Small and dark, this is how chia seeds appear. Chia seeds have risen to the fore in recent years, becoming one of the healthiest foods on the market. But why so much interest in chia seeds? Let’s try to understand this on the basis of scientific research. We will also see some ideas for using chia seeds in the kitchen and making them become our precious allies in different preparations.
Chia seeds, properties
Chia, scientific name salvia hispanica, is a plant of the Lamiaceae family typical of Mexico and Guatemala and, thanks to its seeds, has been part of the human diet for more than 5000 years. It seems that even the Mayans and Aztecs used chia seeds both as food and as a remedy. Chia seeds provide omega-three fatty acids, about 30%. These fatty acids, whose most important exponent is alpha linolenic acid, are characterized by a cardioprotective action. Not only that, chia seeds are also a precious source of proteins in a percentage that is between 15% and 25%, and fiber, about 35%, which help to keep blood sugar and cholesterol under control. They stimulate intestinal transit and give a sense of satiety, thus counteracting the continuous desire for after-hours meals (Ayaz et al, Nutr Res Pract, 2017). They also provide vitamins, such as vitamins A, C and group B, minerals, such as calcium, magnesium, selenium, iron, zinc, phosphorus and potassium, and antioxidants such as rutin, kaempferol and quercetin, which has an antiviral action (Ullah et al, J Food Sci Technol, 2016). It has been observed that the intake of chia seeds is able to benefit some indicators of metabolic health, in particular, the integration of these seeds in a diet high in fat and sugar has improved tolerance to insulin and reduced indicators of liver damage already after six weeks (Kulczy?skiet al, Nutrients, 2019). Not only that, chia seeds help reduce triglycerides and LDL cholesterol and increase good HDL cholesterol at the same time. Benefits have also been observed with regards to accumulations of abdominal fat, the most dangerous. In fact, it was found that the intake of chia seeds contributed to reducing the waist circumference (Kulczy?skiet al, Nutrients, 2019). Chia seeds are also anti-inflammatory, anti-aging and anticancer (Melo et al, Food Funct, 2019). Finally, chia seeds do not contain gluten so they can also be consumed by people with celiac disease.
Chia seeds, how to use them in the kitchen
Unlike flax seeds that, to be better digested, have to be ground, chia seeds can be consumed whole, but provided they are associated with a liquid. In fact, as suggested by researchers of Harvard University, chia seeds have a very delicate shell that breaks easily when it comes into contact with liquids. That's why it's a good choice to serve chia seeds mixed with juice, yogurt, or even just plain water, making them easily digestible. For example, in a small bowl pour 1 tablespoon of chia seeds and add 4 tablespoons of water, mix and let it sit for about 15-20 minutes. This will form a gel that can be added to yogurt or even smoothies. Another idea is to prepare a chia seed pudding. In a small bowl, pour four tablespoons of chia seeds and 250 ml of a non-dairy milk, such as almond or cashew milk. Stir and leave to rest for half an hour in the refrigerator. Pick up from the fridge and decorate with berries and dried fruit.
Chia seeds instead of egg
Chia seeds, due to their thickening action, can be used instead of egg in recipes. To replace an egg you can do this. Mix 1 tablespoon of chia seeds with 3 tablespoons of water. Stir and let it rest for a quarter of an hour, until the jelly has formed. Use instead of egg in recipes for cakes, plum cakes or biscuits.
Easy chia seed jam
Here is a tasty and simple recipe for making a delicious chia seed jam. Put two cups of berries, frozen and thawed or fresh, in the mixer, add two tablespoons of chia seeds, a tablespoon of apple juice and a little honey, if desired. Blend the ingredients together. Let it rest for another half hour, then pour into a jar, close it tightly and keep in the fridge for no more than 5-7 days.
Chia seeds, contraindications
Chia seeds are generally considered safe. However, as Harvard University also suggests, it is always good to mix chia seeds with the liquid before ingesting them. In fact, a case was reported dating back to 2014 where a person took dried chia seeds and drank a glass of water immediately afterwards. Chia seeds absorb the liquid quickly and these had caused a blockage in the esophagus (From the official website of Harvard T. H Chan School of Public Health).