In Latin America, particularly Mexico, chia seeds have been prized for centuries. Now, they are finally starting to be appreciated elsewhere as people across the world begin to discover just what these amazing little seeds have to offer.
Fiber, protein and nutrients galore
The three headline benefits of chia seeds address three of the most pressing health issues in modern society.
Modern eating habits mean that many of us are probably getting less fiber than we should. The fact is that foods such as breakfast cereals and breads may take time to chew, which is usually a good indication of a decent fiber content, but unless they are made with actual whole grains, then they are unlikely to have the sort of fiber level you may think. Foods designed to be eaten on the go, such as burger buns and hot dog rolls and even many sandwich breads actually tend to be quite low in fiber.
Chia seeds are about one third fiber, which means that they can go a long way towards filling this gap and, indeed, filling our stomachs so we feel comfortably full and are less inclined to start snacking. What’s particularly good about chia seeds is that they hold water, which also helps to keep us feeling full as well as to keep us hydrated.
Vegetarians and vegans have a particularly high need for protein from plant-based sources and even those who eat meat may wish to look for economical and healthy alternatives. Chia seeds are about one seventh protein, which is enough to be a useful source, particularly given all their other health benefits. It’s worth noting that protein is also a very filling good group, which is another reason why chia seeds are so filling.
Vegetarians and vegans take note, chia seeds are full of essential fatty acids of the sort found in oily fish. In fact, if you do eat meat but don’t like (oily) fish, then you should definitely investigate chia seeds.
Vegans and those with dairy issues should also be aware that chia seeds are a good source of calcium.
Overall, name your nutrient and you’ll probably find a decent helping of it in chia seeds: copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, vitamins A, B, E and D, zinc and many, many more.
Chia seeds and modern lifestyles
We all know that we should be eating three, carefully balanced meals per day and that if we need to fill in gaps between meals, we should do so in a healthy manner. In the real world, however, that can be easier said than done, with the result that we can easily find ourselves going hungry and/or reaching for unhealthy snacks leading to our sugar levels going up and down.
Chia seeds can be very useful when it comes to squaring this circle. They can be easily added to meals so that we feel fuller for longer and easily eaten between meals as an effective and healthy alternative to common snacks. This is very helpful in terms of weight control (be it loss or maintenance) and also for mitigating the risk of diabetes.
Incorporating chia seeds into your diet
While this probably isn’t technically a health benefit, in practical terms, one of the major advantages of chia seeds is that they are so very easy to incorporate into your diet.
Eat them as they are
To be perfectly honest, chia seeds aren’t exactly the tastiest seeds out there and you probably wouldn’t choose to snack on them in the same way as you might choose to snack on the likes of pumpkin or sesame seeds, but they taste OK, you certainly can eat them just as they are. You don’t even need to grind them as you do with flax seeds.
NB: if you do eat chia seeds without soaking them, it’s strongly advisable to have some liquid with them, ideally water. Chia seeds will soak up the liquid in your body, so it’s important to ensure that your body has enough liquid for them to absorb some of it without you feeling dehydrated.
Soak them in a variety of liquids
One of the most common ways to enjoy chia seeds is to soak them in milk and either eat them as they are or add them to another breakfast food. In fact eating quinoa porridge with chia seeds and coconut milk may be the ultimate healthy start to he day.
In point of fact you can soak chia seeds in pretty much any (non alcoholic) liquid and their nutty taste will usually fit right in. Use them in salad dressings or to thicken soups or add them to milk or fruit juices.
Vegans take note, chia seeds can be used in place of eggs in simple recipes (i.e. ones where the egg is just being used as a binding agent). Use one tablespoon of chia seeds plus three tablespoons of water to replace one egg. Use for a maximum of two eggs.
A couple of notes of caution
The fact that chia seeds are full of fiber mean that it can take a while for your body to get used to them, so start very gently. In fact, we’d even say start with as little as a pinch of chia seeds and then work your way up to the recommended serving of two tablespoons of dry seeds per day (or whatever suits you).
For the sake of clarity, by two tablespoons of dry seeds we mean this is the dry quantity, You can eat them dry or soaked as you prefer.
Finally, while we have mentioned this before, we’d like to emphasize it here. Chia seeds can absorb up to 10 times their weight in water. If you soak them beforehand, then they’ll already be full of water and at their most filling. If you eat them raw, without soaking, then you need to be prepared for them to swell up to 10 times their size inside your stomach, which is one of the reasons why a very small serving of chia seeds can go a very long way towards making you feel full.