According to popular legend, the word “chia”, as in chia seeds, comes from the ancient Mayan word for strength. The story could very well be true since these little seeds have all kinds of health benefits, many of which would add up to promoting strength.
Nutritional values of chia seeds (per 100g, unsoaked)Calories – 486
Protein – 16.5g (RDA is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight)
Carbohydrates – 42.1g (RDA 130 g per day for men and women)
Fiber 34.4g (RDA 38g men/25g women)
Fat 30.7g (RDA 44 to 78 grams based on a diet of around 2000 calories per day).
Chia seeds are also full of fatty acids (omega 3 and omega 6), plus a number of essential nutrients, including: calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus and selenium. Of these, arguably iron and magnesium are the most interesting since modern diets can make it hard to get sufficient quantities of these.
Chia seeds and weight control
Chia seeds are often marketed as being the dieter’s friend and a good choice for people who need to manage their weight in general. This is absolutely true, but it’s important to understand how this works. Chia seeds are definitely not a silver bullet for excess weight (sadly we’ve yet to find any food that is). They can, however, be of great interest to dieters. The reason for this is that chia seeds are known for their ability to hold on to water and release it slowly, together with their fiber and protein content. Staying hydrated helps to reduce hunger pangs and both fiber and protein are known to be filling nutritional groups. Hence the benefit of chia seeds to dieters is that they help to ward off the temptation to eat unhealthy, calorie-filled snacks between meals.
Chia seeds for vegetarians and vegans
Chia seeds provide protein, iron and calcium along with essential fatty acids of the sort found in oily fish. They can therefore prove a valuable resource for vegetarians who may have difficulty getting enough protein and, in particular, enough iron into their diet. Iron can be a particular challenge for vegetarians and vegans because plant-based iron is harder for the body to process than meat-based iron (in technical terms, it has lower bioavailability), which means that vegetarians and vegans need to consume about twice as much iron as meat eaters. Vegans also need to ensure that they eat plenty of calcium-rich foods as they do not eat dairy and again, chia seeds deliver here. For the sake of completeness, we should note that it is generally not recommended to eat calcium-rich foods at the same time as iron-rich foods as calcium can impede iron absorption, but there are exceptions to most rules and chia seeds have so many all-round benefits, we think they’re one of them.
NB: We’re going to talk more about recipes later but vegetarians and vegans take note, chia seeds are a great replacement for gelatin and also for eggs when they are used as a binding agent. For the latter, take 1 tbsp ground chia seeds (measure them after grinding) and 2 to 3 tbsp of water, combine, stir well and leave for 10 to 15 minutes to thicken. Then use in place of one egg. This mixture doesn’t behave exactly as an egg does, in fact the only food item which behaves exactly as an egg does is an egg, but it does just fine for most everyday baking recipes, such as pancakes, muffins, brownies cookies and simple breads. As a rule of thumb, if a recipe calls for one or two eggs, then the chances are the egg is just being used as a binding agent and this substitute will be just fine. If a recipe calls for more eggs, then they are probably going to play a more important role in the recipe, in which case you’d either need to use real eggs or move on and look for a new recipe. For example, this mixture is definitely not for the likes of soufflés. You might also want to prepare yourself for disappointment if you try using this mixture with more unusual flours such as coconut flour. It may or may not work and you’re only going to find out which it is when/if you try.
General benefits of chia seeds
The fiber content of chia seeds is very useful from the point of promoting good digestion and good gut health. This is particularly important in our modern world as habits such as eating on the go or at a desk can encourage us to eat foods which are low in fibre as they typically require less chewing and therefore can be hastily gulped down more quickly and easily than foods which are rich in fibre. Also, highly-processed foods, such as white bread, tend to lose a lot of their fibre content even though they may still be fairly filling.
Side effects of chia seeds
Rather ironically, for such a fiber-rich food, excessive quantities of chia seeds can actually lead to constipation so introduce them into your diet gradually and make sure to drink plenty of water. If you do experience constipation, it will probably be quite mild and may be easily remedied with natural cures such as prune juice.
Using chia seeds
Chia seeds can be eaten just as they are but it isn’t the most exciting taste experience in the world and you would be well advised to stick to very small amounts as they will absorb the liquid in your stomach and swell up inside you. This is perfectly safe, in fact many foods do this (for example dried fruit). It just means that you could wind up feeling a whole lot fuller than you expected.
NB: if you do eat dried chia seeds on an empty stomach, it’s a very good idea to drink something shortly afterwards (as in immediately or at least within a few minutes). The reason for this is that if the chia seeds don’t find enough liquid in your stomach, they’ll draw it from your tissues. In small quantities, this is highly unlikely to do you any harm, but it may make you feel rather uncomfortable.
A very basic chia seed recipe, if you could call it that is just to cover the chia seeds in your liquid of choice, give them a good stir (or shake if you’re using a container with a good lid) and let them soak for at least 10 minutes (longer is fine). You don’t need to be scientifically exact with your measurements, just work on a 1:6 ratio, for example, if you use a third of a cup (about 60g) of chia seeds, use two cups of liquid. This will give you what is often called chia pudding, which you can eat just as it is or add to other food. If you really want a “superfood breakfast”, then switch out cereal or oatmeal for quinoa and add your chia to that. To be honest, this doesn’t really have much flavour in and of itself, but you can easily add other flavours. We love vanilla and coconut, maybe with some cinnamon, a touch of honey and some fruit.