Claire Kelly explains why these tiny seeds are such an important part of a healthy vegan diet and how to incorporate them into your daily dishes.
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. 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?
Add to drinks
Turn your morning smoothie into a complete breakfast by adding a spoonful of pre-soaked chia.
Nutritionally these little seeds are certainly powerhouses. They contain all 9 essential amino acids which means they are a complete protein and help the body build and repair muscle. This would have been very important for an Aztec warrior! It seems that this is also the reason for their modern-day popularity. They are an excellent source of plant-based protein and not only that, but they are also high in omega-3 fatty acids which have an anti-inflammatory action, making them the perfect muscle recovery food.
Chia seeds are very similar to flax seeds but what gives them the edge is their anti-oxidant properties. 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.
Combine chia with coconut oil for a gentle DIY face scrub that’s packed with vitamin E.
Just add water
The nutritional benefits of these seeds are activated when they are soaked in water. Within a few hours they form a gel and this gel is not only super nutritious but also the secret to lots of vegan recipes as it acts as a binding agent. It can be added to a smoothie to give it a nutrition boost and a bit of substance and it is also thought to be healing and soothing for the gut. “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”.
A recommended daily amount of chia seeds is 2-4 tablespoons. 16g of chia seeds (approximately 1 tablespoon) provides 69kcals, 5g fat, 0.21g carbohydrate and 2.82g protein and they can be used in both savoury and sweet dishes.
How to use chia
From pancakes to puddings, chia seeds have a whole host of uses in plant-based cooking.
Make Chia Gel
To make the gel, combine 1 tablespoon of chia seeds and 1 cup of water and leave for a couple of hours or overnight. This forms a thick gelatinous substance that is very mild in taste so can be used as a replacement for egg, as a binding ingredient or for thickening soups, stew, gravy and batter mixtures such as pancakes.
Try chia pudding
Simply put 1/4 of a cup of chia seeds into a clean jam jar or mason jar and top up with 3/4 plant-based milk, stir in a little sweetener such as maple syrup and shake. Leave the jar in the fridge for a few hours or overnight. Top it with fresh fruit, nuts and seeds to make the perfect energy-boosting breakfast and you can even take it with you and eat on the go or enjoy after a workout. This is the basic recipe for chia pudding, but you can get creative by trying different plant milks, and combining different fruit, seeds and nuts to suit your own personal taste.
Claire Kelly is a co-founder and director of Indigo Herbs, and is passionate about natural health solutions. Following a background as a holistic therapist, Claire brings together a wealth of natural superfood and herbal ingredients with inspiration on how to achieve your optimum health and wellbeing. For more information, visit facebook.com/Indigo-Herbs-Glastonbury, twitter.com/IndigoHerbs or instagram.com/indigo_herbs.