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Not just a gag gift: How to incorporate chia seeds into your diet

Stacey Spensley

Chia Pets and chia seeds have been a gag gift staple for decades, but are they a kitchen staple in your home? Chia seeds can be used to boost the nutritional value or as a replacement of foods you eat every day. Registered dietician Megan Ware, who founded Nutrition Awareness, joins us to discuss this superfood and how we can incorporate it into our everyday diet.

Benefits of chia seeds

While many people think of the gag gift and the commercials that run during the holidays, chia seeds actually have a lot of health benefits. On their own the small black seeds don’t seem that impressive, but added to other foods they can boost the nutritional value.

“We know men and women need anywhere from 25 to 35 grams of fiber in a day. A tablespoon of chia seeds has about five grams of fiber in it. So if you’re adding two tablespoons of chia seeds to your day, that can get you almost to half the fiber that you need in a whole day,” said Ware.

Because they are so concentrated, you don’t have to make drastic changes to your diet to reap the benefits. Unlike other seeds, they don’t need to be prepared a specific way to get all the nutrients from them.

So the studies that they’ve done with chia seeds show that we are able to absorb the fatty acids from the whole chia seed, opposed to something like flax seed,” says Ware. “You can get the fiber if you’re eating the whole flax seed but the only time you absorb the omega-3’s is when it is ground, whereas with the chia seeds we’ve seen the opposite that our bodies can absorb good healthy fats even when they’re used in their whole form.”

How to incorporate them into your diet

Because chia seeds don’t have a distinguishable taste, it is easier to incorporate chia seeds into your diet. Adding them to things like smoothies or oatmeal can add fiber and omega-3 to your meal but also add texture to it as well. Another way to use them, because they are so absorbent, is as a thickener or egg substitute in baking for vegan recipes.

“They can absorb up to 27 times their weight in water. If you were to put a tablespoon of chia seeds in a bowl and then three tablespoons of water it would absorb all of the water pretty quickly and you can use it as a thickener in baking, you can even use it as a substitute for eggs in vegan baking,” said Ware.

Ware says there aren’t many downsides to chia seeds, just that you should make sure you’re preparing them properly before eating.

“What I would say is just make sure you are already mixing your chia seeds with some kind of liquid or into your food. Don’t try to just down them by the spoonful,” says Ware.