(Turns out 'chia' is not just a plastic pet covered in grass-like fur!)
I'm very close to my little cousin, Alicia - not only is she incredibly smart - as in, Harvard Law smart - and pretty - as in, Halle Berry pretty - but we have a great deal in common, including a keen focus on healthy lifestyles. While I'm the protein powder/weight-lifting/kick-my-own-ass-in-spinning brand of healthy, Alicia is the vegetarian/Pilates/outdoor-run kind of healthy – which is fun, because we can get a different perspective on health and fitness from each other. However, the whole vegetarian thing has always made me a bit skeptical - so the other evening on Skype, I asked Alicia how she manages to get enough protein in her diet. Aside from beans (which she loves, and I hate), she told me about chia seeds – which she described as a superfood and her new go-to source for protein. Wait, a superfood that I’ve never heard of? Impossible! So immediately I did some research, and happily discovered my new favorite superfood.
|Alicia and I|
So what are chia seeds? Chia seeds are born from a plant in the mint family that is native to the Aztecs and Mayans in Mexico and Guatemala. Among other things, the Aztecs were quite accomplished herbalists, and according to ancient folklore, it was chia seeds that provided strength and courage to warriors and athletes, who were said to have survived on the seeds alone for weeks at a time. It wasn't until Wayne Coates, a marathon-runner and professor of agricultural engineering at the University of Arizona, investigated these seeds in 1991, that the rest of the modern world started becoming aware of a potential new superfood. Coates told The Huffington Post: "Chia is the highest plant source of Omega-3s. It has tons of fiber, and even a lot of antioxidants and minerals. It's 20 percent protein -- which is, compared to wheat, or even soy, incredibly high."
|Raw chia seeds|
So what is it that makes these little seeds a superfood?
• Chia seeds are high in protein, calcium, and iron
• As Coates said, chia seeds are also contain Omega-3 fatty acids and potassium, as well as other disease-fighting antioxidants
• Chia seeds are high in fiber - making your digestive system quite happy, and leaving you feeling full and satisfied for many hours.
• Chia seeds are gluten free! This is great for people like myself, who are allergic to gluten!
Additionally, one of my favorite properties of chia seeds are that they help the body retain fluids and electrolytes - meaning my body stays hydrated - as well as helping build muscle and tissue, making it popular for athletes and strength trainers.
So after reading all of that, you're probably thinking what I was: "What's the catch? They probably taste horrible or are packed with calories." To my (pleasant) surprise - one tablespoon of chia seeds is a mere 65 calories - plus, they don't taste like much at all, making them easy to incorporate into your daily meals.
Currently, my favorite way to ingest these little super seeds is in my morning breakfast shake. With little time for a properly cooked breakfast, I'm often blending up a quick shake before/after my morning workout. If I have the time, I'll soak one tablespoon of chia seeds in water* for 10-15 minutes - they begin to open and become gel-like, making my smoothie thicker without changing the taste at all. (*One can soak chia seeds in any kind of liquid - including any kind of milk, which will have the same effect).
I was shocked to find the incredible versatility of the chia seeds – there are many uses, including:
1) As an egg substitute:
1 tablespoon of finely ground chia seeds + 3 tablespoons of water = 1 egg in a baking recipe (not, for example, in an omelet :)).
2) Make a healthy pudding for dessert!
• 2 cups of coconut milk
• 1/2 cup chia seeds
• 1/2 cup chia seeds
• 2-3 tablespoons of cocoa powder (optional)
• 1 teaspoon of vanilla
• 1 tablespoon of sweetener (optional) - I would use honey!
Put everything in the blender and blend until smooth. Put in the refrigerator for 10 minutes and it will thicken nicely! As you've probably realized by now, the different flavor combinations are endless!
3) Thicken salad dressings and soups
Just by adding a couple of tablespoons of chia seeds (finely ground or not), will cause any dressing or soup to thicken (just let it stand for a few minutes). This also goes for things like meatballs - which can be thickened with chia seeds instead of breadcrumbs.
4) Make grain-free crackers!
There are several variations and recipes available online - I haven't tried any of them yet, but they sound and look tasty!
5) And yes, as a Chia pet!
Want to reminisce and go back to the 1980s? Instead of buying your chia pet, just get a pot, add some dirt, sprinkle in some chia seeds, and water! Cha-cha-cha-chia! :)
There are many more uses - but my favorite is still either in my morning shake or in a cup of oatmeal!