As a kid, I grew up raising chia pets and munching on the sprouts, more for the fun of it than understanding that chia is a super food. Now that I'm all grown up, those nutrient-dense chia seeds are a staple in my kitchen. Here's why you should be eating chia and a few chia recipes to put on your family's weekly menu.
What exactly is chia?
Chia seeds are an unprocessed whole food that dates back to the Mayan and Aztec cultures, who lauded the tiny seeds as a strength and energy booster. Chia seeds are small like flax seeds, but unlike flax seeds, chia seeds don't have to be ground for your body to absorb their nutrients.
Chia seeds are a concentrated food source of omega-3 fatty acids, carbohydrates, protein, fiber, antioxidants and calcium. One tablespoon contains about 60 calories, 6 grams of fiber, 3 grams of protein and a healthy dose of antioxidants, omega-3s, calcium, iron, phosphorous, magnesium and zinc.
According to HealthWarrior.com (my go-to choice for chia), a 16 ounce pouch of chia contains the equivalent of:
- Fiber of 4 pounds of oatmeal
- Protein in 3 pounds of tofu
- Antioxidants of 2 pounds of blueberries
- Omega-3s for 10 pounds of salmon
- Calcium in 4 pounds of 1 percent milk
- Magnesium of 15 pounds of broccoli
That's one power-packed pouch of whole food goodness.
Health benefits of chia
Though clinical studies are few, chia advocates recommend adding chia to your diet because it is dense in nutrients, can increase energy and mental focus, keep you feeling full longer and help you maintain a healthy weight. Chia is a low-glycemic food and high in fiber, both of which can help stabilize your blood sugar levels and prevent overeating. Chia isn't a miracle food, but it can certainly boost the nutrition of your meals.
Cooking with chia
Chia seeds have a mild, nutty flavor, which makes them perfect for sprinkling on cereal, whole grain dishes, pasta, vegetables and fruit as well as to mix into yogurt, sauces, baked goods and drinks. When you mix chia with water, it forms a gel, which can be a thickener or binder in foods and even sipped as a filling, healthy drink.
Almond Blueberry Chia Smoothie
- 2 tablespoons chia seeds
- 1-1/2 cups milk or non-dairy alternative
- 2 tablespoons smooth almond butter
- 2 cups fresh or frozen (thawed) blueberries
- 1 tablespoon honey or more to taste
- In a blender, combine chia seeds and milk. Let soak for five to 10 minutes.
- Add almond butter, blueberries and honey and blend until smooth. Serve immediately.
Chia Power Bars
- 1/2 cup dried dates, soaked in 1 cup warm water until rehydrated, drained
- 1/2 cup dried cherries
- 1/4 cup cocoa powder
- 1/2 cup chia seeds
- 1/4 cup ground flax
- 1/4 cup sesame seeds
- Finely grated zest and juice of 1 small lemon
- Pinch of sea salt
- 2 tablespoons coconut oil
- 1/2 cup steel cut oats, soaked overnight in water, drained
- Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.
- Grease a 9-inch baking dish and press mixture evenly into baking dish.
- Set aside for 1 hour and then cut into bars. Store in the refrigerator in an airtight container.
Harvest Chia Muffins
- 1-3/4 cups cooked winter squash puree (pumpkin or butternut, acorn or delicata squash)
- 2 eggs
- 1/4 cup coconut oil
- 1 cup pure maple syrup
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 2 tablespoons chia seeds, ground
- 1-1/2 cups white whole wheat flour
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup pepitas
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. and grease a 12-serving muffin pan.
- In the bowl of a stand-up mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine squash puree, eggs, coconut oil, syrup and vanilla. Blend on medium-high until smooth.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together chia, flour, spices, baking soda and salt. Add to wet ingredients and blend on low, scraping the bowl occasionally, until mixture is just moistened.
- Divide batter among muffin cups and sprinkle with pepitas. Bake for 25 minutes or until muffins spring back when touched and are lightly browned.
- Let muffins cool in pan for five minutes then invert onto a wire rack to continue cooling.
More on chia seeds
The health benefits of chia seed
DIY Chia Pet
Top 5 organic foods for 2011