The Mighty Chia Seed

CH-CH-CH-CHIA! You may remember this TV commercial from the 1980’s advertising Chia Pets. They were small clay-shaped animals covered with “hair” which was really green sprouted chia seeds. The same chia seeds on these clay animals are the very seeds we eat today to boost our health. The tiny and mighty chia seed has a long history.

Chia seeds were a source of energy in the ancient Mayans’ diet as far back as 2600 BC. Aztec warriors as early as the 13th century carried chia seeds as their only source of food to sustain them while traveling long distances and offered chia seeds as food to the gods in religious ceremonies. In his best selling book, Born to Run, Christopher McDougall tells of the famous Tarahumara runners from Mexico who run 100 miles or more at a time and take only chia seeds mixed in water for energy and hydration.

How this tiny seed can be such a powerhouse of health benefits is nothing short of amazing. Chi seeds are heart-healthy. Omega-3 fatty acids are an essential fat that our body does not make. The dietary guideline for daily intake of omega-3 fatty acids is .45 -.50 gr. One tablespoon of chia seeds provides 2.7gr. of omega-3 fatty acids. One type of omega-3 fatty acid is called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Chia seeds are the richest plant source of ALA. According to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines, the daily value of ALA is 1.1gr to 1.6gr. One tablespoon of chia seeds provides 2.1gr of ALA. Heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, including ALA, can lower high blood pressure and high cholesterol, reduce the risk of heart arrhythmia and blood clots, and protects blood vessels by reducing inflammation and keeping the vessel linings smooth. ALA can also lower blood triglycerides.

Question: Where do you get your protein?
Answer: Chia seeds. Animal protein (meat, eggs, dairy) provides a complete protein with 20 amino acids. Our body makes just 11 of these amino acids. Vegans need to get the remaining nine amino acids, called essential amino acids, from other sources since our body doesn’t make them. Chia seeds to the rescue! Conveniently they contain all of the nine essential acids needed to make a complete protein. Problem solved!

Two tablespoons of chia seeds provide a whopping 10 grams of fiber. The USDA recommends 25 grams of fiber a day for women and 38 grams a day for men up to age 50, and 21 grams of fiber for women and 30 grams for men over the age of 50. Although our WFPB diet is not lacking in fiber, the addition of chia seeds will give our fiber consumption a hike and, in turn, give our digestive health a big boost and the fiber can also help stabilize blood sugar levels.

Because chia seeds absorb up to 15 times their weight in water, it is best to limit the amount of chia seeds eaten in a day. Two tablespoons of chia seeds are adequate. More may lead to digestive issues such as bloating, diarrhea or constipation, or abdominal pain.

Chia seeds are a great appetite suppressor because of their fiber and protein content and their ability to hold water. Two tablespoons of chia seeds have 5 grams of protein which reduces hunger and lowers the hunger hormone ghrelin, helping with weight loss. Two tablespoons of chia seeds also have 18% of the calcium intake recommended and 30% of the manganese needed to form healthy bones and cartilage.

“Flax eggs” are a common substitute for eggs when baking. Chia seeds are also a good egg substitute. Simply add one tablespoon of whole or ground chia seeds to three tablespoons of water and let sit for five minutes to form a gel. Chia seeds have a bit more binding power than ground flax seeds.

It is not difficult to include chia seeds in your diet. They can be added to smoothies, dairy-free yogurt, and oatmeal. Also, energy balls, muffins, crackers, granola, breakfast bowls, pudding, and jam can be made with chia seeds. Here are two ideas to get you started.

CHIA VANILLA PUDDING WITH CINNAMON & RAISINS 

1/2 cup raw almonds
3/4 cup water, or as needed
1/4 cup pitted dates
2 tablespoons chia seeds
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, or to taste
2 1/2 tablespoons raisins
Blend almonds, water, and dates together until smooth and creamy. At this point, you want a thick, sweet nut milk kind of mixture.
Add the chia seeds, cinnamon, and raisins and put in the refrigerator for about an hour so the chia can absorb the liquid.
Adjust according to taste, then sprinkle with your desired toppings, such as chopped nuts, more raisins and cinnamon, berries, etc.
Recipe from: Rawsome Vegan Baking by Emily von Euw.

CHIA PRESERVES

1 cup of fruit of your choice, dicing it if necessary (keep skin on)*
2 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons chia seeds
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Prepare fruit if necessary by dicing it, but keep the skin on.
Put it in a saucepan with maple syrup and put over medium heat for 5 minutes or until simmering.
Remove the pan from the heat and mash the fruit to a puree with fork.
Stir in the chia seeds. Lower the heat and simmer the fruit mixture, stirring from time to time for 5 minutes.
Remove from heat. Add lemon juice and pour mixture into a jar.
Put the lid on when the preserves completely cool.
Use as a jam, add to parfaits, dairy-free yoghurt, or add a dollop to hot cereal or chia pudding.
Yield: 1/2 cup. Keeps in refrigerator about one week.
*Ideas for fruit can include strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, mango, oranges, peaches.
Recipe from: Superfood Breakfasts – Quick and Simple, High Nutrient Recipes to Kickstart Your Day by Kate Turner.

Contributing Guest Writer: Jody Perrecone

Jody Perrecone is a certified nutrition consultant and graduated with honors from Bauman College. She graduated from CHIP (Complete Health Improvement Program) nearly two decades ago and has been an advocate for whole food plant-based nutrition ever since. She has a certification in plant-based nutrition from e-Cornell University and is the founder of Perrecone Wellness. Jody has a passion for helping her clients experience their best life with optimal nutrition and enjoys helping them on their journey. She also conducts WFPB cooking classes and has given numerous wellness presentations over the years to corporations, organizations, and even health food stores. She lives in Rockford, IL with her amazing husband and entertaining cat, Pico.