Chia seeds are being marketed as the latest, greatest “superfood.” But is there any truth to this moniker? As it turns out, there might be. Long before Americans were growing chia sprouts to create fuzzy animal sculptures in clay pots, chia seeds were a dietary mainstay in Incan, Mayan, and Aztec cultures. Chia is the Mayan word for “strength” and the seeds were used by these cultures as an energy food. And according to the USDA nutritional database, the tiny seeds are an excellent source of fiber, calcium, potassium, antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, and plant-based protein.
When chia seeds are combined with water, they create a gel. This may have some benefits in terms of weight loss – research suggests that the gel keeps you hydrated, helps you feel fuller longer, and reduces sharp increases in blood sugar – but more research is needed for these claims to be definitive. One thing we know for sure about chia seeds is that they are a great source of soluble fiber, which is known to lower your risk of diabetes and heart disease.
To enjoy the benefits of chia seeds, you can soak them in water or juice and once they form a gel, add it to your morning smoothie. Or you can sprinkle the seeds on yogurt or salads, or in your morning oatmeal, just like you do with flax seeds. You might notice that chia seeds are being added to more packaged food these days. But similar to most other foods, eating chia seeds in their whole state affords more benefits then eating them after they’ve been processed.
Basic Chia Gel Recipe
To make basic chia gel, simply add 1/3 cup of seeds (two ounces) to two cups of water. This will yield about 17 ounces of chia gel.
Stir the mixture well to avoid clumping, then leave in your fridge in a sealed jar. It should take between 10 to 30 minutes for the gel to form. This gel has no flavor of its own which makes it extremely versatile in the kitchen. Each batch can last up to three weeks.
Add it by the spoonful to smoothies or salad dressings or try it alone as a quick snack before a workout. For a sweeter gel, use apple juice instead of the water.
Brigitte Center of Brigitte’s Naturally Alive is certified in plant-based nutrition from Cornell University. She teaches ‘Raw Food for Real Life’ un-cooking classes, helps people jump-start healthy eating habits with a green smoothie delivery service, and writes the blog Raw Food Living Diet.