Chia seeds are no longer reserved for growing “hair” on pots shaped like Obama’s head. As it turns out, they’re actually packed with nutrients and are easy to add to everyday foods.
What are chia seeds?
The seeds come from a plant in the mint family known as Salvia hispanica that is grown in its native Mexico and Guatemala, as well as Bolivia, Argentina, Ecuador and Australia. No, you cannot smoke said plant for a trippy, hallucinogenic experience — you’re thinking of Salvia divinorum — so please don’t attempt to smoke chia seeds.
Eating Salvia hispanica seeds is not a new concept. The brown, gray, black and white oval-shaped seeds were eaten back in the day — like way back in the day — by Aztecs. They’re smaller than flax seeds and, unlike flax seeds, can be stored for years without losing flavor or nutritional value. Because their flavor is so mild, they can be added to just about any food.
Nutritional benefits of chia seeds
Chia seeds yield 25% to 30% extractable oil, which explains their high amount of omega-3 fatty acids — fats that are known to reduce inflammation and help reduce the risk of heart disease, arthritis and cancer. In fact, they contain more fiber and omega-3 fats than flax or other grain seeds. One tablespoon yields only 46 calories and 4 grams of carbohydrates, so many people trying to lose weight add it to water for a low-calorie full feeling that lasts throughout the day.
Unlike flax seeds, you don’t need to grind chia seeds to obtain their nutrients, which also include calcium, phosphorus, antioxidants called tocopherols and manganese. At least one study has suggested that the consumption of chia seeds could help diabetics control their blood sugar and protect their hearts, though more research is needed to confirm these results.
Like quinoa, brown rice and whole-wheat options, chia seeds are an excellent substitute for refined grains like white bread and white rice. These whole grains can help lower your risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, among other conditions.
But what am I supposed to do with them?
You can snack on whole, raw chia seeds all you want or add them to water, like we previously noted. If you add them to water, juices or tea and wait about 10 or 15 minutes, the seeds will start to take on a thicker, gelatinous texture that you can consume in that form or add to sauces and salad dressings.
Because of the way the seeds gel in liquid, they’re frequently used as a thickening agent and are even used as an egg substitute in some recipes. Try making porridge by grinding the seeds and mixing them with hot milk, or create your own homemade jam or jelly by mixing the seeds with pureed fruit and a little sugar. After about 30 minutes, the mixture will be ready to spread on toast.
If you’re not a fan of the gelatinous texture, try just sprinkling the seeds on oatmeal, adding them to meat marinades and burgers, or mixing them into casseroles, potato salad or even pasta dishes. Or stir them into yogurt, cottage cheese or pudding. The seeds are also enjoyable when they’re just sprinkled in salads and on sandwiches or used in a stir fry. If you’re a smoothie-lover, try blending about 1/8 cup of the seeds with the rest of your usual ingredients in a blender. You won’t even notice them.
It’s also not uncommon for chia seeds to be ground and used in baked goods like breads, cakes and biscuits. These cranberry chia muffins from “The Dr. Oz Show” are a great example.
Need more ideas? Try these peanut butter chia granola bars from Savoring The Thyme or this mango coconut chia pudding from Skinnytaste.
Where to find them
You can find chia seeds online or in the health food section of most large supermarkets.