Here's some backstory on the popular seed: "Chia is a beautiful purple flowering desert plant also called Salvia hispanica," said herbalist and holistic health coach Rachelle Robinett in an episode of Well + Good's Plant Based YouTube series. "It is a member of the mint family, which we love because it is rich in medicine. So many plants in this family have so many wonderful benefits."
Even though chia seeds have been elevated to elite status in the food department in recent years, they go way back—we're talking thousands of years—and they show no signs of slowing down. The only challenge with chia seeds is finding new creative ways to use them. Luckily for you, we've done the leg work.
Keep reading to learn the health benefits of chia seeds and how to use chia seeds in different dishes beyond just chia seed pudding.
Chia seed nutritional stats
First, the facts. According to Tamar Samuels, a nutritionist and co-founder of Culina Health, a holistic coaching and online education platform, a single ounce of chia seeds contains:
- 11 g of fiber
- 138 calories
- 4 g protein
- 9 g fat (5 of which are omega-3 fatty acids)
Health benefits of chia seeds
They're full of healthy fats
Chia seeds don't play when it comes to healthy fats. "Chia seeds are the best-known plant-based source of omega-3 fatty acids—even better than flax seeds," Samuels says. "About 75% of the fats in chia seeds consist of the omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), while about 20% consist of omega-6 fatty acids.”
They're full of fiber
Chia seeds also excel in the fiber department. One ounce contains 11 grams of fiber. "The standard RDI [recommended dietary intake] for women is 25 grams of fiber per day, while men need 35 grams of fiber per day," says Samuels. "So just two tablespoons could have you well on your way." Since chia is mostly insoluble fiber, it can help lower your risk of diabetes and cholesterol.
They're high in protein
"By weight, chia seeds are about 14% protein, which is very high compared to most plants," Samuels says. So if you don't consume animal foods, know that chia seeds are a great protein source.
They support bone health
Chia seeds are brimming with nutrients that promote bone health such as calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium. In fact, Samuels says, chia seeds have more calcium than most dairy products—about 18% of the RDI in one ounce of chia seeds.
They give you an energy boost
One of the perks of eating chia seeds is that they give you energy. "It's not that chia is directly stimulating," Robinett said in the Plant Based episode. "It's that it's so nutrient-dense that we get a ton of available energy and calories and nutrients in a very small amount." So maybe instead of reaching for that fourth cup of coffee, go for a chia seed snack. “That efficiency can be helpful for guiding our [weight management], for when you need a quick little snack—something that can energize you but not be an entire meal.”
How to use chia seeds
Almost any way you want! Eat them raw, cooked, whole, or ground up. One important thing to note is that they absorb a lot of liquid (about 10 to 12 times their weight!). So before you consume them, it's ideal to soak them in water, yogurt, or your favorite alternative milk for a few hours so they can swell. That way, they won't absorb as much water from your own body as they move through your digestive system.
As a side note, Vanessa Rissetto, a nutritionist and co-founder of Culina Health, advises that if you're going to increase your fiber intake with chia seeds, it's also a good idea to chug more water so you don't have trouble going number two later. Kind of TMI, but it needed to be said.
Mix chia seeds with Greek yogurt
Rissetto recommends mixing chia seeds with nonfat Greek yogurt. Add 2 tablespoons of chia seeds and some raspberries for healthy snack packed with fiber (11 g from the chia and 8 g from the berries), protein (19 g protein from the yogurt and 4 g from the chia), and fat—which will help keep you full until your next meal.
Add chia seeds to oatmeal or cereal
Adding chia seeds to your morning oatmeal or cereal is an easy way to add more nutrients. Or better yet, make overnight oats. Mix the chia seeds with almond milk, almond butter, honey, and rolled oats in a covered bowl or mason jar and pop it in the fridge. By morning, your overnight oats are ready to go. Top it with whatever fruits you have on hand. Cherries, berries, and bee pollen make a good combo.
Make a salad dressing
If you thought chia seeds were only great for breakfast dishes, you thought wrong, my friend. They also make a great addition to veggie or rice dishes. Another option: Mix the seeds into a salad dressing. This blueberry chia salad dressing recipe includes apple cider vinegar, sea salt, ground pepper, and maple syrup. It's then used to top roasted carrots, fennel, quinoa, and baby arugula.
Have a chia seed cocktail
Give your next happy hour a healthy twist by adding chia seeds to your cocktail. This Cumbia Mule recipe has no added sugar and is super refreshing. It features watermelon, vodka, lime juice, ginger beer, and of course, chia seeds. It's basically summer in a glass. Cheers.
Add chia seeds to pancakes
10-minute healthy pancakes? Yes, please! These feature bananas, cinnamon, eggs, cacao nibs, rolled oats, and chia seeds. You can then get creative with the toppings. This recipe calls for greek yogurt, coconut flakes, and maple syrup.
Make chia seed pudding
No "how to use chia seeds" list is complete without the classic chia seed pudding. There are so many ways you can enjoy it. If you're feeling fruity, try a piña colada chia pudding with pineapple coconut milk, honey, and coconut flakes. Or, spice things up with a caramelized pineapple chia pudding or this matcha chia seed pudding that morning dreams are made of.
If all else fails, grab a pre-packaged chia seed snack
Even though chia seeds are super easy to add to many meals, let's be real: Sometimes you just don't have that kind of time. In those cases, reaching for a pre-packaged snack with chia seeds will do the trick. Rissetto recommends Health Warrior bars or Kashi chocolate chip chia bars for when you're on the go. If you have kids, she suggests keeping Mama Chia squeezes in the fridge for snacks, especially if the little ones are constipated. You can also take pre-packaged chia seeds beyond just snack time. Rissetto recommends quinoa blends with chia seeds as an excellent way for the whole family to get their grains and extra nutrients in—without any complaints from picky eaters.
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