When most people hear the word chia today, the first thing that comes to mind are those silly little potted plants shaped like a dog or Homer Simpson.
But the truth is, the ancient Aztecs, Incans and Mayans often used the chia seed for its medicinal force and as a major source of energy—and they were certainly on to something, says Diana Allen, MS, CNS, a clinical nutritionist and author of Chia Seed.
Smaller than—and often compared to—the flax seed, chia is filled with two times more protein than most grains and five times more calcium than milk. Plus, it has of high levels of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, soluble fiber, potassium and antioxidants.
So what do you do with it? Chia seeds are found in most health food stores in little bags or canisters, and when cooking, chia seeds thicken foods and can add more substance and nutrition to a dish without all the extra calories. “It’s very bland and mild,” says Allen, “which is nice, because it doesn’t influence the taste of other foods. You just add it like a supplement.”
Here are three siple ways to slip some chia seed into your diet—plus two easy chia seed recipes from The Chia Seed Cookbook.
1. Chia Oatmeal. Chia seeds absorb water or milk, so they’re a great way to thicken up a bowl of oatmeal while also adding some filling fiber. You can mix a tablespoon of seeds directly into your cooked oats, or “gel” them first by allowing them to soak up ¾ cup of milk or almond milk. (Not an oatmeal fan? You can also sprinkle chia seeds over cold cereal or yogurt for a breakfast boost.)
2. Chia Fresca. The Mexicans have brewed up their own version of lemonade—called chia fresca—for centuries. To make it, simply add one tablespoon of chia seed to one 8-oz. glass of water, then sweeten with a teaspoon of agave nectar or stevia. Let it sit for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the seeds completely swell and absorb the liquid.
3. Chia Smoothies. When gelled with your choice of milk or water and blended with a cup of fresh or frozen fruit, one tablespoon of chia seeds can add a real thickness to your go-to smoothie—not to mention a dose healthy fats, fiber, protein, and antioxidants.
NEXT: Easy Chia Seed Recipes