Much-loved chia seeds are here to stay, and for good reason. Chia seeds are a highly nutritive, low-fat seed with incredible versatility in the kitchen.
If you are wondering what all the fuss is about we have put together this guide to help you navigate this trendy health food. Read more to find out whether chia seeds are really that good for you, the best chia seed brands to buy, and the best ways to introduce this popular ingredient to your diet.
What are chia seeds?
If you haven't already come across them, chia seeds are tiny black and white seeds originating from Central America and found in health food stores, or in the health food section of your regular supermarket.
Chia seeds are often hyped as being extremely beneficial for a healthy lifestyle and have been at the top of the health food focus list for quite some time now. They are often attributed to supporting healthy weight loss, having amazing effect on energy levels plus a range of other benefits.
Chia seeds come from the plant Salvia hispanica, a member of the mint family found wild in the deserts of South and Central America.
Nutritional benefits of chia seeds
During the last few years, chia seeds have garnered attention as a nutrient-rich food. They are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acid, which is important for heart health, skin health and cholesterol regulation. They are also a great source of fibre which is essential for healthy digestion, but have low carbohydrates levels which make them quite unique.
Many other fibre-rich foods, such as bread, are also high in carbohydrates. Chia seeds are high in protein, which is not unusual for seeds, nuts and legumes, but they also are packed with beneficial minerals such as zinc, magnesium, calcium and iron plus they are high in antioxidants.
Such a high nutritive content has led to chia seeds being dubbed a superfood. The label means nothing scientifically or nutritionally, but rather is dismissed as little more than a marketing term (see section below).
As for the scientific veracity of its health claims, published studies on chia seed health benefits are insufficient for a consensus and many of the available studies are based on research with too few participants to be conclusive.
However, while some of the benefits may have been oversold, chia seeds are certainly healthy. Any raw seed that packs that much antioxidant, mineral and vitamin power is going to be good for you. Just make sure you stick to the rule of moderation.
Feel free to enjoy all the yummy, chia-based recipes you like and feel safe in the knowledge that your new favourite treat is probably doing your body good. So don’t expect to replace a sensible diet with one wonder ingredient. Good health is about balance.
What’s the difference between black and white chia seeds?
There is no difference in nutrition or in taste between white or black chia seeds. Since chia seeds can be quite striking, the only reason to choose black over white chia seeds, or vice versa, would be to compliment the look of your dish.
Chia seed buying guide – the best brands of chia seeds
Gone are the days when chia seeds were an esoteric ingredient that was difficult to locate. Chia seeds are readily available and shoppers are spoiled for choice.
If you are bewildered by the range of chia seeds brands available, these are our picks.
The Chia Co. chia seeds are organically grown in Australia so every step of the production process follows the strictest guidelines.
Bioglan is a trusted Australian brand and producer of organic health foods and supplements, vitamins and nutritive products.
Chiatrition chia seeds are Australian-owned and -produced and are packed with all of the goodness you can expect from chia seeds.
Macro Wholefoods is a trusted brand of organic food produce and one of Australia’s leading supermarket chains. Macro brand chia seeds are free from artificial sweeteners, colours, flavours or hydrogenated oils.
Best uses for chia seeds
If you are old enough to remember TV in the 90s then you were probably first introduced to chia seeds through the iconic Chia Pet commercial. Since then, chia seeds’ versatility and benefits have become more widely known and contemporary uses for chia are more culinary than horticultural. They are really versatile and can be added raw to salads, smoothies or baked goods, or soaked and used as a base for vegan puddings, cupcakes and even sauces.
Because of their composition, they add texture to a range of recipes and are great as a healthy thickening ingredient. They are also preferred in gluten-free cooking, as they make a great substitute for the light, spongy texture of flour.
Are chia seeds gluten-free?
Yes, chia seeds are gluten-free so celiacs and those with a gluten intolerance can enjoy chia pudding and chia-based baked goods without needing to worry.
Best chia seeds for pudding
One of the reasons chia seeds are loved so much is for their versatility in vegan cooking. The pleasing, spongy texture means they are a great substitute for traditional cake or pudding ingredients.
Any brand of chia seed will do – take your pick.
If you are planning to try your hand at vegan baking and want to give chia pudding a go, any brand will do. It’s important to ensure you soak the seeds long enough before making the pudding.
Best chia pudding recipes
We are big fans of chia pudding here at finder.com. It’s sweet enough to pass for a dessert and healthy enough to make a great breakfast. It’s quick and easy to make, and stays fresh in the fridge for several days.
These are our top-three chia pudding recipes.
Best chia pudding for cold mornings:
Banana and poached pear chia pudding
This is the perfect substitute for a warm comforting breakfast on cold mornings when you are bored of oats.
- Two ripe pears
- One ripe banana, chopped
- Ginger (powdered or fresh)
- 6 tablespoons of chia seeds
- 1 cup of almond milk
- Pinch of sea salt
- To poach the pears, remove the skins and leave the stalk intact. Cook them slowly in water spiced with cinnamon, cardamom and ginger until soft.
- Remove them from water and allow to cool. Reserve 1 cup of poaching liquid and set aside.
- In a small saucepan, combine chia seeds, almond milk, banana and reserved poaching liquid
- Heat slowly and stir frequently to remove any lumps.
- Pour pudding into bowls and set aside.
- Reduce remaining poaching liquid until it has the consistency of a sticky syrup.
- Pour the syrup over pudding and serve with the poached pears.
Best fruity chia pudding:
Mango-lime chia pudding
This fresh, fruity chia pudding recipe is perfect served cold on a hot day.
1 cup of chia seeds
1 chopped mango
Zest of one half lime
Freshly squeezed lime juice, to taste
1 cup coconut milk
- Set half the chopped mango aside.
- Combine the remaining ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth.
- Pour into cups or small bowls and put into the fridge for at least an hour to set.
- Serve with the chopped mango and a slice of lime.
Best chia pudding for chocolate addicts:
Choco-rich chia pudding
With a good dose of high-quality cocoa, this decadent chocolate chia pudding is a satisfying, indulgent treat for after dinner or when you need some extra comfort. Even better, it’s vegan and full of antioxidants which makes it relatively guilt-free for something so delicious.
- 3/4 cup coconut, almond or non-dairy milk
- 2 tablespoons chia seeds
- 2 tablespoons raw cacao powder
- 4 pitted dates
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Put the dates and chia seeds in a small bowl and cover them with water so that they are barely submerged. Allow to soak for minimum one hour, until softened.
- Combine the milk, soaked chia seeds and dates, soaking water and cocoa into a blender and blend until smooth.
- Pour the mixture into small cups and put into the fridge for at least one hour to set.
What is a superfood?
The label “superfood” applies to foods that have a particularly high nutritive content, with high levels of “good stuff” like vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, and comparatively low levels of “bad stuff”, such as saturated fat and carbohydrates. The label is somewhat controversial and largely dismissed by doctors and nutritionists as a marketing ploy.
For example, Catherine Collins, the chief dietician at St George's Hospital in London was quoted back in 2007 in the Guardian saying, “The term ‘superfoods’ is at best meaningless and at worst harmful. There are so many wrong ideas about superfoods that I don't know where best to begin to dismantle the whole concept.”
With that in mind we encourage a reasonable dose of skepticism towards labels using “superfood” terminology when you’re grocery shopping. At finder.com we believe that the best choice you can make at the checkout is one based on rational, empirical evidence.
Are chia seeds good for you?
While ingredients such as chia seeds are undoubtedly healthy and are a good addition to your diet, there is no substitute for a balanced diet based on moderation and regular exercise.
Good nutrition begins by choosing foods from a wide selection of fresh and healthy sources rather than focusing on one ingredient to give you all the vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants your body needs.
But don’t take our word for it. Jean Hailes, a respected, government-funded women’s health research institute and non-profit organisation stresses that “eating a variety of foods helps you to obtain the various nutrients required by your body.”
As a low-fat, low-glycemic, vitamin- and mineral-rich food, chia seeds are an excellent choice and a good addition to a healthy balanced diet.