What The Hell Chia Seeds Are, And Why They're Great for You

These are magical
These are magical
Photo by Dominique Boubion

At some point in your life, some one has probably asked: If you were stuck on an island and you only had one thing to eat, what would it be? I'm betting you answered something like "Mom's spaghetti," or the obvious choice, pizza. I always went with cheeseburgers, but that's beside the point because it turns out that all of those answers are wrong. There is a correct response. Chia seeds.

What are chia seeds, anyway? They've started to show up everywhere from Brazilian fruit bowls to grocery store yogurt. They should should be good for you, right? Well, let's break this down. If you're on an island, you will need a food that will sustain you for a long time, is very nutritious, can be stored without maintenance and expiration, and will curb your appetite. And ta-da - you have chia seeds. They don't call it a miracle food for nothing.

They don't even look that weird
They don't even look that weird
Photo by Dominique Boubion

Succeeding kale as the health food of the year, chia seeds became the it food of 2013 (at least that's when I started shoveling chia pudding into my mouth). But chia seeds have been embraced since at least 3500 BC, approximately when Aztec started to eat them. Chia seeds are found inside of the flower of Salvia hispanic, a member of the mint family that grows in desert areas.

So, how good are they for you? When people rave about the health properties of chia seeds, they are likely referring to the Omega-3 fatty acids the seeds contain. Omega 3s help reduce cholesterol and inflammation as well as improving brain functionality, reducing blood pressure, and supporting our immune systems and reproductive systems. Omega 3s can even helps fight things such as depression and other mental disorders. Green Med Info compiled a straightforward list of exactly 61 health benefits, if you really want to read them all.

One property that has been of particularly good commercial use is that chia seeds are hydrophilic. This means that they are absorb water and when digested expand, creating a feeling of fullness. Chia seeds aren't just healthy, they contribute to weight loss. The added benefit to this feeling of fullness is that its nutritional content maintains a feeling of satiety. The numbers: An ounce of chia seeds provides 137 calories, 9 grams of fat, 12 carbohydrates, 11 grams of fiber (which is 42 percent of a person's recommended intake) and 4 grams of protein (which is more protein than is found in corn, rice and wheat). As I mentioned before, these numbers are astronomical considering the ratio of calories to nutrients in other foods that we eat.

Sure, you're now probably asking, but does it taste good? Well, it tastes better than heart disease.  

Looks better than heart disease too
Looks better than heart disease too
Photo by Dominique Boubion

Most people say that chia seeds have a mild, nutty flavor, but, really, I think they taste like nothing, which isn't a bad thing. It's the opposite, because it makes them highly versatile. You can literally throw them into everything that you make, and you won't notice they're there, but your body will certainly reap the benefits.

My favorite way to eat chia seeds is in a pudding. All you need is a few tablespoons of chia, a bit of almond milk, honey and fresh fruit to have a superfood breakfast. But the Internet doesn't stop at pudding.

Wellness Mama put together 10 inventive ways to use chia seeds. Because of it's hydrophilic quality, it can be substituted for an egg while baking and as a thickening agent in soups or gravies. One of my favorite ideas comes from Step Into My Green World, and involves using chia as a thickening agent to substitute pectin or xanthan gum to make blueberry jam. Pectin and xanthan gum are kind of hollow on the nutrition front, but chia seeds? Well..

Also just in time for spring and summer is Chia Fresca, a beautiful drink that originates in Latin America. It is both refreshing and nutritious. Oh She Glows uses lemon to make a lemonade, but I imagine that orange and other fruits could give good flavor to a drink like this.

So, imagine you're back on that island. How's that pizza looking now?

Follow Stick a Fork In It on Twitter @ocweeklyfood or on Facebook! And don't forget to download our free Best Of App here!

You can also follow Dominique on Instagram @Domineek. Also, check out her new cooking project, @CookbookWeekly.


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