Chia seeds have recently enjoyed a surge in popularity and are gaining a reputation as a modern superfood, ideal for the health-conscious individual.
Originating in South America, the chia seed is part of the plant known as Salvia Hispanica, a relative of the mint herb. The word “chia” derives from the ancient Malay word for “strength.” These pint-sized seeds were historically used as a regular part of the diet for Malay and Aztec citizens, who believed that chia seeds were an important and nutritional source of sustainable energy. These uses have stood the test of time and reflect exactly why chia seeds are one of the healthiest ingredients around.
Why Are Chia Seeds So Healthy?
Chia seeds may be small in size, but they are huge in nutritional value. Just one ounce (approximately 28 grams or two tablespoons) of these power-packed seeds provides:
- 11 grams of fibre
- 4 grams of protein
- 9 grams of fat of which 5 grams are Omega-3 (or healthy) fats
- 18% of your recommended daily allowance of calcium
- 30% of your recommended daily allowance of manganese
- 30% of your recommended daily allowance of magnesium
- 27% of your recommended daily allowance of phosphorus
- Not to mention plenty of Vitamins B1(Thiamine), B2, and B3 (Niacin), Potassium and Zinc.
Chia seeds are also ideal for low-carb diets such as the Atkins program; in a single ounce, 137 calorie serving, there is only one gram of digestible carbohydrate! As a wholegrain, organic food source, they are also naturally gluten-free and contain no genetically modified organisms (GMO’s).
Human studies of the effects of eating chia seeds have revealed the following possible benefits of incorporating these seeds into your diet.
- Chia seeds are loaded with antioxidants. This is great news as these little antioxidants are proven to help delay or even prevent certain types of cell damage, some of which lead to cancer.
- Chia seeds may help with weight loss as they are packed with high quality protein. Protein takes longer to digest than other nutrients, and in doing so reduces your appetite leaving you feeling fuller for longer. They are also high in fibre. Studies have yet to reveal specific effects on weight loss, but the essential ingredients are there.
- They are high in Omega-3. Omega-3 is the healthy fatty acid that our body cannot make for itself. It is an essential part of our nutrition and benefits many major body functions including offering protection against heart disease.
- They have plenty of calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and protein, all nutrients essential for healthy bones.
- Chia seeds may reduce cholesterol and blood pressure. Whilst results are currently inconclusive, one study in Type 2 diabetes showed a significant reduction in blood pressure for those who incorporated chia seeds into their diet.
How To Incorporate Chia Seeds Into Your Diet
Chia seeds can be very easily integrated into your regular daily meals. Whilst they can be eaten raw on their own as a snack, they can also be added to most dishes. They are neutral-tasting, so you can use them in cooking without compromising flavour.
Examples include sprinkling them in porridge, granola or other cereal; using them to garnish rice, noodle or vegetable dishes; or even adding them to meat or fish. They are able to absorb 10-12 times their weight in water, so they are ideal to add to sauces to thicken them and to use as an egg substitute in some recipes. By including chia seeds you will be dramatically increasing the nutritional content of your meals. Adding water to them turns them into a gel which is also ideal to add to homemade jams and jellies.
If you are gluten-intolerant, chia seeds make an excellent alternative. You can use ground seeds to replace all-purpose flour in baking.
There are other ways to absorb chia seeds into the body without ingesting them. Mix them with water to create a gel, and then add lemon juice. You now have a hydrating hair mask. Apply to your hair and leave for 10 minutes for a natural DIY hair treatment.
Example Chia Seed Recipes
Coconut Chia Protein Pancakes
- ¼ cup pancake flour
- 2 tbsp coconut flour
- 3 tbsp vanilla whey protein powder
- ½ tbsp baking powder
- A pinch of sea salt
- 1 tbsp chia seeds
- 1 tbsp coconut flakes
- 1 egg
- 4 tbsp almond milk
- Mix all the dry ingredients in the bowl together, then add the egg and almond milk. Mix well.
- Heat a pan with coconut oil and pour 2/3 tbsp of batter into the pan to form a pancake. Cook until bubbles form on the top, flip it and cook the other side for a similar amount of time.
This recipe provides a healthy and nutritional alternative to regular pancakes.
Blackberry Chia Jam
- 1 peach or nectarine, cored and sliced
- 1 cup blackberries
- 1 or 2 tablespoons honey (to desired sweetness)
- Half a lemon, juiced
- 2 tablespoons chia seeds
- (Makes approximately 1 cup of jam)
- Put the blackberries, peach or nectarine and lemon juice into a pan over medium heat. Heat the mixture through, using a fork to break up the fruit. This should take no longer than 5 minutes.
- Add your desired amount of honey to the mashed fruit, followed by the chia seeds. Stir, then remove the pan from the heat and let it rest to allow the jam to thicken. Once cooled, transfer the jam to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator. Once refrigerated, it has a life of around a fortnight.
This is a lovely, naturally sweetened jam, and it is much healthier than many shop-bought alternatives.
Lemon Chia Seed Muffins
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 3 tbsp chia seeds
- 1 tsp baking powder
- ¼ tsp baking soda
- ½ tsp salt
- 8 tbsp butter, softened
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 lemon, zested
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1 cup fat-free Greek vanilla yogurt
- ½ cup powdered sugar (for glaze)
- 1-2 tbsp fresh lemon juice (for glaze)
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Prepare your muffin tin with liners.
- Add the flour, chia seeds, baking soda, baking powder and salt together in a small bowl. Put this aside for later.
- Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time, ensuring you mix well between adding each egg. Then add the lemon zest and vanilla. Using a spatula, fold in the flour/dry mix you previously set aside, and add the yoghurt. Do not over stir; mix until ingredients are combined.
- Now add the mix to the muffin cases, filling them to around two-thirds full. Bake them for around 20 minutes until the tester comes out clean. Allow to cool before moving to a wire rack.
- Whilst the muffins are cooling you can prepare the glaze by whisking together the lemon juice and sugar until smooth. Drizzle over the top of each cooled muffin and allow to set before serving.
These are a tasty afternoon treat with an additional zing of nutrition.
Blueberry Chia Smoothie
- 1 1/2 cups coconut milk
- 1/2 cup soft silken tofu
- 1 tbsp honey
- 2 tbsp chia seeds
- 1-2 tbsp vanilla whey protein powder
- 1 cup frozen blueberries
- Combine all ingredients together and blend until smooth. Serve immediately.
- A power-packed protein smoothie, ideal to start the day.
Raspberry Coconut Chia Ice Pops
- ½ cup coconut milk
- ½ cup unsweetened almond milk
- ¾ cup raspberries
- 2 tbsp chia seeds
- 1 tbsp sweetened shredded coconut
- 8 drops of honey to taste
- Combine all the ingredients together in a container/vessel with lid. Mix well and close the container, refrigerating for 4 hours to allow the chia seeds to expand.
- Then pour into popsicle moulds and freeze overnight.