You might remember chia as the sprouts that grow on terra cotta figurines called Chia Pets, however in the past few years the seeds of the chia plant have been making a new mark in the health food world.  Though a newcomer to America, chia seeds were a staple food, like corn and beans, in the diets of the Aztecs and Mayans.

Chia seeds, which can be either white or black,  are highly nutritious.  They are now widely used in food products and are available online as well as in many natural food markets. Whole and ground chia seeds are being added to fruit drinks, snack foods and cereals and sold on their own to be baked into cookies and sprinkled on yogurt.  They also make a great egg or oil replacer in recipes.

What makes chia seeds so unique is their  “gelling” action.  When the seeds are exposed to liquid (water, juice, etc.) the soluble fiber on the outside of the seed-shell is activated. Each seed grabs onto more than nine times its own weight in liquid, and holds it there, forming a “gel”.

Chia is also very versatile for adding to foods because it has no flavor of it’s own.  You can add it to drinks or food, and instead of changing the flavor, it will enhance it. Chia Seeds take on and distribute (never replace) the flavor of foods or drinks you add them to.

Chia seeds have become known as a “super seed” because of their many nutritional benefits.  Just one ounce of chia seeds per day can provide you with a healthy dose of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, calcium and other minerals, complete protein, fiber and antioxidants. Also, because chia seeds’ fiber and gelling action keep you feeling full for longer periods of time, you won’t be tempted to eat between meals, so they’re a great weight loss aid.

Here’s what else makes chia seeds so great:

Chia Seeds are a Rich Source of Omega-3 Fatty Acids For Brain Health – Chia is one of the most concentrated sources of omega-3 in any food. Ounce for ounce, chia seeds have more omega-3 fatty acids than salmon.  Because of their omega-3 content, they have similar benefits to flax seeds and flax seed oil, but unlike flax seed, you don’t need to grind them to reap the health benefits.  Omega 3’s are important for brain health, including memory and concentration.  They also support heart health, weight loss, and beautiful skin, hair and nails.

Chia Seeds Balance Blood Sugar Levels and Aid in Weight Loss– Keeping balanced levels of blood sugar is important for both weight loss and lowering the risk for type 2 diabetes, but balanced blood sugar also ensures steady, constant energy throughout your day.

There are two ways that chia seeds balance blood sugar levels.  Both the gelling action of the seed, and it’s unique combination of soluble and insoluble fiber combine to slow down your body’s conversion of starches into sugars. If you eat chia with a meal, it will help you turn your food into constant, steady energy rather than a series of ups and downs that wear you out.

Chia Seeds are High in Fiber and Keep the Colon Healthy– With nearly 11 grams of fiber per ounce, chia delivers 42 percent of the  recommended daily value of fiber in a single serving. Fiber is vital for all aspects of health, and is especially key for weight loss, stabilizing blood sugar, and healthy digestion. Fiber helps slow digestion and makes you feel fuller by soaking up fluid and expanding in your digestive tract.

Chia seeds provide a high amount of soluble and insoluble fiber, which are necessary for good colon health. Each chia seed is coated with soluble fibers which aid its gelling action. The exterior of the seed is protected by insoluble fiber. The insoluble fiber is unable to be digested so instead, it helps keep food moving smoothly through the digestive process. Soluble fiber, and the gel coating of the seed keeps the colon hydrated and ensures proper elimination of waste from the colon.

Chia Seeds Provide More Calcium than Milk – One ounce of chia seeds delivers 18 percent of the daily value of calcium, which is three times more than skim milk.  They also provide iron, niacin, magnesium, strontium, phosphorous and zinc.

Chia Seeds Are a Complete Protein – Chia is one of nature’s highest plant-based sources of complete protein, containing about 20 percent protein, a higher percentage than found in many other plant sources such as grains and legumes. Also, most protein from plant sources like grains and legumes are incomplete, meaning you have to combine them with other foods to get a complete protein source. But chia’s protein is complete, just like that of animal proteins. Chia seeds also contain strontium which helps to assimilate protein and produce high energy. The combination of complete protein, vitamins, minerals and blood-sugar balancing gel all work together to provide you with steady energy.

Chia Seeds are Loaded with Antioxidants – Chia seeds are an excellent source of antioxidants containing even more antioxidants than fresh blueberries. The high amounts of antioxidants in chia seeds also keeps the oils from going rancid – contributing to a long shelf life.  This is what makes them advantageous over flax seeds, which need to be ground to get their benefits, but go rancid quickly after grinding.

Chia seeds don’t need to be ground to get their benefits.  At room temperature, whole chia seeds stay fresh and ready to eat for over two years.  This amazing ability is not found in other seeds like flax or sesame, because those seeds don’t have the same rich anti-oxidant content.  Anti-oxidants help prevent free-radical damage in your body. Free radicals lead to conditions such as premature aging of the skin,  chronic inflammation of various tissues, and the formation of cancer cells.

Chia Seeds can Replace Eggs and Oils in Recipes  – You can easily replace one fourth of the oil or butter in a baking recipe with chia gel without noticing any change in the taste or texture, and can also replace eggs. The food will bake the same and taste the same (or better) from the addition of the chia gel, and it will increase the nutritional profile of your foods. Although it might be tempting to substitute a larger percent for a larger benefit, 25% is the maximum substitution ratio you can use unnoticed.  Addint the chia gel to your recipes can keep the food moist and tasting fresh longer. This can be used in many things like cakes, muffins, brownies, quick breads or any recipe that asks for oil or butter.

Start by mixing ¼ cup chia seeds and 1 cup of water, stir, and let sit for 15 minutes or so.  The seeds will turn into a gel that is the consistency of pudding or custard.  You can store chia gel in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

To use chia gel in your recipes, divide the amount of butter or oil by 4, and then use that amount of chia gel to fill in.  To replace eggs, use the following guidelines.  Please note that you cannot replace both eggs and oil with chia gel in a recipe, it has to be one or the other.

Combine water and chia and let sit for 10-15 minutes or until it gels:

Ingredients for 1 egg:
3 Tbsp Water
1 Tbsp Chia Seed

Ingredients for 4 eggs:
¾  Cup Water
¼  Cup Chia Seed

Ingredients for 8 eggs:
1 ½  Cup Water
½  Cup Chia Seed

Chia Seed Gel Makes Great Snacks – When you soak chia seeds in other liquids that have flavor, such as a fruit juice, vegetable juice, or flavored water you have an instant snack.  Prepare a flavored gel by combining 1 cup of liquid and ¼ cup chia seeds, stir,  and allow them to soak for about 15 minutes. You can eat the gel after 15 minutes or let it soak longer to increase the nutrition content.

Adding fruit or granola to the gel is a great way to make a unique snack and will give you a great energy boost.  Sliced bananas, pears, or peaches are a perfect compliment. Blueberries, raspberries or strawberries also add an amazing flavor and texture. Stir the fruit in gently and eat the chia gel with a spoon.

The fruit juice chia gel makes an incredible topping for yogurt, oatmeal, and desserts as well. When the gel is mixed with fruit and layered with yogurt or custard you have a delicious parfait. The possibilities are endless!


Vanilla Chia Seed Pudding

1 ½  cups unsweetened vanilla almond milk
4 drops liquid stevia, or to taste
1/4 cup chia seeds
fresh fruit toppings of your choice, optional

Combine almond milk, chia seeds, and stevia in a bowl and stir thoroughly. Place in the refrigerator for two hours or overnight to thicken, stirring occasionally. Spoon into serving dishes and top with fresh fruit as desired.