The Mayan word ‘chia’ means strength and the benefits of chia seeds are legendary. They have long been considered medicine and were even used instead of gold for trade. So what exactly makes these tiny seeds so valuable?
The chia plant – Salvia hispanica – is a member of the mint family and is native to Meso America. The seeds of the plant have a long history of use – the Mexican Tarahumara tribe ate them for endurance and an Aztec warrior would have carried the seeds as standard rations.
Historically, chia was used as medicine, ground into flour, mixed as an ingredient in drinks, and pressed for oil.
In recent years, they have gained quite a bit of popularity for their nutritional benefits, but also because they have a mild, nutty flavour that pairs well with both sweet and savoury foods, adding crunch or a mousse-like texture to different preparations when soaked in liquid.
Health benefits of chia seeds
The health benefits of chia seeds are legendary. Photo © joanna wnuk via Adobe Stock
Chia seeds may be tiny, but they are a powerhouse of beneficial nutrients. They’re a great source of dietary fibre that makes up almost their whole carbohydrate content.
The seeds are also made up of about 20% protein and contain a good balance of essential amino acids, which makes them a great plant-based protein source.
Plus, they are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, helping to provide a more balanced ratio of omega 3s to omega 6s.
Approximately 75% of the fats in chia include the omega-3 alpha linolenic acid (ALA), while about 20% of them consist of omega-6 fatty acids.
Omega-3s like linoleic acid aid the absorption of fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.
Adequate levels of omega-3s have been associated with reduced risk rates of chronic and inflammatory diseases.1
Soaking chia seeds will activate their health benefits. Photo © Firn via Adobe Stock
Chia seeds are one of nature’s richest sources of antioxidants such as quercitin and kaempferol.
Antioxidants support prevention of damage to cells, lower oxidative stress and inflammation levels, which could be beneficial for skin health, as they contribute to the skin’s repair systems and prevent further free radical damage.2
They also contain valuable B vitamins and are especially mineral dense, with more iron than spinach and more calcium than milk. Magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, manganese, potassium and selenium make up the rest of their impressive nutrient profile.
Uses of chia seeds
Chia seeds can be incorporated into food or drink, or sprinkled on top. Photo © kasia2003 via Adobe Stock
Chia seeds have a whole host of uses in a plant-based lifestyle. They can be added to food, drinks, or even your beauty routine.
Ideally, chia seeds should be soaked before eating to activate their health benefits.
“Chia seeds form a soothing soluble fibre-rich gel when combined with liquid,” says nutritionist Jenny Tschiesche.
“The resulting gel delivers fibre to the gut where it feeds the friendly bacteria. This, in turn, helps you to achieve optimal health by creating a better microbial balance”.
Here are 5 ways to use chia seeds:
1. Make chia pudding
Chia pudding is a popular use for chia seeds. Photo © fahrwasser via Adobe Stock
In a jam or mason jar, combine 60g of chia seeds with 350ml cup plant-based milk, and add a little sweetener such as maple syrup, cinnamon, or vanilla.
Give it a good mix and refrigerate for at least a few hours or overnight.
Customise your pudding with berries, granola, nut butter, or other favourite toppings.
You can elevate the flavour of your chia pudding by infusing your soaking liquid with sweetness through natural sweeteners or dates.
Integrate spices like vanilla, cinnamon, anise, or cardamom. Boost creaminess with a couple of tablespoons of coconut yoghurt.
Try exciting combos such as hazelnut milk with cacao for a Nutella twist, or coconut milk infused with turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, and black pepper for a golden milk pudding.
The possibilities are endless, including matcha, chai latte, and more.
2. Add to drinks
Chia seeds add a nutritious boost and a fun texture to drinks. Photo © iryna_mishyna via Adobe Stock
If you want to make your morning smoothie even more nutritious and richer in protein, add a spoonful or two of pre-soaked chia seeds.
Chia seeds are also an essential ingredient in a traditional Mexican and Central American drink called chia fresca, in which the seeds are mixed into lime or lemon juice with added sweetener.
You could also add drinks to your chia seeds!
If you make a really good smoothie, save some to use as the soaking liquid for your chia seeds.
Perfect for the colder months could be a sweet potato or pumpkin pie smoothie, blending cooked pumpkin or sweet potato with your favourite non-dairy milk and adding in mixed spice and maple syrup or a couple of dates.
Or make an eggnog smoothie with almond milk, maple/date syrup and spices like vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and a sprinkle of cloves.
3. Make chia eggs
Chia eggs can be used as a binding agent or to make baked goods. Photo © iuliia_n via Adobe Stock
When combined with liquid, chia seeds swell and form a gel that can be used as a substitute for eggs in baked goods. Simply mix 1 tbsp seeds with 3 tbsp water to get the equivalent of one egg – perfect for cakes, cookies, muffins or sweet loaves.
Chia gel ‘eggs’ are great for making pancakes and waffles or as a binding agent for flapjacks, protein bars, raw brownies, or homemade burgers and veggie meatballs.
4. Add a sprinkle of seeds to sauces and salads
A sprinkle of chia seeds can add a satisfyingly crunchy nutrition boost. Photo © NataSel via Adobe Stock
For an easy health boost, simply sprinkle chia seeds as a topping for porridge, yoghurt and even salads.
Speaking of salads, you can throw them in to thicken your dressing as well as adding them as a thickener to soups and dips.
And it’s not just savoury sauces that can benefit from chia seeds.
To make a sweet topping for toast, pancakes, or waffles, mix 1 tbsp to about 1 cup of cooked berries and you’ll see it thickens the sauce and forms a jam-like consistency.
Sweeten as you desire, add minced ginger or lemon juice if you’d like more flavour to it.
5. DIY face scrub or chia seed face mask
Create homemade beauty products packed with vitamin E by using soaked chia seeds.
Soak your seeds in coconut oil with a dash of lemon juice to create a gentle face scrub that will help rejuvenate your complexion.
Or, try soaking a tablespoon of chia seeds in a cup of cooled green tea to create an anti-aging face mask.
Pour out a small amount of the green tea mixture and apply to your face.
You can then add ice and sweetener to the remaining tea and sip a refreshing drink while the mask works its magic!
A good plant based milk will make your chia pudding shine. Learn how to make your own with these plant milk recipes
Featured photo © mira_y via Adobe Stock
- Calder PC. Omega-3 fatty acids and inflammatory processes. Nutrients. 2010 Mar;2(3):355-374. doi: 10.3390/nu2030355. Epub 2010 Mar 18. PMID: 22254027; PMCID: PMC3257651.
- Addor FAS. Antioxidants in dermatology. An Bras Dermatol. 2017 May-Jun;92(3):356-362. doi: 10.1590/abd1806-4841.20175697. PMID: 29186248; PMCID: PMC5514576.