Eating Healthy

The Scoop on the Chia Seed Trend

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By Henry Ford Health System Staff

One of the hottest health food trends right now is chia seeds. (And the answer is yes –they are the same seeds that have been used to grow grassy “hair” on those pets from the TV commercials back in the day.) A seed of plant primarily grown in South America, there is evidence of native cultures eating chia seeds that dates back to the Aztecs.

Packed Full of Nutrition
One of the reasons for the popularity of chia seeds is that these tiny little seeds offer quite a nutritional punch, according to Julie Fromm, a registered dietitian at Henry Ford Health System. There is an exceptional amount of nutritional value in eating even a very small amount.

One tablespoon of the seeds contains 60 calories and provides:

  • Calcium: 6% of recommended daily value
  • Iron: 4% of recommended daily value
  • Fiber: 5 grams
  • Protein: 3 grams

Each tablespoon also contains antioxidants and 4.5 grams of fat — but it is the “good” kind of fat which offers omega 3’s that contribute to heart health.

Some think chia seeds may help with weight loss, but this has not been proven in any clinical studies.

“Any fiber-dense food will keep you feeling full longer, which may help if you are trying to watch your weight,” says Fromm. “Incorporating chia seeds into your diet may help you do this, just as eating plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains will.”

How to Eat Chia Seeds
Bland in flavor and able to be eaten whole or ground, chia seeds do need to be wet to be consumed – if eaten dry, they could cause digestive issues.

They are ideal mix-ins for:

  • Yogurt
  • Oatmeal
  • Smoothies
  • Pancake, muffin or just about any baking batter
  • Pudding
  • Jams and jellies

Their unique ability to “gel” when added to wet ingredients means that they work particularly well as a vegan-friendly replacement for eggs or gelatin in certain recipes. To use as an egg substitute in your favorite baking recipes, simply combine one tablespoon of chia seeds with three tablespoons of water and then let sit for 15 minutes. This can be used in place of one egg.

Their gel-like properties also make them ideal for making refrigerator jams or jellies. This is a perfect option for vegans (since traditional gelatin used in jams are derived from animal products) or people just looking to amp up the nutritional value of those PB & J sandwiches.

Here’s a versatile recipe that can be used with any kind of fruit:

Easy Chia-Seed Refrigerator Jam

  • 1 Tablespoons chia seed mixed with 2 Tablespoons water (let sit while preparing fruit)
  • 1 cup chopped fruit or berries
  • 1 tablespoon sweetener (brown sugar, honey, maple or agave syrup, even white sugar)

Combine all ingredients and let sit about 1 hour in refrigerator to gel.

Serve on toast or peanut butter sandwich, as a topping for plain yogurt, as a stir-in for oatmeal or as a savory topping for grilled/sautéed fish or chicken. It will keep for up to two weeks in the refrigerator.

Using berries or peaches are great, or get creative and try out some less traditional fruit choices.

  • One tasty example could be using 3 oranges, peeled and chopped, mixed with 1 T honey and the chia seed mixture. (It yields 8 servings of about 2 tablespoons each, containing 40 calories, 1 gm fat, 9 gm carb and 1 gm fiber.)
  • Another option is a plum jam, using 3 medium sized plums, washed and chopped (but not peeled) mixed with 1 T brown sugar and chia seed mixture. (It yields 8 servings of about 2 T each, 31 calories, 1 gm fat, 6 gm carb and 1 gm fiber.)

A Final Word About Cost
If you’re watching your grocery budget, you may wonder if chia seeds are something within your reach. Recent research at Detroit-area grocery stores found the price to range from about $9-$12 per 1-lb. bag. While that might seem like a lot if you are on a tight weekly food budget, it’s worth considering that each bag contains about 35 tablespoons and the cost per serving breaks down to just $0.25 – 0.33 per tablespoon. Comparison shopping is key, and deciding if the nutritional benefits are worth the cost to you.

Julie Fromm, R.D., is a community dietitian with Henry Ford Health System’s Generation With Promise program, which focuses on empowering youth and families in the community to increase their consumption of healthy foods and physical activity and balance caloric intake. Check out more healthy recipes here.