Food 101: Chia
The first thing you may think of when I say the word “chia” are those green furry chia pets in clay pots you used to grow in your window sill. Nowadays however, chia seeds are popping up all over the place in recipes because of their amazing health benefits. Chia is a flowering plant in the mint family and is a tiny seed that can be either black or white. Chia is native to central and southern Mexico and Guatemala but has recently become very popular in North America.
The chia seed is a powerhouse food that packs so many great nutrients in to one tiny seed and these nutrients are important in the prevention and management of chronic diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Omega 3 fatty acids
Chia’s primary claim to fame is their omega 3 fatty acid content. Omega 3 fatty acids are a healthy fat that is so important for brain and cardiovascular health. Two tablespoons of chia seeds contain 4 grams of these omega 3 fats.
Chia seeds are an excellent source of fibre with two tablespoons having over 8 grams of fibre. Fibre is important for keeping your bowels healthy and is beneficial to help to lower your blood cholesterol levels and keep your blood sugar levels stable. Recommended intake for fibre is 25-30g/day, just two tablespoons of chia seeds has almost 1/3 of your daily intake of fibre!
Iron is a mineral that is crucial for red blood cell formation, helps to carry oxygen throughout the body and is important for a healthy immune system.
Calcium doesn’t only need to come from dairy products! A ¼ cup of chia seeds has about the same amount of calcium as one cup of milk. Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body and helps to maintain healthy bones and teeth, clot blood when you have a cut, and is important for proper muscle contraction/relaxation (including your heart muscle!).
Manganese is a trace mineral that is important for bone formation, skin integrity, blood sugar control, and works as an antioxidant in the body preventing cell damage from free radicals.
Phosphorus is a mineral that makes up 1% of your body weight, mainly in bones and teeth. It also plays an important role in how the body uses carbohydrates and fats and for the growth and repair of cells and tissues.
Where to find and how to store
Chia seeds can typically be found in regular grocery stores in the bulk foods area or natural foods aisle. If you cannot find it at the regular grocery store, look for it in the natural foods store. Chia seeds can be either black or white with both varieties being equivalent in their nutritional content. Store chia in a dry, airtight container in a cool area where it will stay fresh for 6 months to a year.
How to prepare
Unlike flax seeds, chia seeds do not need to be ground in order to reap the benefits. Also unlike flax, chia seeds do not have a taste however when mixed with liquid, chia forms a thick gel like consistency which can be used in many different ways such as:
- Added to your hot oatmeal in the morning
- As an egg substitute for vegan baking:
- To substitute 1 egg combine 1 tablespoon ground chia seeds with 3 tablespoons of water and let sit until a gel is formed
- Make a healthy chia pudding:
- Mix 2 tablespoons of chia seeds with ½ cup milk of choice (cow’s milk, almond milk, soy milk etc.), ½ teaspoon of vanilla, ½ table spoon cocoa powder and sweeten lightly with maple syrup or honey. Put in blender and blend until smooth. The mixture will thicken in about 10 minutes in the fridge.
- To thicken soups, gravy or chilis
- To make gluten-free crackers such as these endurance crackers
- Added to smoothies to thicken them
- Make an easy home made jam by combining pureed berries with a tablespoon of chia seeds to thicken
Overnight oatmeal is a great summer breakfast when it is too hot to eat hot oatmeal and is a perfect quick breakfast that you can make the night before and grab on your way out the door in the morning. Overnight oats do not require any cooking at all, they are simply oats soaked overnight in the liquid you put them in. The most common mixture of overnight oats is equal parts rolled oats (not instant), milk and yogurt with a table spoon of chia seeds. After this the flavor combinations are endless, you can add cinnamon, vanilla, coconut, fruit, nuts, nut butters…whatever you like!
Basic Overnight Oats
⅓ cup rolled oats
⅓ cup milk or more depending on how thick you like it (cow’s milk, almond milk, soy milk etc.)
1 tbsp chia seeds
Dash of cinnamon
Splash of vanilla extract
Stir all ingredients together in a portable plastic container.
Place in fridge overnight.
In the morning top with berries, banana, coconut, almonds, peanut butter, almond butter, honey…whatever your heart desires. If mixture is too thick, thin out with additional milk.
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