By Anneliese Kuemmerle, MS RD
Outpatient Dietitian, Unidine Corporation
Your earliest memory of chia seeds may hearken back to the days of the “ch-ch-ch-chia!” pet, sprouting in windowsills on terracotta animal figurines in the ‘80s. Chia seeds come from the Salvia hispanica plant, and are related to mint. The little seeds at the root of these terracotta novelties have certainly come a long way in the public eye. Chia seeds are marketed as a “superfood,” implying they provide intrinsic health benefits such as lowering disease risk or improving overall health.
What makes chia seeds deserving of “superfood” status? Chia seeds provide 10 grams of fiber and almost 5 grams of protein in a one ounce serving (two tablespoons). Per serving, they are a good source of calcium and iron as well as an excellent source of magnesium. Sixty percent of the fats in chia seeds come from heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
With so much fiber in such a small serving, chia seeds make a convenient contribution to your daily fiber needs. The Dietary Reference Intake for fiber is 38 grams per day for men and 25 grams per day for women (ages 14 to 50 years of age), and many Americans fall short of meeting fiber needs. Fiber helps slow digestion, which promotes satiety and improves glycemic control.
Due to their high soluble fiber content, chia seeds readily form a “gel” when mixed with a liquid, as seen in the image on the right. They can be used to make pudding with water, milk (both dairy and non-dairy varieties), or juice. They can also be added to oatmeal or baked goods. If you choose to add chia seeds to a recipe, keep in mind that they absorb four times their volume of liquid. If baking with chia seeds, choose recipes that incorporate chia seeds in the ingredients rather than simply adding them to existing recipes, or you may have a dry disaster on your hands.
The term “superfood” is alluring, but keep in mind the nutrients in chia seeds can be found in many other foods. Pumpkin seeds and spinach are high in magnesium and fiber. Fatty fish such as salmon, char, and sardines are high in omega-3 fatty acids. Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are also good sources of fiber. Most Americans meet protein needs, and there are plenty of plant-based protein foods from which to choose (lentils, beans, peas, edamame, peanuts, walnuts, cashews, almonds, and whole grains such as faro, bulgur, and wheat berries to name a few). Incorporating a variety of foods from all food groups can make our entire diet “super!”
Are you trying to navigate a healthy eating plan? Get help from registered dietitians. To learn more about the dietitian at the Outpatient Nutrition Counseling Program, 609-653-4600 opt. 5