can also be used as an egg replacement (which is perfect for families who have individuals who have egg allergies or sensitivities). The outer layer of chia seeds that swells when mixed with liquids to form a gel can be used in place of eggs to lower cholesterol and increase the nutrient content of foods and baked goods. To make the egg replacement, mix 1 tablespoon of chia seeds with 3 tablespoons of water and let sit for 15 minutes.
NATURALLY GLUTEN & GRAIN FREE: Gluten sensitive or suffering from Celiac disease? Concerned about too much gluten in your family’s diet? No worries here with chia seeds, as they naturally do not contain any gluten or grains. If you are gluten-free, definitely consider adding this nutritional powerhouse to your diet to boost nutrient intake, which can be of a challenge at times when going gluten-free.
ANTIOXIDANT POWER: Chia seeds are rich in antioxidants that help protect the body from free radicals, aging and cancer. The high antioxidant content also helps them have a long shelf life. They last almost two years without refrigeration (this is great for stocking up on them when they go on sale!).
MINERALS AND VITAMINS! Two tablespoons of chia seeds contain 18 % of the DRI for calcium (205 mg), 35 % for phosphorus, 24 % for magnesium and about 50 % for manganese. These nutrients help you prevent hypertension and are important for energy metabolism and a part of DNA synthesis. In addition, chia seeds contain vitamins A, B, E, and D, and other minerals including potassium, sulphur, iron, iodine, copper, zinc, sodium, magnesium, niacin, thiamine, and silicon.
If these reasons weren’t enough for you to try or start using chia seeds, perhaps some of these easy recipes and uses will be:
(Courtesy of Wellness Mama for this recipe, which I make often and enjoy)
Need an easy recipe for kids to be involved in making and love to eat?
- Homemade chia seed pudding!
- 2 cups of coconut milk or other milk
- 1/2 cup chia seeds
- 2-3 tablespoons cocoa powder (or to taste)(optional)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla (or to taste)
- 1 tablespoon or more sweetener of choice (optional)- We use honey or a few drops of stevia
Put in a blender and blend until smooth. Will thicken in about 10 minutes in the fridge.
There are endless flavor variations. You can omit the cocoa powder and vanilla and add a cup of strawberries for a strawberry version, or add cinnamon and nutmeg for a Chai Chia Pudding.
- Homemade chia seed flour – Need a flour replacement? Try chia seed flour! Simply place a bunch of chia seeds in a blender, nut grinder, or food processor and blend until into a powder form.
- Thicken meatballs or meatloaf (or anything, really) with chia seeds instead of breadcrumbs. Use a couple of tablespoons per pound of meat instead of breadcrumbs.
- Kid-friendly energy gel – mix a few tablespoons of chia seeds with coconut water and let sit for about 15 minutes until it forms a gel. No need for sugar or additives… kids love it and it will give sustained energy without all of the garbage in processed products!
- Use as breading – tired of using breadcrumbs to coat meat and fish? Use chia seeds instead! They crisp up nice and the flavor complements anything! (Plus, it’s healthier!)
- Sprout some chia seeds for fun… or for a snack! Watch the chia seeds grow like they would as a Chia Pet, but make fun alternative growing mediums. You can also eat sprouted chia seeds as a healthy snack or addition to a salad or sandwich/wrap.
- Awesome energy cracker recipe (courtesy of http://www.ohsheglows.com):
- 1/2 cup chia seeds*
- 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
- 1/2 cup pepita seeds (or pumpkin seeds)
- 1/2 cup sesame seeds
- 1 cup water
- 1 large garlic clove, finely grated
- 1 tsp grated sweet onion
- 1/4 tsp kosher salt, or to taste
1. Preheat the oven to 325F and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. In a large bowl, mix the seeds together. In a small bowl, mix the water, grated garlic, and grated onion. Whisk well. Pour the water mixture onto the seeds and stir until thick and combined. Season with salt, and optional spices or fresh herbs if you wish.
3. Spread the mixture onto the prepared baking sheet with the back of a spoon until it’s less than 1/4 inch thick. Not to worry if a couple parts become too thin, you can just patch them up.
4. Bake at 325F for 30 minutes. Remove from oven, slice into crackers, carefully flip onto other side with a spatula. Bake for another 30 minutes, watching closely after about 25 minutes. The bottoms will be lightly golden in color. Allow to cool completely on the pan. Store in a container.
Note: See the bottom of this post for where you can purchase chia seeds.
Nutritional Info: (per cracker, makes 22 large crackers): 77 kcals, 6 grams fat, 4 grams carbs, 0 grams sugar, 3 grams fiber, 3 gram protein.
Convinced yet? Share some of your chia seed ideas in the comments below! We would love to hear how this awesome treat from nature is best used by our fans!
Megan Monday articles are written by Megan Kalocinski, a Certified Holistic Health and Nutrition Coach and Owner/Founder of Empower Health & Nutrition Coaching of Exponential Health and Wellness, LLC: http://www.exponentialhealthandwellness.us