By Keri Glassman, MS, RD, CDN
What They Are
Chia seeds have exploded in popularity in recent years. Food companies are adding the seeds to cereals, breads, drinks, puddings, bars and many other foods you throw into your shopping cart. Maybe you've even hopped on board the chia bus by putting ‘em in your smoothies. But in order to turn this fad into a behavior that lasts, you'll need some more reasons to pick up these seeds.
The Dirty Deets
Chia seeds are members of the mint family. Ancient seeds once cultivated by the Aztecs, they grow most readily in Mexico and the U.S. Southwest.
An ounce of chia seeds (about 2 tablespoons) contains 138 calories, 10 grams of fiber, 9 grams of fat and 5 grams of protein, as well as 17 percent of your daily calcium needs, 12 percent of your iron and 23 percent of your magnesium. As for flavor, there isn’t much, so you won’t really notice ‘em in your food, except for the little bit of crunch and bump they add to the texture. Yep, we eat these guys for health, not flavor.
- Eating chia seeds is perhaps the easiest way to get omega-3 fatty acids, which are super important to brain health. A single one-ounce serving contains 5 grams of omega-3's -- and you don’t have to grind chia seeds (like you would flaxseeds) or cook ‘em (like you would salmon).
- Get your chia seeds a little wet, and you’ll see them turn into a kind of gel. This is the soluble fiber going to work. Soluble fiber bulks up stool, feeds friendly bacteria in the gut and helps slow digestion to make you feel satisfied. It also helps manage blood sugar. A serving of chia seeds provides a third of your daily fiber. (Um, caution here: An ounce of chia seeds will do you. More than that may bring revenge on your bowels.)
- Back off, osteoporosis! Chia seeds are friends to those with bone issues, thanks to their high calcium, phosphorus and manganese content.
How To Chow Down
Before the chia craze took hold, if you asked someone what to do with them, they’d probably tell you to put a spoonful in a glass of water and drink it down for good digestion. That isn’t a bad idea, but there are yummier ways to enjoy them.
- Add chia seeds to foods you're already eating -- as a topping on yogurt, mixed into bread dough, or tossed into muffin or pancake batter. Recipes are easy to find.
- Have your chia any time of day. I love my avocado-and-chia smoothie, and it couldn’t be simpler. I’m not even joking when I tell you that I have eaten this Chia Seed & Coconut Pudding for breakfastand dessert.
- Don’t buy chia products or foods with chia in them and think you’re automatically getting something healthful. You still need to read labels and make sure the product isn’t full of sugar, chemicals and fillers.
In The Know
Can I get some props for not referencing the Chia Pet or putting the jingle in your head until now? I’m so grateful I can recommend chia seeds to my clients who follow gluten-free, paleo, vegan, vegetarian, or raw diets that I try to overlook how the chia seed first came into the mainstream. Invest in a bag. Use it. Buy another. See? Adding chia seeds is one healthful behavior that's super easy to adopt!