Chia Seeds 101

By now, you’ve probably come across the infamous chia seed at least a handful of times in your life. If not in your pudding, smoothies, and granola bars, then chances are you at least had a chia pet growing up. Yes, you heard that correctly - the chia seeds in your morning pudding are the same chia seeds that once grew upon the scalp of your beloved chia pet. These black and white seeds throw it back much further than your 80’s and 90’s nostalgia craze. Let's take it back for a second.

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Dating back as far as 3500 B.C., chia seeds were considered a staple food in Mayan, Aztec and Incan culture. #TBT that! These tiny seeds are derived from the Mexican native plant Salvia Hispanica, roughly translating to “strength.” Considering all of the superpowers that come along with consuming chia seeds, it is no coincidence they were eaten by Mayans specifically for endurance. Believe it or not, these seeds were so valuable in Mayan culture that they were actually used as currency due to their ability to fuel those working out in the field for long days of labor. Take it one step further, Aztec rulers were given chia seeds from conquered nations as an annual gift. In the Pre-Columbian codices it’s revealed that 4,000 tons of chia seeds were paid to the Aztec Empire every year. As with many ancient grains, chia seeds were lost in history due to their association with religion. Lucky for us, chia seeds have made a mighty comeback in today’s mainstream diets, as scientists, nutritionists and farmers recognize the health benefits and high demand.

For anyone unfamiliar with the chia seed, when eaten dry, the taste resembles that of a poppy seed. It is dense, small and has a strong crunch factor. They are nutty and mild, and for that reason work really well in both sweet and savory dishes. 

What makes chia seeds superfood-special?

They are rich in fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, proteins, vitamins and minerals, to name a few. There are so many delicious health benefits that come with chia seeds, both physical and mental.

Digestive Health

With upward of 11 grams of fiber per ounce, one serving of chia seeds can meet the recommended daily fiber intake. We’ve all heard that fiber is really good for you but have you ever wondered why? Fiber has four major health benefits related to digestive health. Fiber slows the rate in which sugar is absorbed into the bloodstream, which helps combat those 3pm office crashes. It also speeds up movement through your intestines which helps the body recognize when it is full faster, - and helps combat the 3pm office munchies. Fiber acts similar to a scrub brush on your digestive system, cleaning out any buildup or bacteria that may be hiding away. Lastly, it keeps you regular.

There are many places you can find fiber, but the benefit of consuming chia seeds for fiber is that it can be easily added into most diets as a supplement with little to no energy and very few added calories. The taste is very subtle, making it an easy second thought. Lastly, when mixed with liquid, chia seeds form a gelatin around the seed that acts like a prebiotic, supporting the growth of probiotics in the body.

Mental Health

With the pressures that come along with today’s work environment, depression and anxiety are ever so present in our younger generations. Experts from the Central Food Technological Research Institute are calling chia seeds “depression’s new superfood.” According to these experts, Omega-3 fatty acids can help combat depression, anxiety and mood swings while also loading you up with essential nutrients including iron, calcium and magnesium.

Remember when your parents made you sit at the kitchen table until you finished your entire glass of milk? If only we knew about the health benefits of chia seeds then, we would be out of there in no time. Chia seeds contain an enormous amount of calcium, 233 milligrams in a three tablespoon serving which is equivalent to one cup of milk. Calcium intake is strongly linked to depression and to mood regulation. Adults should try and consume 1000 milligrams of calcium a day and chia seeds are a great place to start.

Heart Health

If you are looking for a high dose of plant-based Omega-3s, look no further. In fact, while not containing all of the properties of animal-based Omega-3s, chia seeds still contain more Omega-3s than salmon, gram for gram. Research shows that Omega-3s help reduce risk of heart disease including thrombosis and arrhythmias. It also helps regulate cholesterol, reduce atherosclerotic plaque, and improve endothelial functions.

Skin Health

Antioxidants, Antioxidants, Antioxidants. Need I say more? Antioxidants are beneficial for your skin in that they speed up the skin’s ability to repair systems and skin damage. Chia seeds can be used in preventative aging tactics too, to ensure your skin performs at peak. But there is more! There is also benefit in adding chia seeds to your daily skin and beauty regimen. Chia oil, the omega-3 fatty oils extracted from the seed are intensely anti-inflammatory, antioxidant-rich, and calming. This can be hugely beneficial for you skin in clearing up swelling, redness, and giving your skin the moisture it craves. Consider the addition of chia oil to your daily regimen, or consider adding chia seeds into a face mask.

Do I have you convinced yet? The ways in which chia seeds can improve your daily functioning is endless. Here are some common, and less common, ways you can incorporate chia seeds into your every day diet.

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Create Chia Pudding

As explained above, chia seeds can hold about 10 times their dry weight in liquid. When absorbing liquid, they create a fun and enjoyable gel-like outer layer reminiscent of tapioca, with a little crunch in the middle. Simply add a cup of almond milk or fruit juice to a quarter cup of chia seeds, wait 15-20 minutes, and your chia pudding will take gel-form to can be eaten. Chia pudding will also stay good in the refrigerator for at least couple days, so make some for tomorrow!

Pack A Smoothie

Chia seeds can be ground up or added whole to any smoothie you are blending together. Since chia goes so well with fruit, the sky is the limit. A fun chia seed-heavy smoothie that we like is:

2 tablespoons of chia seeds
1.5 cups of almond milk
1 cup blueberries
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1 teaspoon of coconut oil or coconut butter
Pinch of cinnamon
Raw honey to taste

Conjure a Jam

Be bold and throw away those sugar-packed, highly processed store-bought jams so you can make your own. It sounds harder than it really is. Take creative liberty because chia seeds mix well with just about every fruit under the sun. Since chia seeds already develop a gel-like consistency, you just need to mash up your favorite fruit and combine the two. The general rule is one tablespoon of chia seeds for every cup of mashed fruit. This allows you to skip the additives all together.

Healthify Your Dessert

Adding chia seeds to your dessert takes that little feeling of guilt out of the picture, all together. Chia seeds can spruce up any type of cake with just one to two teaspoons. Banana bread is a great place to do this, as fruit and chia seeds are such a natural match already. Find a banana bread recipe that is fairly healthy and free of additive sugars, and simply add one to two tablespoons into your mixture before putting it into the oven. Not only will it help you reach your daily fiber intake, but it will also mix up the texture of the banana bread too.

Savory Additions

Not a morning person? Not a dessert person? Craving something savory? Add the superfood into your homemade guacamole, hummus or any dip you can think up. These flavorless seeds will add tremendous nutritional value to just about any snack dip in the books. Another option is to cut back on some of the higher calorie ingredients such as avocado and beans, and replace it will the gel seeds and it will hold similar texture.

Chia seeds have been serving humankind far before chia pets every came into the picture. Now they are back with the mission of making us stronger, smarter, healthier and happier. This versatile superfood is an absolute must for you and your kids. However you choose to add chia seeds into your diet should be done gradually as high amounts of fiber can be a little shocking to your digestive system. Enjoy the health benefits of skincare, aging, heart health, diabetes, digestive health, dental health and pregnancies and go enjoy your life! If you're looking for samples of chia seeds in NYC, stop by Pure Green to try our pudding on-the-go.

Taylor Rohwedder