by Christine Hunt
When I was younger I remember seeing television ads for chia pets – usually in the form of a clay sheep with grooves on its back into which you pressed chia seeds. The clay pet was filled with water and within days it sprouted hundreds of tiny plants which you could then harvest and put on salads, sandwiches or whatever.
These days a quick search on the internet can reveal any form of chia pet imaginable – cats, pigs, Mickey Mouse, Sponge Bob, Gnomes, even Kung Fu Panda. And they are collectable!
I don’t remember the advertisers of years gone by ever talking about the health benefits of these little seeds. They were just supposed to be the greatest gift one could give, or get. I was never so fortunate.
More recently I’ve heard more about the health benefits of chia seeds and I dutifully bought the little powerhouses to have in my “healthy food arsenal”. The problem is I only knew how to use them in smoothies – and even then had to be careful of how much and when I added them because they would gel up so quickly that my blender would, well, stop blending.
So, I decided to set out on a quest to learn more about these tiny seeds AND a variety of ways of how to use them. Which is what I am sharing with you today.
Salvia hispanica, the botaical name for Chia seed is an ancient energy food originally used by the Aztecs, Mayans and Incans. Chia means “strength” in the Mayan language and because runners and warriors would use them for sustenance during battle or while running long distances, they were known as the “Indian Running Food”.
Chia seeds are even tinier than sesame seeds. Commercially they can usually be found in white or black – which is handy based on whether you want the color to blend into your recipe undetected or make a poppy seed like statement.
They can absorb up to 12 times their weight in liquid when soaked. It usually takes 15-30 minutes for this to happen, with a quick stir halfway through, but the mucilaginous gel-like coating is what makes chia seeds so unique and versatile. More about that later.
For those of you who like to make their culinary decisions based on scientific findings, here are the nutritional facts of one ounce (28 g) of chia seeds:
Calories from fat: 72 (essential fatty acids, alpha-linolenic and linoleic acids)
Total fat: 9g / 13%
Saturated fat: 1g / 4%
Cholesterol: 0 / 0%
Sodium: 5mg / 0%
Total Carbohydrate: 12g / 4%
Dietary Fiber: 11g / 2%
They also contain sulphur, iron, iodine, magnesium, niacin, thiamine, silicon and anti-oxidants. So much for the boring stuff. The reasons to get excited about chia seeds is how all of the above properties add up to health benefits for you!
Because they contain water soluble fiber a little goes a long way to fill you up and suppress your appetite which is great for weight loss and keeping blood sugar levels stable. Much like vegetable fiber it also promotes intestinal regularity.
The gelatinous quality of chia seeds serves many functions. Researchers believe that the gelatin creates a physical barrier between carbohydrates and digestive enzymes and slows the conversion of carbohydrates into sugar. This slowing helps with endurance and metabolic rates which helps athletes and others who need a consistent source of energy for long, working, school days or moms who just need to keep up with their daily demands.
Those who want to lose weight will love the appetite suppressant qualities and how it can be a food replacement item in place of fats, eggs, breadcrumbs and flour in recipes.
Below are 10 ideas as to how you can incorporate chia seeds into your meals.
1. Egg Substitute – for 1 egg
Use 1 Tbs finely ground chia seeds
3 Tbs water
Mix thoroughly together and let sit until it is the right consistency.
(Do not use in place of eggs for an egg dish such as an omelet.)
For ground chia seeds, you can grind the seeds in a blender, food processor or coffee grinder or buy them already ground.
2. Healthy Pudding
2 c. coconut or other milk
1/2 c. chia seeds
2-3 Tbs cocoa powder (to taste, optional)
1 tsp vanilla (to taste)
1 Tbs sweetener of choice – try honey
Put in a blender and blend until smooth. It will thicken in about 10 minutes in the refrigerator.
The flavor variations are as endless as your imagination. Substitute fresh or frozen fruit for cocoa/vanilla. Use fruit juice instead of milk.
3. Thickening Soup or Gravies
If your gravies end up lumpy when corn flour or other thickening agents are used, try adding a couple of tablespoons of chia seeds (powdered or not) at a time until the desired thickness is reached. Be sure to wait a bit until the seeds have an opportunity to gel. More fluids may need to be added.
4. Use in Place of Breadcrumbs
If you make meatballs, meatloaf, other ground meat recipes that require breadcrumbs to hold it all together, add a couple of tablespoons of chia seeds per pound of meat in place of the breadcrumbs. It is gluten-free!
5. Sprouts for Salads
You may most be familiar with alfalfa sprouts but chia seeds can be sprouted too. You may purchase sprouting jars at some health food stores but they are not needed. Just soak some chia seeds in a jar with some water overnight, (cover them with about 1/2 to 1 inch of water) then drain the water off. About every 12 hours rinse with fresh water and drain. In a few days they will begin to sprout and you can use them with salads, in place of lettuce on sandwiches, as soup toppings or add as a green to a smoothie.
Make your favorite smoothie and add a teaspoon to a tablespoon of chia seeds per cup of ingredients. How much you add will depend on how much liquid is used. Adding the chia seeds cuts down on the amount of fruit/vegetables needed without losing the anti-oxidant, essential fatty acid and nutritional value of other foods.