By Anne Palumbo
When it comes to nutrition, itty-bitty chia seeds might take you by surprise. While widely recognized for their high fiber content and omega-3 fatty acids, this superfood boasts a bounty of nutrients that do a body good.
But let’s begin first with fiber, its most abundant nutrient. Just one serving (about two tablespoons) knocks off close to 50% of our daily fiber needs.
Fiber promotes regularity, helps manage blood sugar, and slows digestion to make you feel full longer. It may also prevent heart disease due to its ability to lower both blood pressure and cholesterol.
What happens when we don’t eat enough fiber?
We get backed up; we may gain weight because we tend to be hungrier and prone to snacking; and we may increase our risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
Chia seeds are one of the richest plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which are unsaturated fats that benefit the cardiovascular system. Although not quite as beneficial as the omega-3s found in fish, the ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) omega-3s found in chia seeds also help heart health by lowering cholesterol, decreasing inflammation, and regulating heart rhythms and blood pressure.
Another reason to reach for this powerhouse food? Chia seeds brim with several nutrients that contribute to bone health: calcium, phosphorous, and magnesium. In a word, calcium builds bones and helps them stay strong, phosphorous maximizes calcium’s bone-strengthening benefits, and magnesium is essential for absorption and metabolism of calcium. A trifecta of goodness!
These popular seeds are an excellent source of tryptophan, an amino acid that promotes good mood, good sleep, and a sense of calm. Tryptophan also helps the body make niacin, an important B vitamin that helps convert food to energy, boosts brain function, and may prevent heart disease due to its positive affect on cholesterol levels: raises “good” HDL while lowering “bad” LDL.
Rich in antioxidants and a good source of complete protein, whole-grain chia seeds are fairly low in calories (about 140 per two-tablespoon serving) and have no cholesterol or sodium.
Chia Seed Pudding
Adapted from Chef Giada De Laurentiis: Serves 4
1/4 cup chia seeds
1 cup vanilla-flavored unsweetened almond milk
1 cup plain low-fat Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 cup strawberries, hulled and sliced
blueberries for garnish
In a medium bowl, gently whisk almond milk, yogurt, maple syrup, vanilla, and salt until blended. Whisk in the chia seeds; let stand 30 minutes. Stir to distribute seeds if they have settled. Cover and refrigerate overnight; or at least eight hours.
Spoon the pudding into four bowls or glasses; top with strawberries and blueberries, adding more of each if desired.
Chia seeds will last two to four years if stored in an airtight container in a cool, dark place: a pantry or refrigerator. Unlike flax seeds, which need to be ground to reap benefits, chia seeds are absorbed and digested well in their whole form. Dry chia seeds may be added whole (or ground) to smoothies and juices, mixed into yogurt or oatmeal, or sprinkled on top of a salad. Need an egg replacement for baking? One tablespoon of whole chia seeds mixed with three tablespoons water (let sit for 5 minutes) equals one egg.
Anne Palumbo is a lifestyle columnist, food guru, and seasoned cook, who has perfected the art of preparing nutritious, calorie-conscious dishes. She is hungry for your questions and comments about SmartBites, so be in touch with Anne at firstname.lastname@example.org.