I’ve been meaning to write this post for a long time and finally had the time while the kids are napping and I am (ironically) sipping a Chia Seed Energy Drink (recipe below). If you don’t already use chia seeds, you are missing out!
Not only are they gluten/grain free naturally, but one tablespoon of Chia Seeds has more calcium than a glass of milk, more Omega-3s than Salmon, and more antioxidants than blueberries. Perfect? Almost… they do get stuck in your teeth if you chew them plain (ask me how I know that!).
They also give you tons of energy but also won’t keep you awake at night and are supposed to be great for weight loss. Because they can absorb many times their size/weight in liquid, they are great for preventing dehydration during exercise or exposure to heat.
Supposedly, the Aztecs, Mayans, and Incans used chia as a staple of their diet and as an energy food. Chia means “strength” in the Mayan language, and they were known as the “Indian Running Food” because runners and warriors would use them for sustenance while running long distances or during battle (source).
According to Mountain Rose Herbs they contain “Essential fatty acids alpha-linolenic and linoleic acid, mucin, strontium, 30% protein, Vitamins A, B, E, and D, and minerals including calcium, phosphorus, potassium, sulphur, iron, iodine, copper, zinc, sodium, magnesium, manganese, niacin, thiamine, silicon, and anti-oxidants.”
Additionally, ”They are currently being used for their nutritional and medicinal properties, endurance for athletes, for suppressing the appetite, weight loss, leveling blood sugar, and for aiding intestinal regularity. Chia seeds readily dissolve into the water, creating a substance that looks like gelatin. This gel-forming action is due to the soluble fiber in the Chia seed. Researchers believe that this same gel-forming phenomenon takes place in the stomach when Chia seed is consumed, thus creating a physical barrier between carbohydrates and digestive enzymes and slowing the conversion of carbohydrates into sugar. Slowing the conversion of carbohydrates into sugar helps with endurance and metabolic rates, which is beneficial for athletes and others”.
“For weight loss, Chia seeds are an appetite suppressant, and Chia gel may be used to replace food within recipes. Bulking up a meal with Chia gel helps lessen the amount of food consumed, since Chia gel is primarily made up of water. Chia gel may also be used in place of fats within recipes, even within baked goods. Chia seed has hydrophilic properties, and can absorb more than 12 times its weigh in water. Because of this, Chia seeds can prolong hydration, helping retain moisture and regulate more efficiently the body’s absorption of nutrients and body fluids, including electrolyte balance.” (source)
Convinced? Here are my ten favorite uses if you want to give this “Indian Running Food” a try:
1. As a Safe Egg Substitute
I recommend a lot of egg consumption and many of my recipes contain eggs. I occasionally get emails from readers who need to adapt a recipe to avoid eggs, and from my research/testing, Chia Seeds are the best option for this.
To substitute for an egg: Use 1 tablespoon finely ground chia seeds (grind them dry in a blender, food processor, or coffee grinder) and 3 tablespoons of water per egg in a baked recipe (does not work in place of eggs for omelets though…)
2. To Make Healthy Pudding
My kids favorite use of chia seeds is to make a homemade pudding with them. It’s easy to make and actually really healthy. Our go-to recipe is:
- 2 cups of coconut milk or other milk
- 1/2 cup chia seeds
- 2-3 tablespoons cocoa powder (or to taste)(optional)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla (or to taste)
- 1 tablespoon or more sweetener of choice (optional)- We use honey or a few drops of stevia tincture
Put in a blender and blend until smooth. Will thicken in about 10 minutes in the fridge.
There are endless flavor variations. You can omit the cocoa powder and vanilla and add a cup of strawberries for a strawberry version, or add cinnamon and nutmeg for a Chai Chia Pudding.
3. To Thicken Soup or Gravies
If you don’t use cornstarch or thickening agents, it can sometimes be a challenge to thicken different culinary creations. Just add a couple tablespoons of chia seeds (powdered or not) at a time to reach the desired thickness.
4. To Make Grain Free Crackers
I’ve made several variations of these, including just mixing them with equal parts coconut milk to thicken, adding some garlic powder and sea salt, and baking at a low temp for a couple hours. I haven’t measured out my recipe yet to post here, but here’s another one that looks great.
5. To Thicken Meatballs Instead of Breadcrumbs
I married an Italian, so meatballs get made pretty often around here. His grandmother’s recipe calls for breadcrumbs, which I don’t use, so I just throw in a couple tablespoons of chia seeds (per pound of meat) in place of gluten bombsbread crumbs. Also works to thicken meat-loafs, batters, etc.
6. Sprouted for Salads
Ever had little sprouts on a salad at a restaurant? You can make them yourself. Just put some chia seeds in water, drain the water off and leave in a jar for a couple days. Every 12 hours or so, rinse with water and pour the water off. In a day or two, you’ll have little chia sprouts, which leads to the next use of chia seeds:
7. Homemade Chia Pet
These are the same seeds used to make the chia pets you can buy for ($20) in the store. Save about ($20) and make your own. Just fill a (porcupine) shaped pot with dirt, sprinkle some chia seeds on top of the dirt and water. Viola! Chia Pet. I also discovered when my kids spilled their chia seeds that they were eating for a snack that they grow in areas that don’t get much sun and that are often trampled (under the treehouse) and prevent mud. Now, the kids get to eat chia seeds under their treehouse often, and the ones that spill prevent mud. A win-win!
8. To Make Homemade Energy Gel
Seen the commercial for those new (corn syrup filled) Gatorade Gels and Chews? Here’s a healthier variation that kids will love: Add a couple tablespoons of chia seeds to a cup of coconut water. Let sit for about ten minutes and you’ll have an incredible energy gel! Beats the socks off of Gatorade for hydration and energy and you get to avoid the fake colors, fake flavors and GMO corn Also works for grown ups for endurance activities like running a 5K without training at all (ask me how I know that….)(and come run with me!).
9. As a “Breading” for Baking Fish and Chicken
Mixed with some almond flour and garlic powder, or even by itself, Chia Seeds make an excellent “Breading” for fish or chicken. It toasts up well and provides a nutty, crunchy flavor without the grains (another win-win!).
10. Plain Ol’ Chia Seeds
Even by themselves, they are a great source of nutrients and also leave you feeling full for a long time. I sometimes chew a couple tablespoons for a quick breakfast on the go, and they leave you feeling surprisingly full! They do stick to your teeth, but wash them down with some coffee and you’ll have energy for hours!