How to Eat Chia Seeds
A registered dietitian weighs in on their nutritional benefits. Plus, our favorite ways to incorporate chia seeds daily.
By Fraya Berg and Dana Angelo White, M.S., R.D., A.T.C. for Food Network Kitchen.
Fraya is a chef and a contributing writer at Food Network.
Dana is a registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc. , which specializes in culinary and sports nutrition.
The force of the chia seed is still going strong and if you’re not a fan, you might want to give them another try. First rising to popularity in 1980s infomercials for their ability to quickly sprout a hair-like houseplant (Remember Chia Pet?), we now recognize what the ancient Mayan and Aztec cultures realized thousands of years ago: chia seeds are a superfood. With chia seeds now available almost everywhere, we're taking a look at the nutrients and benefits they offer as well as how to cook with and eat them.
What Are Chia Seeds?
Chia seeds come from an annual herb that belongs to the mint family. Native to Mexico (chia comes from an Aztec word meaning “oily”), health-food fans praise them for their high fiber and healthy omega-3 fat content (they’ve got ALA, similar to flax seeds). Because of these nutrients, Chia is often pushed for helping to lower blood pressure and cholesterol and treat symptoms of diabetes. Chia seeds are sold in a variety of ways: whole or ground seed or as an oil in liquid or gelcaps. You can use ground chia like you might use wheat germ -- add it to smoothies, yogurt, cereals and salads. It also works in baking; use three parts flour to one part ground chia powder.
Chia Seed Nutrition Info
Chia seeds pack a huge nutritional punch. One quarter cup of chia seeds contains 180 calories, 11 grams of total fat, 1 gram of saturated fat and no cholesterol. That same portion also contains 16 grams of carbohydrates, which includes a whopping 14 grams of hunger-fighting fiber. If you want to add more to your diet, increase your intake in small increments to prevent any undesired gastrointestinal side effects. Chia seeds also boast 6 grams of protein and 15 percent of the daily recommendation for both calcium and iron per serving. A large portion of the fat in chia seeds comes from heart healthy and inflammation fighting ALA omega-3 fats, nearly 5,000 milligrams per ounce.
Are Chia Seeds Healthy?
Chia seeds have a lot going for them and do deserve superfood status. But to really reap the benefits of chia you need to eat them — in fairly large portions — regularly. Chia seeds aren't cheap either. While the supply and price has come down in recent years, stocking up on chia can be an investment.
How to Eat Chia Seeds
Those tiny chia seeds are extremely crunchy, but add a little liquid and they have the unique quality of swelling (AKA gelatinization). Let them sit for a few minutes and they begin to swell and take on a slippery quality, which helps them thicken and bind various recipes. If you put them in enough water and give them time, they will absorb 10 times their weight in water.
Chia Seed Pudding
Chia pudding is a good place to start because it's so simple and versatile.
You can start with any flavor profile you like (pureed fruit, vanilla, you name it). Add your favorite type of milk and chia seeds, then let the mixture sit for 30 minutes to create pudding. Feel free to play around with the flavors, but make sure you follow this formula: 1/4 cup of chia seeds per 2 cups of flavored milk/yogurt.
Enjoy your chia pudding on its own, or get more elaborate by using it as the base for a fruit dessert bowl, turning it into individual layered parfaits or freezing it into pops.
For more inspiration, check out our story 5 Ways to Go Chia Pudding Crazy.
Chia Seed Jam
Chia seed jam is a versatile way to eat the nutritional powerhouses every day: spread it on toast, muffins or pancakes or is it for PB&Js.
Fruit and spreadable chia jam can be made with little or no sugar – just combine mashed fruit chia seeds, cook down briefly and allow to set up in the fridge. Most recipes call for berries, but any fleshy fruit such as apricots, plums and peaches would work.
Chia Seed Energy Bars
Add chia seeds to energy bites and they will actually help those balls and bites stay together. Chia is so packed with nutrients it was carried by long distance runners in ancient times as the main source of energy, and the word "chia" means "strength" in the Mayan language. Adding a tablespoon or two to any energy bar will pump up the nutritional value.
Chia Seed Egg Substitute
Chia’s natural gelling properties make it a great egg substitute. Chia can bind like an egg in baked goods, but unlike an egg, you can safely use it in no-bake applications.
Create an egg substitute by mixing 1 tablespoon of chia seeds with 3 tablespoons of water, allow to sit for about 10 minutes to “gel” before combining. For more information, head over to our story The Best Egg Substitutes for Cooking and Baking.
More Quick Ways to Eat Chia Seeds
To help get your daily quota of chia, whirl them into your daily smoothie or sprinkle them on your morning bowl of oatmeal (or batch of overnight oats). Chia seeds can also be used to thicken salad dressings and as a crust for fish or tofu. Want to make baked goodies with an added element of nuttiness? Toss chia into recipe for muffins, homemade granola and snack bars.
Chia Seed Recipes
Chia seeds, fruit and nuts combine to make a breakfast bowl with a healthy dose of omega-3 fatty acids, fiber and other immune-boosting benefits. Plus, it tastes kind of like eating dessert for breakfast.
Not all chia seed puddings are fruit. This one is for all the chocolate lovers looking for a healthy alternative. You know who you are, and we’re happy to oblige.
Chia seeds are so often paired with tropical fruits—probably because they are all native to the same regions of Mexico, Central and South America. We love this smoothie because it has so few ingredients.
In 10 minutes you’re going to have fresh fruit jam with a fraction of the sugar you usually get in homemade or store-bought jam. Make it super-easy by using frozen fruit.
If you’re a fan of crunchy-seedy crackers and you’re tired of paying $5 per package, give these a try. They’re flavor- and nutrition-packed at a fraction of the price.
We know that not everyone is a rosewater fan and we respect that, but for those of us who are, this pudding is a wonderful breakfast or an after dinner sweet when paired with fresh tropical fruits.