If you were born in the 80’s or 90’s you probably have fond memories of chia pets while growing up (or memories of your children excitedly tending to them)…
You know, those little terracotta animal figurines used to sprout chia, which grew within a couple weeks to resemble a furry friend with wavy green sprouted hair. Ahh, the joys and the simplicity of childhood.
Skip ahead to today and now we’re the ones filling up and reaping the health benefits of those tiny, but mighty, little black seeds.
If you follow FULLforLife recipes, you’ll notice that quite a few include chia seeds as an optional ingredient. Every time we publish a recipe that includes these little powerhouses, we get tons of questions about their benefits, how to eat them and how much chia to eat daily.
Not only are they rich in protein, antioxidants, fiber and omega 3’s, their powerful benefits range from heart health to aiding in weight loss. Because chia seeds are so powerful, we felt they deserved their own post.
So, here’s all you need to know about chia seeds and why they’re high on our favorite foods list.
What are chia seeds?
Chia seeds are tiny, edible seeds that come from a desert plant. They’re packed with nutrients, are a great addition to any healthy diet and help the body run as a well-oiled machine.
Are chia seeds good for you?
Not only are chia seeds naturally gluten- and grain- free, many consider them to be one of the healthiest foods on the planet. Historians have even shown evidence that the ancient Aztecs and Incas used these little powerhouses for stamina and energy. So, there’s no doubt they pack a mean health punch.
Some benefits of this inexpensive superfood
- Omega-3 fatty acids
- These polyunsaturated fatty acids have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties and a beneficial effect on cardiovascular health.
- Fiber aids in lowering “bad” cholesterol, helps you to feel fuller, longer and provides fuel for good gut bacteria—basically it’s great for digestive health.
- Plant-based proteins
- Protein aids in muscle building, but the real kicker is that the combination of fat, fiber and protein create an optimal environment for a long, slow release of energy, without spiking blood-sugar levels.
- These goodies fight against free-radicals, which damage cells and contribute to aging (eek wrinkles!), cancer and other health conditions.
- Vitamins and minerals
- Chia seeds are a rich source of vitamin A, vitamin C and vitamin E, as well as calcium, phosphorous and potassium. They provide several health benefits, including improved heart health and better digestion.
How to use chia seeds
Because chia seeds are so versatile, there are endless ways you can incorporate them into your diet. Whole seeds can be sprinkled onto your meals, ground seeds can be added into baked goods and seeds can even be soaked in liquid to make pudding or porridge.
- If you want a little more crunch to your meal, add chia seeds.
- If you want a boost in nutrition, add chia seeds.
- Looking to feel fuller, longer, add chia seeds.
Whole – You can add whole chia seeds to your meals, just make sure to drink water afterwards, as they absorb water and expand during digestion. We frequently incorporate chia seeds into our diet by sprinkling a tablespoon or two into our food just before our meal is done cooking.
Soaked – It’s not necessary to soak your chia seeds before eating them, but depending on the texture you want to accomplish, soaking them in liquid can help to thicken certain recipes.
Ground – Ground up chia seeds (into a fine powder) is another great way to thicken recipes without having to use starches or in place of bread crumbs (in meatballs and meatloaf). The powder can also be substituted for gluten-free baking.
Chia seeds are an edible, hydrophilic seed. Without getting too scientific and nerdy, they absorb up to 12 times their weight in liquid when soaking. Let’s take it back to our childhood memories once more. This time think of those tiny little bath toy capsules that, when dropped in warm water, expanded into dinosaurs and sea creatures. They’re like chia seeds without the health benefits!
That being said, we wouldn’t recommend just gulping down a heaping spoonful of dry chia seeds. Apparently, one man tried ingesting a huge spoonful of dry chia seeds and they got lodged in his throat, expanded and caused further issues. That’s certainly warning enough for us not to try it.
What do they taste like?
Chia seeds don’t have a strong or profound flavor and can be added to smoothies and common recipes without affecting the flavor.
How much should I eat daily?
There are some recommendations that suggest eating 1-2 tablespoons of chia seeds, twice daily.
Because your age, weight, sex and health all have a bearing on how much (of anything) you should eat daily, there’s no precise amount. We tend to add a spoonful of chia seeds to our breakfast each morning and into our dinner, when it complements the meal.
Are there any reasons I shouldn’t eat chia seeds?
Because they’re so dense in fiber, it’s best to gradually increase the amount you eat, while drinking plenty of water. Don’t go overboard. Consuming too many chia seeds (and too much fiber) at once can make you feel bloated. In addition, some people experience gastrointestinal effects from eating nuts and seeds. In this case, you would want to avoid eating them.
Can they help me lose weight?
Chis seeds have the unique ability to to absorb large amounts of water, which means they expand in your stomach. Their slow digestibility helps you feel full, eat less and, in theory, shed pounds. But chia seeds themselves don’t magically lead to weight loss. To lose weight the healthy way, you’ll need to eat a balances diet and exercise.
Are there different types of chia seeds?
There are different kinds of chia seeds, ranging from black to golden, but the benefits don’t seem to differ.
Where can I get chia seeds?
Thanks to their recent surge in popularity, you can get them at almost any grocery store. If you’re busy and don’t want to spend time scouring the aisles, you can easily order them online. Once you become a chia fanatic like us, you’ll be ordering them in bulk!
How to store chia seeds and their shelf life
We learned about chia seed shelf life the hard way. A few months back, while trying to create the perfect Overnight Chia Pudding recipe, one of us kept having dud batches (the pudding wouldn’t set) while the other didn’t. We were using the exact same recipe and portions, so we knew there had to be more to the equation.
After some research, we learned that chia seeds stay freshest in an airtight container or mason jar, in the fridge or freezer and, if stored properly (both in and out of the fridge/freezer), are good for about 2 years.
Some other tips
While you’re initially incorporating these little seeded goodies into your meals, try not to mention it to your family until AFTER they’re taken that initial bite. People (especially kids) often correlate “healthy” with “not tasting good.” Let them decide how delicious it is BEFORE you spill the beans.
Chia seeds are a staple in both of our kitchens. They’re high on our favorites list, so we add them into an array of recipes each day. For months we did this without anyone in our family noticing a difference in taste or texture. One morning when I (Kalie) served them in eggs, I received a little resistance from my husband (insert hubby with a silly groan and eye roll) until I told him I’d been including chia seeds in recipes for months without him noticing any difference in taste. Now, even he adds a heaping spoonful to meals as they’re being made!
Our Favorite Uses for Chia Seeds
To make a healthy pudding.
For a healthy brekki or dessert variation, you can quickly mix seeds with milk, yogurt and fresh berries. Our staple recipe is this Overnight Chia Pudding with Fresh Berries.
For a quick meal or snack that doesn’t require many ingredients or actual cooking, but still offers tons of nutrition, whip up a chia seed smoothie from Blend Your Way to Healthy: The Ultimate Smoothie Guide.
To make a healthy snack.
We’ve made several variations of these Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chip Snack Bites, but chia seeds are a staple ingredient.
Added to Overnight Oats.
When you crave a quick, nourishing breakfast, this Berry Blast Overnight Oats recipe will satisfy. It’s gluten-free and features an array of delicious flavor combos to choose from. My daughter Isla loves it, and I love that it nourishes her, plus allows me to avoid having to cook something for breakfast.
As an egg substitute.
If you’re allergic to eggs, “chia eggs” are a great substitute that can be used in almost any recipe. You can replace whole eggs in baking by combining 1 tablespoon of chia seeds with 3-4 tablespoons of water (allow mixture to sit for 15 minutes).
In Grain-Free Crackers.
A healthy snack that pairs perfectly with a small piece of meat and cheese (fiber + protein + healthy fat the perfect snack trifecta).
In any and all of your scrambled, omelet and sunny-side-up egg recipes.
This is our favorite way to use chia seeds so far! Adding them to any egg recipe, such as this Southwest Broccoli and Cheese Omelet, is a great way to start your day with a healthy breakfast and a boost in energy.
Sometimes big things come in small packages
Despite their small size, these little powerhouses are packed full of essential nutrients. From mixing them in the ever popular Chia Seed Pudding, to topping avocado toast, adding them into a stir-fry or folding them into your scrambled eggs, chia seeds are a surefire way to boost and build, at little to no cost.
Let’s sprinkle our food with fun and make these little seeds a staple in our kitchens — together!
Have you found a few fun ways to use chia seeds? Drop your ideas in the comments below!