Long before they grew fuzzy green hair atop terracotta pets in the 1980s, miniscule yet mighty chia seeds were a staple in Incan and Mayan diets. Today, the versatility and vast health benefits of chia seeds are well known. Gluten-free and vegan friendly, chia seeds provide the ultimate balance of omega-3s, protein, fiber and antioxidants.
Whole chia seeds contain about 18 grams of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) per 100 grams. This plant-based fatty acid is said to prevent cardiovascular, neurological and autoimmune diseases. Chia are a superb source of vitamins and minerals including calcium, magnesium, vitamin B1 and vitamin B3 just to name a few. What’s more, at 4.7 grams per ounce, chia are packed with more protein than most other vegetarian sources and have four times the amount of antioxidants as blueberries.
Learn more about the health benefits of chia seeds here.
How to Prepare Chia Seeds
There is a right and a wrong way to eat chia seeds. Since chia are full of soluble fiber, they swell in the gut, which can lead to discomfort. To be safe, soak one tablespoon of chia seeds in a quarter cup of water for at least 2-3 hours before adding to recipes. This will create a gelatinous coating around the seeds that will aid in digestion. This step can be skipped when mixing chia into overnight oats or shakes.
Another option is to grind the seeds with a mortar and pestle—some studies have shown this to aid in the absorption of ALA. Alternatively, you could use a coffee grinder to grind no more than 1/2 cup at a time. There is no scientific consensus on whether soaking or grinding is best, but most can agree that no more than two tablespoons of chia should be eaten in a day.
Once chia seeds are properly prepared, they can easily be integrated into your regular diet. Here are three ways to enjoy them with five ingredients or less.
3 No-Fuss Chia Recipes
When you add chia seeds, this smoothie becomes a refreshing and filling snack or meal replacer.
- 1 cup soy, almond or hemp milk
- Handful of spinach
- 1 cup frozen berries
- 1 tbsp of ground chia seeds
- 1/2 tsp fresh ginger
Add the berries, ginger, chia seeds, spinach and milk to a blender and blend until smooth and creamy. Serve immediately.
Nutrients per serving (1.5 cups antioxidant smoothie): Calories: 274, total fat: 10g, sat. fat: 0g, polyunsaturated fat: 0g, carbs: 40g, fiber: 11g, sugars: 26g, protein: 8g, sodium: 186mg, cholesterol: 0mg
Chia Seed Vinaigrette
This tart vinaigrette is a versatile topping for any salad.
- 1/2 tbsp of ground chia seeds
- Juice of 1 lemon (2-3 tbsp)
- 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 1 tbsp honey
- 2 tbsp olive oil
Whisk all ingredients in small bowl until combined. Toss in a large bowl with your favorite salad ingredients (pairs well with blueberries and red onion) and enjoy.
Nutrients per serving (1 cup chia seed vinaigrette): Calories: 233, total fat: 16g, sat. fat: 2g, polyunsaturated fat: 0g, carbs: 23g, fiber: 3g, sugars: 18g, protein: 1g, sodium: 3mg, cholesterol: 0mg
Chia Strawberry Jam
This energy-packed twist on an ancient Incan recipe is the perfect start to your day and is delicious when spread over toast or pancakes and stirred into oatmeal.
- 1 cup strawberries
- 1 tbsp chia seeds
- 1 tbsp water
- Pure maple syrup to taste
Mash strawberries with a fork or throw in a blender to get desired consistency. In a jar, mix strawberries with chia seeds, water and pure maple syrup to achieve desired sweetness. Store in the refrigerator overnight to allow to gel.
Nutrients per serving (1 cup chia strawberry jam): Calories: 169, total fat: 5g, sat. fat: 0g, polyunsaturated fat: 0g, carbs: 31g, fiber: 8g, sugars: 19g, protein: 3g, sodium: 7mg, cholesterol: 0mg
Samara Napolitan works by day at an arts-nonprofit in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Her writing has appeared in Making Music, Relix and The Post & Courier, among other places.