The New Quinoa: Chia Seeds


Chia seeds soaking in water.

A few days ago I made banana bread for a good friend recently out of the hospital. Her request: Healthy and helpful with digestion. Good digestion means healthy forms of fiber. Chia seeds seem to be everywhere I turn these days, including my refrigerator. I most frequently use them sprinkled on yogurt, but smoothies and baking are another great use.

These little magical seeds are perfect for baking, delivering 11 grams of fiber per ounce and adding a heft you won't get from a basic fiber like psylium husk. My cupboards had the basics I needed to make the bread, but I quickly realized I was out of eggs. I looked online for vegan banana bread recipes and that's when I saw that I could use chia seeds for another reason: liquid replacement. Here's the ratio:

1 egg = 1 tablespoon chia seeds soaked in 3 tablespoons of water

Chia is the Mayan word for "strength." According to the Dr. Oz website: "Chia seeds were considered to be almost magical because of their ability to increase stamina and energy over long periods of time." I can't speak to this, but I can offer up some thoughts on this popular seed.

Like other purported superfruits (blueberries, apples and avocados to name a few), chia seeds offer a maximum amount of nutrients with minimum calories. The seeds have more omega-3 fatty acids than salmon and they provide 18% of your daily calcium needs per ounce--that's three times more than skim milk. Since fiber helps to slow digestion the seeds make you feel fuller by soaking up fluid and expanding in your digestive tract. And, this might be clear, but in case it isn't chia seeds contain no gluten or grains.

For diabetics, chia seeds can play an important role in regulating insulin levels. They can reduce insulin resistance and decrease abnormally high levels of insulin in the blood. The operative word here is can. Try adding them to your diet to see how they affect your blood sugar levels. For me, anything with more fiber means I will need less insulin, like eating a raw apple or a kiwi with the outside peel included.

For this recipe I replaced three eggs, which in the end may have been asking a lot from the chia seeds. The batter was dense. When it came out of the oven it definitely did not have the lift/height I expected. Perhaps next time I'll use at least one egg. However the finished product tasted light, but dense and chewy. My friend tells me she likes the bread, and keeps saying how healthy it tastes. That's good, right?

Note: In further recipe reading I saw that many would grind the chia seeds before soaking them. I did not do this. Let me know if you have tested the differences.


Vegan banana bread before it went in the oven. The recipe told me to use parchment paper so it didn't stick.