Chia seeds are chameleons in the kitchen. Because they’re flavorless, they’re added just as easily into sweet green smoothies as they are to rice pilaf. Even the texture of chia changes depending on how you use them. Straight out of the package they’re crunchy like poppy seeds, but after exposure to liquid for just a few minutes they gel up and take on a tapioca-like consistency. Here’s the beautiful thing: they add a ton of nutrients to any dish—even not-so-healthy desserts like this vegan chocolate mousse.
A one-ounce serving of the tiny seeds contains fiber, protein, healthy fats, and a powerful dose of calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, vitamin B, and antioxidants—all for less than 130 calories. Basically, they’re uber-healthy. But once you buy a whole bag of chia seeds, what exactly do you do with them? Get ready to get chia-inspired—this is one superfood ingredient that you’ll never want to be without!
Tip: We just launched our own Thrive Market chia seeds—pick up your bag here!
Chia’s nutritional benefits
Protein, carbohydrates, and fat are considered macronutrients—aka the building blocks of nutrition that we absolutely need for survival. Two tablespoons contain nine grams of fat (mostly from healthy omega-3 fatty acids), four grams of protein, just one gram of net carbs, and just 130 calories. Gram for gram, chia seeds are more protein-rich than eggs, have more fiber than oats, and are packed with way more omega-3s than walnuts. Impressive, right?
Getting the majority of your macronutrients from chia seeds probably isn’t feasible—for the average woman to get the recommended daily value of 46 grams of protein, she’d need to eat 1 ⅓ cups of chia seeds—but mixing a few tablespoons into your meal can certainly make whatever’s on your plate more nutritious. If you’re looking for vegan protein, chia seeds are a great source because they supply all nine of the essential amino acids, which are normally found only in animal proteins. These amino acids can’t be created by the human body and are necessary for muscle growth and recovery, so the only way to get them is through food.
Because of their high fat concentration, chia seeds have a ton of antioxidants, or micronutrients that fight against free-radical damage in the body, in turn preventing serious diseases caused by cell damage like cancer, dementia, and heart disease. Antioxidants also act like natural preservatives—they keep the omega-3 fatty acids from going rancid over time. Good for the chia, and good for you.
You can count on chia seeds for calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, and B vitamins, too.
The reason that chia seeds can absorb over ten times their weight in water is because of their high fiber content. One serving contains a whopping 11 grams, and chia are about 40 percent fiber by weight. That makes them one of the most fiber-dense foods in the world.
We know that fiber helps push waste through your intestines and colon, but it’s also necessary for feeding healthy gut bacteria. Getting more fiber in your diet even helps with inflammation, as it flushes toxins out of the system.
Health benefits of chia
It’s so obvious, you’ll almost roll your eyes. But chia seeds have been scientifically proven to help with weight loss because … they take up space in your stomach. Yup, it’s pretty basic. But here’s how it works: As the seeds are exposed to liquids that you eat or drink and they make their way down to your stomach, they expand, and leave you literally feeling more full. And when you’re not hungry, you eat less!
Lower risk of heart disease
Because they contain omega-3 fatty acids, chia seeds can have a positive effects on both good and bad cholesterol levels. Studies have also found that they can help reduce belly fat and inflammation, two determinants that play a role in heart health.
Balance blood sugar levels
When diabetic patients were fed chia seeds over 12 weeks, their blood sugar levels dropped, blood pressure lowered and stabilized, and inflammatory markers in the blood were reduced by 40 percent.
Because they’re so high in fiber, it seems plausible that eating chia seeds could reduce blood sugar spikes immediately after meals, but more research is needed on the topic.
How to use chia seeds
There’s no reason not to have these superfood seeds on the shelf—you need zero kitchen skills to incorporate chia into practically any dish. Here’s how.
On their own
Make chia seed pudding, the popular tapioca-like breakfast (or dessert) that’s currently on the menu of trendy health food spots everywhere. Chia seeds literally have no taste, so you can add any liquid to give your pudding the flavor you want—fruity, creamy, spicy, it’s your call. We like to use almond milk or coconut milk. Add three tablespoons of chia seeds to one cup of liquid and stir; allow to sit for at least 20 minutes, or as long as overnight. Enjoy!
Again, you won’t really taste ’em, so you can add chia seeds into your smoothie of choice without sacrificing flavor or consistency. High-quality blenders might pulverize the little seeds, turning them into more of a chia flour that acts as a thickener. Don’t want a creamy, milkshake-like smoothie? Stir them in when you’re done blending.
In baked goods
Because chia seeds are hydrophilic, meaning they absorb water well, they make an excellent substitution for eggs in vegan baking. To make one “egg,” first, using a food processor, grind 1 tablespoon of chia into a meal. Then combine with 3 tablespoons of water, and allow to sit for 15 minutes.
You can also add whole chia seeds into breads, muffins, and cookies for a little extra crunch and fiber.
Making granola or trail mix at home? Throw raw chia seeds into the mix. They easily stick to the wet ingredients, but as the granola bakes, the seeds remain firm and crunchy.
Adding a spoonful of chia seeds into morning oatmeal should be a no-brainer by now—but take it a step further and try mixing chia into your next savory rice or quinoa dish.
Want more inspiration for how to make chia part of your life every day? Check out this video:
Photo credit: Paul Delmont