Chia is an edible seed that comes from the desert plant Salvia hispanica, a member of the mint family grown in southern Mexico. Historically, this seed was a main diet component of the Mayan and Aztec cultures. “Chia” means strength, and folklore has it that these cultures used the tiny black and white seeds as an energy booster which was most likely due to the nutritious ingredients found in the seeds.
For one, these seeds contain healthy omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids are known as “essential fatty acids,” because they are essential to our health, yet our bodies cannot produce them on their own. We must obtain our omegas through food sources. If you’re not a fish-eater, omegas come from foods like walnuts, flaxseed, canola oil, olive oil, and soybean oil. Chia seeds pack a punch of omega-3s and omega-6s. Because of its nutritional value and stability, chia is already being added to a range of foods. Research has shown that adding it to chicken feed makes for eggs rich in omega-3s. Feeding chia to chickens enriches their meat with omega-3s; and when fed to cattle chia enriches milk with omega-3s. You might also be familiar with chia seeds from seeing chia sprouts growing on the planters called Chia Pets.
Chia seeds also contain amazing nutrients like complex carbohydrates, protein, fiber, calcium and are rich in antioxidants which protect our bodies against free radicals. Chia seeds are a tasty, unprocessed, whole-grain food that can be absorbed by the body as seeds. Unlike flaxseeds that have to be ground to make the nutrients more available to the body. Because chia are rich in antioxidants they do not deteriorate and can be stored for long period of times without becoming rancid. One ounce (about 2 tablespoons) contains 139 calories, 4 grams of protein, 9 grams fat, 12 grams carbohydrates and 11 grams of fiber, plus vitamins and minerals like calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, iron, copper, niacin, molybdenum, and zinc.
The mild, nutty flavor of chia seeds makes them easy to add to foods and beverages. They are most often sprinkled on cereal, yogurt, sauces, salads, vegetables, rice dishes, or mixed into drinks and baked goods. They can also be mixed with water and made into a gel. Chia seeds are used in a known drink in Mexico and Central America called chia fresca. The seeds are mixed in water, lime or lemon juice and sugar is added.
Here are some other wonderful ways chia seeds can be used in recipes and added to your healthy meal plan:
- Mix ground seeds with peanut butter for a more nutritious spread
- Add seeds to soup and stews to thicken
- Add seeds to salad dressing or sprinkle on salad for a healthy crunch
- Blend chia seeds into smoothies
- Eat the seeds whole and raw as a snack
- Add chia seeds to beaten eggs, soak for 10 minutes and make in omelets
- Grind seeds and add to hot low fat or nonfat milk for a nutty porridge
- Throw seeds into a vegetable stir fry
- Add whole seeds to unsweetened granola
- Soak chia seeds in milk and mix through hot old-fashioned oatmeal or add to mashed potatoes
- Mix ground seeds with lean ground beef or turkey to make meatballs
- Cook brown rice in low sodium vegetable broth and stir in the chia seeds when the rice is cooked
- Make chia pudding by adding whole seeds to milk, nut milk or soy milk
- Use toasted ground chia seeds mixed with honey and cinnamon for an amazing base for cheesecake
- Stir whole seeds through cooked lentils
- Add ground chia seeds to flour when making bread or add to cookie mixes