Chia seeds: the healthiest way to soup up your day!

A bit of a different article for you today. Recently, I’ve been on a bit of a health kick and searching around for ways of improving my diet whilst putting in as little effort as possible (c’mon, let’s be honest, I’m just not going to stick to anything if it’s too much hassle). I’ve discovered the wonderful – and wonderfully easy – health benefits of chia seeds. And I want to talk a little bit about what I’ve discovered.

Now, you don’t need to worry, I’m not one of those people who starts health fads and less than 48 hours later is going around telling anyone who’ll listen what amazing changes I’ve discovered and how my whole life is different now and so on and so boring. I’ve been eating chia seeds every day, once a day, usually at breakfast or lunch, for three months. I think that’s long enough to report back some findings.

Obviously, I can’t talk about my calcium levels or what all the omega-3 in the seeds has done to my body. There’s no way of me knowing. I will share with you what the experts say about chia seeds and these things but I can’t say anything about it from personal experience. If I’m still writing these articles in thirty years, ask me about my bones! What I can talk to you about is feeling fuller for longer and eating fewer snacks (without setting out to, it just happened). And my feeling in ‘better digestive health’ which I discuss, as tastefully as possible, last of all.

Chia seeds, what are they?

First of all, for those who are unfamiliar with these wonder seeds: what are chia seeds? Chia seeds are tiny edible seeds from a flowering plant known as Salvia hispanica. This plant is a member of the mint family but its seeds don’t taste minty – not to me at least and I haven’t heard anyone else say that they do either! The seeds are so small that they resemble a light brownish powder when scooped up in a teaspoon. I’ve said that they don’t taste minty but other than that it’s difficult to describe the taste, they do have one but it’s mild and whatever you mix them into usually overpowers the seeds leaving only a very slight detectable change in the overall flavour of whatever it is you’re eating. I like to add a tablespoon to soup or porridge and can report only a very subtle change in flavour. 

What is noticeable, however, is that chia seeds absorb liquid and act as a thickening agent. For vegans, and those who for whatever reason can’t eat eggs, it is a great benefit of chia seeds that they can be used as an egg substitute. I’m not a vegan and I do eat eggs so it’s not something I’ve really experimented with. However, I have noticed that adding chia seeds to soup does thicken it up and turn a bog standard tin of Heinz into a much heartier meal. Consider this:

Half a tin of canned soup is going to be around 150 kcal. One tablespoon of chia seeds is going to add 50% extra calories to the meal. But with this extra energy comes a whole host of extra health benefits. Extra health benefits that you’ll barely notice doing anything to gain! As I hinted at above, adding chia seeds to your diet adds health benefits without you really having to do much or go to any extra effort. Let’s have a look at some of these amazing benefits from a simple spoonful of these fantastic seeds.

Chia seeds and weight loss

Now, I don’t want to make definitive claims about chia seeds helping with weight loss. Some people swear by them, saying they help keep you fuller for longer and reduce those hunger pangs that tempt dieters into reaching for the snack jar. But, as far as I am aware, no clinical trials have proved anything conclusive. I will limit myself to saying that after I started adding chia seeds to my soup, I have found myself being noticeably fuller for longer and less inclined to snack between meals. For me, without setting out to do so, I ended up losing a few pounds and some people have been kind enough to mention seeing a difference. It’s nothing major and perhaps it’s just a coincidence. However, I feel that the little bit of weight loss I’ve experienced is due simply to feeling fuller for longer and snacking less between meals. But this is just personal anecdotal evidence, please take it as that. Eat chia seeds for the health benefits listed below and if you experience any weight loss then just consider it a perk or lucky bonus.

Chia seeds are the plant source with a great amount of omega-3

Omega-3 is an essential fat that the human body can only get from food. Accordingly, a healthy diet must include foods sufficiently high in this type of fat. It has long been known that a diet high in omega-3 is good for helping to prevent heart disease and strokes, as well as maintaining normal vision and brain function.

Most people know that oily fish contains high quantities of omega-3 and lots of people take supplements in the form of fish oil that usually comes in capsules. What a lot of people don’t know is that just two tablespoons of chia seeds contain all the omega-3 most adult humans require! This is great news and for a number of reasons:

  • Vegans and vegetarians cannot consume fish oil but can eat chia seeds.
  • Fish oil is expensive and may not be sustainable.
  • Fish oil capsules are a supplement, something added to the diet to fix a problem. Chia seeds are a food consumed as part of a healthy diet.
  • No matter what they say on the packaging, anyone who has regularly taken fish oil capsules knows all about the dreaded ‘fish-burps!’ (same goes for so-called ‘odourless’ garlic tablets, in my experience!).
  • Chia seeds not only contain all the omega-3 you need, they also pack a powerful punch in other health benefits.

Chia seeds are a fantastic source of calcium

Chia seeds are a great source of calcium. Currently, the NHS recommends consuming around 700 mg of calcium a day for most adults. Everyone’s situation is different and so you should check with a doctor if you’re concerned about your calcium intake. But as a rule of thumb, for most adults we need around 700 mg a day. Getting the right amount of calcium every day is essential for healthy bones and teeth, regulating your heartbeat, and proper clotting of the blood. Calcium is also vital in helping to prevent osteoporosis in later life. Over 20% of women over 50 in Europe are thought to suffer from osteoporosis. Many, especially those who are lactose intolerant, find it difficult to reach their daily calcium targets. Chia seeds can be especially helpful here since they are high in calcium and are suitable for the lactose-intolerant. However, if you are not lactose intolerant then adding chia seeds to high-calcium milk products can be a really easy way of increasing your consumption. Consider the following:

A single 25 mg portion of chia seeds contains around 160 mg of precious calcium. The average pot of yoghurt (200ml) contains around 260 mg of calcium, which is why eating a simple pot of your favourite yoghurt is a great way of helping reach your daily calcium target! However, by combining the two, that is adding the chia seeds to the yoghurt, you can obtain almost two thirds of your daily requirement with delicious ease! Remember that the chia seeds will absorb the yoghurt without really changing the flavour (you might be able to detect a subtle difference) and so once mixed in the only change you’ll probably be able to detect is that the yoghurt will be slightly thicker.

Chia seeds are great for digestion

OK, I’m trying to be tactful here. Chia seeds are an insoluble fibre and so help form a soft and bulky number two. Since starting to regularly add chia seeds to my diet I have really noticed a difference – and for the better – in that department. This is a food blog, so I don’t want to dwell on the subject, but I can say the overall experience is simply better… how can I put it? Things feel healthier. That’s it. I just feel like I have a more healthy digestion process going on. Enough said.

It’s important to note that this is just my experience, yours might be different. And that quickly adding extra insoluble fibre to your diet can have the opposite effect. Too much insoluble fibre can actually cause gas, bloating, constipation and diarrhoea. Knowing this in advance, I began adding chia to my diet by the teaspoon rather than the tablespoon. For the first week I added one heaped teaspoon to my meals, then the following week I upped the amount to two teaspoons and gradually moved up to two tablespoons. I also made sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day. 

Recipes?

I don’t really have any recipes for you, to try out chia seeds. A tablespoon or two will absorb into anything wet and virtually ‘disappear’ into the food. Because the taste is so mild you can add the seeds to sweet or savoury dishes. For example, you can try chia seeds with milk, milkshakes and rice puddings. I have already mentioned how nicely they go with yoghurt. But you can also go savoury and add chia seeds to soups, curries and casseroles. For breakfast, it’s nice to mix chia seeds in with your oatmeal. And don’t forget my article on all the unusual and delicious ways you can experiment with oatmeal and porridge – every one of those recipes can be improved with chia seeds!

To be honest, there are still lots of ways of eating chia seeds that I’ve yet to try. For example, in baked goods such as breads, muffins and cakes. I’ve heard of people putting them in pancakes and mixing them into their hummus. There are so many ways and it’s fun just to think about them. I tell you what, I can guarantee that by the time this article goes live I’ll have already tried putting them in my hummus. Just typing it got my taste buds tingling!