One of the latest trends in health food is adding chia seeds to a wide variety of recipes. Chia is beginning to “superseed” flax in popularity because chia seeds are more nutritious, easier to use, and stay fresh longer — and they can be eaten whole or ground, or in the form of a gel, while still retaining all of their nutrients. But what are chia seeds and how do you use them?
If your only point of reference for chia is the kitschy novelty Chia Pet, you’re not far off — it’s the same plant. Chia seeds were first cultivated in Mayan and Aztec cultures thousands of years ago. The tiny seeds come in both black and white varieties (though there is virtually no difference in the nutrients).
Today chia seeds are being touted as a superfood because they are a complete protein and a great source of fiber, antioxidants, and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
Chia seeds can be enjoyed on all Phases of the South Beach Diet. However, like all seeds, they are calorie-dense, so we recommend sticking to 3 tablespoons (1 ounce) maximum per day. The flavor of chia is slightly nutty, though it can be so mild that you might not taste it at all. When mixed with a liquid like water, juice, or yogurt, chia forms a natural gel, which can be used as a thickening agent.
If you’re looking to boost your fiber, protein, omega-3 or antioxidant intake, here are some delicious ways to start incorporating chia seeds into your daily diet:
Chia seeds can be used as a natural thickener for smoothies. You can soak the whole seeds in water (3 tablespoons of chia seeds to about 1 cup of water; you can thin to desired consistency) and keep the gel in a covered container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. You can then add some of the chia gel to a smoothie before blending. Or you can stir the seeds themselves into your smoothie after blending. The whole chia seeds will add fiber and a crunchy texture to your drink.
Sauces, and Dressings
Add chia seeds or chia gel to help thicken any soup or stew, sauce, or salad dressing and give it a nutritional boost. For example, chia can create a thicker consistency for a hot and sour soup or a chicken stew. It can be a great addition to yogurt-based sauces. And it can add protein, fiber, and essential fatty acids to your favorite vinaigrette.
Replace some of the fats in baked goods with chia gel. It might take some experimenting before you strike the right balance, but chia is a nutritious addition to whole-wheat breads, muffins, and scones, and even those special-occasion cakes.
Chia also can help transform lean meatballs and burgers into more nutritious fare. Just give your chia seeds a spin in a spice grinder or mini food processor before adding them to your meat mixture.
If you’re looking for a healthy way to satisfy your sweet tooth on Phase 2, chia seeds make an excellent addition to fruit and yogurt parfaits. Simply combine the chia seeds with fat-free Greek yogurt in a blender and process until combined, and then layer the yogurt mixture with some cut-up fruit of your choice in a parfait glass. Or simply sprinkle the seeds on top of a parfait.