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.
If you like the idea of making jam at home, but don’t particularly want to get involved with scalding hot liquids and vast quantities of sugar, then give three cheers for chia seeds.
General jam recipe
2 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp golden syrup or honey
2-4 tbsp chia seeds
Put soft fruit in a blender, cook hard fruit and then purée it. If you like jams with more texture, you can set some fruit aside, chop it and add it later. Add the lemon juice, syrup/honey and chia seeds to the blended/puréed fruit and leave for at least an hour, stirring occasionally. This basic recipe will keep in the fridge for about 4 day or can be frozen for about a month. When you first make this recipe, it’s a good idea to use 2 tbsp of chia seeds and then decide how you feel about the consistency, if you’d like it thicker, just add a bit more, wait and try again. If you go over the score, add some liquid.
If you’ve been paying attention to nutritional guidance, you might have noticed that, generally speaking, fruit smoothies and fruit juices are not necessarily anything like as healthy as they’re often made out to be because they keep all the sugar in fruits but lose most of the fibre. So put it back with chia seeds.
You can put chia seeds straight into your favourite smoothie recipe, or you can make a chia jam and add that. Remember chia jams avoid all the sugar of mass-produced jam recipes, so you’ll just get that lovely fruit taste.
This is actually one of our favourite uses for chia seeds. You can use them to create dairy-free milkshakes with a really creamy texture.
Choconut chia milkshake
3/4 cup water
1/4 cup whole hazelnuts (with or without skin), soaked overnight and drained
1 tablespoon chia seeds
1 tablespoon raw cacao powder, or cocoa powder
3 to 4 dates( pitted)
pinch of salt
10 ice cubes
Put all the ingredients except the ice cubes in a blender and blend until as smooth as you like it. Taste and adjust if you wish. Add the ice cubes and blend again.
Chia breakfast bowls
Save money by ditching expensive fruit yogurts and making your own by adding your choice of chia jam to the bottom of a serving glass and topping it up either just with yogurt or with a mixture of yogurt and fruit (alternating layers can give a very stylish look if you’re trying to impress). Add your choice of topping, if you like, our favorites are cocoa powder and/or coconut flakes. Save even more money (and plastic) by making your own yogurt, it’s actually pretty easy.
Chia ice pops
1 cup chia jam
¾ cup coconut water
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
½ cup soft fruit
NB: for this recipe, we generally prefer to stick with actual soft fruit, which is plentiful and largely affordable in summer, which is when you’re most likely to want to make this recipe. In theory, there’s nothing to stop you puréeing hard fruits and using them, but if you do, you’ll probably want to add some sweetening. We suggest using the same fruits for the jam and the fruit content but in principle, there’s nothing to stop you mixing and matching. If you do want to make this recipe outside of the soft fruit season, then you could use frozen or canned fruit, just defrost/drain it first.
Purée all the ingredients except the berries until smooth. Add the berries and pulse to break them up a bit, while preserving some texture. Put into molds, add sticks and freeze until solid (allow a minimum of three hours). When you are ready to eat, just run the molds under hot water to loosen the ice pops. These last for about a week in the freezer.
Chia chocolate pudding
1 1/2 cups coconut milk
1/3 cup chia seeds
1/4 cup cacao or unsweetened cocoa powder
5-9 dates (pitted)
optional: 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2-5 Tbsp (30-75 ml) maple syrup if not blending (can sub 5-9 dates, pitted, if blending)
optional: 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp sea salt
optional: 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Add all ingredients except dates to a mixing bowl and combine. Leave to rest in a fridge, ideally overnight but for at least 3 hours. Add the mixture plus the dates to a blender and blend until as smooth as you like.
Alternative, instead of adding dates and blending you can add honey or golden syrup as a sweetener, in which case you can add it before or after you put it in the fridge. As a rule of thumb you’ll want 2 to 5 tablespoons of either, depending on how sweet your like your puddings. You could also finely chop the dates and add them without blending although this would make it more of a breakfast dish or lunchtime treat rather than something you could serve at a dinner party. As always, you can top this dish as you see fit and this is a great chance to “glam it up” if you’re serving it at a formal meal. This dish is best eaten fresh, but if you have leftovers they’ll still be good for a couple of days.
Banana Seed Bread
This recipe is a great way to use up bananas which have become a bit over-ripe and it’s fine if they’re full of brown bits. In fact slightly over-ripe bananas are the best choice for this recipe as they’re easier to pulp and a bit sweeter.
Makes 2 full mini loaves
¼ cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup white sugar
¼ cup brown sugar
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. cinnamon
1 tbsp. chia seeds
1 ½ ripe bananas, pulped
¼ cup canola oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F/165 degrees C/Gas Mark 3 and spray two mini loaf pans with cooking spray. Add the sugars, egg, oil and vanilla extract in a large bowl and beat to combine thoroughly, then add the bananas and again beat thoroughly to combine. Add the dry ingredients, except the chia seeds, to another bowl and combine then add the flour mixture, slowly, to the wet mixture, beating as you go. Add the chia seeds and mix well. Pour the batter into loaf pans and bake for about 40 minutes. The loaves are ready when the tops are light brown and a skewer comes out clean. They freeze well, but they’re so tasty, you’ll probably find it easy to use them up even on your own.
Granola bars with chia seeds
These are great when you need to go a long stretch between proper meals whether you like it or not, as can be a reality with modern work patterns
1/2 cup dry quinoa
1/2 cup chia seeds
2 tbsp. ground flax seeds
1 cup rolled oats gluten free
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. cardamom
1/2 cup raw almonds; coarsely chopped
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup brown rice syrup
1/2 cup almond butter
We suggest white quinoa, black chia seeds and golden flax seeds, purely because it makes a nice mixture of colours in the finished bars, but in terms of taste and cooking, you can use what you want.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F/177 degrees C/Gas Mark 4.
Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl.
Combine the raw almond butter, brown rice syrup and honey in a microwave-safe bowl, stir well and soften in a microwave. We suggest putting it on for short bursts, mixing in between. Depending on your microwave, it will probably take about a minute to soften the mixture.
Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly. You’ll be able to use a spatula to begin with, but you may well end up using your hands to knead the mixture as the wet ingredients come back to room temperature and begin to firm up.
Transfer your mixture to a parchment-lined baking dish and smooth the mixture so it is spread evenly.
Bake in the middle of the oven for 15 minutes and then allow to cool in the container for at least 10 minutes before lifting out the parchment and putting the whole back on a wire rack to finish cooling. We suggest you let it cool completely before you cut it, using a serrated knife (or a pizza cutter).
1/2 cup ground chia seeds
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup butter
3 oz dark chocolate (preferably unsweetened)
4 large eggs
1/4 cup strong coffee
2 oz dark chocolate chunks 70 to 90% cacao
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F/177 degrees C/Gas Mark 4.
Grease a 9×9 baking pan, then line with parchment and grease parchment. You may find it a good idea to leave some parchment overhanging the tray to make it easier to lift out later.
Combine the ground chia seeds, sugar, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
Combine the butter and chocolate over a low heat. Whisk or stir until smooth.
Whisk in eggs, you may need to whisk briskly here as the mixture may suddenly feel very thick. Don’t panic, just let the eggs integrate with the other ingredients, then whisk in the coffee.
Stir in the chia seed mixture and stir well but gently until it is smooth. Then stir in the chocolate chunks.
Put the batter into your pan and bake. If you like your brownies on the fudgier side, leave for 15 minutes and if you prefer them to be more like cake, leave for up to 20.
If you have gone for fudgier brownies, then it’s usually easiest to leave them to cool in the pan. For cake-like brownies, you can leave them in the pan or put them on a wire rack.
1 tablespoon unsalted butter (or coconut oil)
2 tablespoon unsweetened applesauce
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon honey (or golden syrup)
3 tablespoons almond flour (or 2 tablespoons coconut flour)
½ teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch baking powder
If planning to bake in the oven, preheat oven to 350 degrees F/177 degrees C/Gas Mark 4.
Melt the butter, whisk in the other wet ingredients, until they are smooth and well blended.
Add the dry ingredients and stir until blended.
If microwaving, grease a mug and microwave for a minute, test with a skewer and if need be put back in for a short burst to finish (depending on your microwave’s power level).
If baking in the oven, grease a mug and then add your mixture. Place on a baking sheet and bake for about 25 minutes. Test with a skewer. If it comes out clean, the muffins are ready.