One of the latest trends in healthy eating 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 fresher 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 some brands can be so mild that you might not taste the nuttiness at all. When mixed with a liquid like water, juice, or yogurt, chia forms a natural gel, which can serve as a thickening agent.
If you want to boost your fiber, protein, omega-3, and antioxidant intake, here are some delicious ways to start incorporating chia seeds into your 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 or more; thin to a 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.
Since chia seeds form into a natural gel when combined with liquid, they also create a great base for breakfast and dessert puddings. On Phase 1, prepare a delicious, health-boosting, single-serving almond-vanilla pudding by combining 1 cup of unsweetened almond milk, 6 teaspoons of chia seeds, 1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract, and 1 tablespoon of all-natural, no-calorie sweetener in a serving bowl. Let the mixture cool in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes or overnight. You can use reduced-fat regular milk instead of almond milk and any flavor of extract you like. On Phase 2, top with blueberries, strawberries, or raspberries to add color and additional fiber.
Sauces, and Dressings
Add chia seeds or chia gel as a thickener for soups, stews, sauces, or salad dressings and to give them a nutritional boost. For example, chia can create a thicker consistency for a hot and sour soup or a chicken stew. And it can be a great addition to yogurt-based sauces or 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 can be a nutritious addition to whole-wheat breads, muffins, and scones.
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 way to add more fiber to a Phase 2 fruit and yogurt parfait, add chia seeds. Simply combine them with fat-free Greek yogurt in a blender and process until well blended. Then layer the yogurt mixture with some cut-up fruit of your choice in a parfait glass. Or simply sprinkle the chia seeds on top for some crunch.
Note of caution: Those with a history of dysphagia or esophageal restrictions should be wary of eating chia seeds, especially in their dry form.