Chia seeds have been a dietary staple since the ancient Mayans and Aztecs lived in South America. And in recent years, they've proved their place as a modern superfood.
We love them because they pack a host of nutrients with minimal calories. And unlike other vegetarian sources of omega-3 fatty acids like flaxseed, chia is less expensive and can be consumed whole. Here are some of the other reasons to give this plant a shot:
1. Chia seeds boost your heart health.
As a plant-based source of soluble fiber, they've also got an all-star heart benefit: They can help lower your serum triglycerides and "bad" cholesterol levels (LDL) while increasing "good" cholesterol (HDL) - making it a well-established food for optimizing heart-health.
2. They can help control your weight.
Chia seeds are comprised of about 15-25% protein, which translates to about 5 grams for a 2 tablespoon serving. All you have to do is add chia seeds to whatever you're cooking or preparing. They're also an excellent source of fiber, which is great on its own for keeping us fuller longer. Even better: The combination of protein and fiber makes for a "perfect" meal or snack when it comes to making you satisfied and preventing that blood sugar "spike" (and subsequent crash) that you get from snacks that are not as nutrient-dense.
3. Chia are a chronic disease fighter.
Their inflammation-fighting effects can help reduce your risk of metabolic syndrome, type II diabetes, cancer, and autoimmune disorders such as arthritis. Omega-3s are also associated with improved cognition and neurologic function.
Another benefit: Chia seeds are rich in antioxidants, which are important for immune function and protection of our body's cells from damage.
Chia are also a solid source of calcium, iron, and zinc (another important immune-booster). And they provides magnesium, phosphorous, and potassium - all important minerals that are strongly associated with fighting hypertension and bone-mineral density.
4. They're a gluten-free goldmine.
For people with gluten intolerance/Celiac disease, chia seeds pack important benefits. They're an easy, readily available source of fiber and protein. And unlike tricky flaxseeds, they're stable at room temperature (for almost 4-5 years) so they make for a great pantry staple - and they don't need to be ground for prep or storage.
10 Ways to Try Chia:
1. Muffins and cookies: Chia seeds add fiber to traditionally dense, highly-processed baked goods. Plus, some vegan or gluten-free recipes incorporate chia in place of eggs or flour to yield a similar consistency. For novice chia-bakers, try these deliciously decadent chocolate chia muffins from GH's SuperCarb Diet.
2. Pudding: Chia pudding is definitely a "thing." Because chia seeds retain and swell in liquid, they can transform any type of milk into a gel-like consistency - a major benefit when making some vegan puddings or whipping up dessert without another load of dishes (chia puddings "gel" overnight in the fridge, sans-saucepan).
3. Salad or soup topping: Sprinkling a tablespoon of chia seeds can help add a little crunch to salads and soups. Amping up the fiber can help you stay satisfied even longer and gives an extra bit of nuttiness to any traditional recipe.
4. Beverage addition: Chia water, chia tea, chia cocktails … you name it, these little seeds are in just about everything. The best part? Adding chia to calorie-free beverages may have weight-loss potential. Though research hasn't definitively linked chia seeds to weight loss, the probability is still there. Why? Chia's gel-like qualities slow down your digestion and any blood sugar spike, so theoretically you stay full and eat less.
5. Hot cereal: Sprinkle these seeds on top of hot cereals instead of (or in addition to) nuts and fruit. The heart-healthy omega-3 fats will stave off cravings until lunch. Also, chia seeds can help expedite the "cooking" process - without microwaving or waiting for water to boil, they expand, making overnight oats or muesli an easier (albeit, cold) breakfast pick.
6. Popcorn: Chia seeds make an easy go-to topping on this classic movie snack. Sprinkle two tablespoons on any stovetop or packaged pop to reap the health (and satisfaction) benefits. Plus, the nutty flavor can also help you cut back on other high-cal toppings (like extra cheese or butter).
7. Waffles and pancakes: Boosting your breakfast favorites with chia adds texture to regular batter, revving up both the nutritional content and the volume. (Chia's expanding capabilities make any baked good or griddle cake feel like more.)
8. Smoothies: Add a thicker and creamier texture to smoothies with these tiny seeds, which also bump up the protein content.
9. Crackers and chips: There's no question chia fever has caught on in the snack category. Look for chia in chips and crackers so you can snack on this healthful superfood or add it to other snacks (like yogurt or parfaits) as a nutrient-boosting topping.
10. Condiments: The best thing about chia are its versatility in recipes - and dressings, dips, sauces and jams are no exception. Chia's water-holding properties give a thicker consistency to most condiments, and can serve as a great replacement for other, more processed thickening agents, like gums or starches. (Just add seeds to ripe, mashed fruit for a homemade, spreadable treat!)