I was quite surprised the other day when a doctor that I work with started telling me about this wonderful pudding that he makes with chia seeds. The closest I’ve ever come to chia seeds is the advertisements on television at Christmas time for Chia Pets, Chia Scooby-doo and Chia Shrek.
How did I miss out on this super food? Intrigued by the possible nutritional benefits of chia seeds I did some research.
The origin of the chia is believed to be in Central America where the seed was a staple in the diet of the ancient Aztec. Chia seeds are part of the mint family and come from the desert plant Salvia hispanica. These seeds contain omega-3 fatty acid, antioxidants, fiber, protein and minerals. Just one tablespoon of the seeds has 60 calories, 5 grams of fiber, 3 grams of protein and 3 grams of fat. Some research has found that chia seeds along with a healthy diet may help lower cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure and help with weight loss.
However, there aren’t many published studies with humans, so more research is needed before these health benefits can be verified.
Chia seeds are typically sold in health food stores or in the health food sections of larger grocery stores. Whole Foods grocery chain has been selling chia seeds for about five years, but recently they have seen sales boom.
Chia seeds can be eaten raw or prepared in a number of dishes. The sprouts from the seeds (the part that is used in Chia Pets) are also edible. Ground chia seeds can be used for porridge or baked goods including breads, cakes and biscuits. Chia seeds work well added to yogurt or in fruit smoothies as well. In Mexico, a dish called chia fresco is made by soaking chia seeds in fruit juice or water. Chia seeds are very absorbent and develop a gelatinous texture when soaked in water making it easy to mix them into cooked cereal or other dishes.
Chia seeds resemble poppy seeds. Go easy at first adding chia seeds to your diet, maybe no more than 1 or 2 tablespoons daily to start, to minimize abdominal discomfort and gas.
Most likely the most impressive nutrition virtue of chia, however, is the nearly 5 grams of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids per serving, which is more than double the amount in a serving of salmon. The omega-3s in chia exist as alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA, a plant form of omega-3 fat that is not readily converted to the metabolically active form of omega-3s, known as EPA and DHA, by the human body (it’s estimated that 0-9 percent of ALA is actually converted all the way to DHA, the form of omega-3 that is incorporated into cell membranes).
Despite this, the amount of ALA in chia is substantial enough that if even a fraction is successfully converted to DHA, it can still be a valuable source of essential omega-3 fatty acids, especially for those who do not consume fish.
Basic Chia Pudding
Makes 3-4 servings
¾ cup chia seeds
2 cups almond milk (or coconut milk)
Dash of salt
Sugar and vanilla extract to taste
Mix the ingredients together, and let rest for a few minutes. Mix well with a fork every few minutes for 10-12 minutes. At first it will be very liquidy, but after about 30 minutes the chia seeds will plump up and the pudding will resemble tapioca pudding.
Georgia Clark-Albert is a registered dietitian and adjunct nutrition instructor at Eastern Maine Community College who lives in Athens. Read more of her columns and post questions at bangordailynews.com or email her at GeorgiaMaineMSRDCDE@gmail.com.