Anyone who was alive in the 80’s has had the catchphrase “Ch-Ch-Ch-Chia” ring through his or her head at least once. And though nostalgic to many, chia seeds are actually a nutrition powerhouse. Chia is an edible seed that comes from the desert plant Salvia hispanica, a member of the mint family that grows abundantly in southern Mexico. The Aztecs prized these miniature seeds more than gold and not only were they a main component of the Aztec and Mayan diets for survival, they were also used medicinally to stimulate saliva flow and to relieve joint pain and sore skin. Today, you can purchase them inexpensively online and at most health food stores.
Among the benefits: The body rapidly digests chia seeds, extracting the many nutrients this unique superfood provides. In particular, chia seeds offer an abundance of calcium, protein, amino acids, omega-3 fatty acids (even more than flaxseeds and just as much as wild salmon), and antioxidants. Chia is so rich in antioxidants that the seeds are protected from deterioration and will not become rancid, allowing shelf stable storage for long periods of time. Chia seeds also provide fiber (25 grams will give you 6.9 grams of fiber) as well as phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, copper, iron, niacin, and zinc.
Additional advantage to chia seeds: when added to water and allowed to sit for 30 minutes, chia forms a gel. This technique is commonly used in vegan baking as a replacement for eggs. More importantly, this gel-like reaction has also been shown to take place in the stomach, slowing the process by which digestive enzymes break down carbohydrates and convert them into sugar.
Uses: Chia has a nutlike flavor. You can sprinkle them ground or whole on cereal, in yogurt, salads, or smoothies, or grind them and mix them to batter when making muffins or other baked goods. Just beware, that gel like reaction chia has when mixed with liquid does not affect its taste, but it is a textural component that may take some a bit of adjusting to. I make this chocolate chia pudding at home and while at first it may seem off putting and quite honestly, weird – it has an addictive, good for you, did I really just finish the whole bowl?, feeling.
Chia Chocolate Pudding
In glass bowl whisk together 1 cup unsweetened almond milk, 2 tablespoons cocoa powder, 3 tablespoons agave nectar, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract and 1/3 cup chia seeds. Place in the refrigerator and stir several times…it is thickened and ready to eat in 30 minutes. Top with fresh berries, bananas, chopped nuts, whipped cream, granola, Greek yogurt, shaved chocolate, or just enjoy on its own.
And no, ingesting chia seeds will not result in internal plant growth.