Oddly enough, I was actually introduced to chia seeds by my roommate a few years ago. One Saturday afternoon, he insisted that we go to Whole Foods to get some chia because his bestie had been eating it and dropping the lbs “without even trying!!” Needless to say, pre-Dude Diet Logan was very excited about these “miracle diet seeds,” and he bought an enormous bag, which he brought to work to make him skinny.
I’m not exactly sure what happened to those seeds, but Logan never spoke of them again. (My guess is that he crushed something like a ¼ cup of them daily for a few weeks in addition to his scary normal diet, didn’t notice any immediate weight loss, and then furiously swore off them for life.) Honestly, I didn’t give chia too much thought at the time, figuring that the seeds were merely a fad that would probably disappear after a couple of months.
I was wrong.
Chia seeds did not disappear. Instead, I started seeing them everywhere. They popped up in the smoothies and vegan baked goods at my local coffee shop, on the blogs, and in the fitness magazines that I subscribe to for fun. Dr. Oz sang their praises, Giada discusses them in that cookbook about how she stays thin, and even Goopy Gwyneth was annoying me about the wonder seeds. Needless to say, I was intrigued.
In case you’re not familiar with the trendy superfood, let’s talk chia facts for a second. These unprocessed seeds, which come from a desert plant grown in Mexico, have been around for thousands of years and were a staple in the diet of the ancient Mayans and Aztecs. Aztec soldiers used to crush chia on the reg to boost energy, and the seeds were thought to have magical powers based on their ability to increase stamina over long periods of time. (I want to make so many inappropriate jokes here, but I’ll restrain myself.)
While chia seeds aren’t actually “magic,” they are pretty damn close, and there are lots of reasons to fiesta with these bad boys. First of all, chia is considered a “superfood” because it delivers the maximum amount of nutrients with minimal calories. The seeds are packed with vitamins, minerals, and fabulous antioxidants that protect your body against free radicals, prevent cancer, and fight aging. Chia also contains significantly more protein than other whole grains, and it has a ridiculously high fiber content. Two tablespoons of chia seeds contain 11 grams of fiber (40% of your daily value!), which will keep you feeling full and satisfied while improving digestion and regulating blood sugar. Fist bump.
Most importantly, chia seeds are the best plant-based source of omega-3 fatty acids on the planet. Omega-3s are glorious, and because they are not made in our bodies, we need to get them from our diet. These fatty acids help build new cells, reduce inflammation, regulate physiological functions, and prevent heart disease and diabetes. They also reduce depression levels (be happier!), improve cognitive function (be smarter!), and promote healthy skin, hair and nails (be prettier!). Hallelujah.
Now that we’ve covered the basic nutritional aspects, let’s talk about the coolest and weirdest element of these funky little seeds. Chia seeds can absorb up to ten times their own weight in liquid. So, when you put the seeds in water, milk, etc., they expand and take on a gel-like quality. After just a few hours of soaking, the seeds swell up and start to look like tiny little alien eggs. Sorry, I’m aware that is a very unappetizing description, but you know I like to keep it real around these parts.
Anyhoo, the gelling capability of chia seeds is ideal for making “pudding,” which is all the healthy rage right now. I’ve been sprinkling chia on my yogurt in the morning, adding it to granola and salads, and blending it in smoothies for a while, but I didn’t take the pudding plunge until this past weekend. After many experimental bowls of alien eggs in my fridge, I finally came up with a Vanilla Chia Seed Pudding that I was happy with.
This simple pudding is nothing more than chia seeds, unsweetened almond milk, pure vanilla extract, maple syrup and a pinch of salt. It’s vegan/gluten-free/paleo and has all of the bomb nutritional elements that I just told you about, making it an unbelievably healthy breakfast, dessert or snack.
I’m not going to sit here and claim that this pudding is the best thing in the world or that it’s my favorite breakfast because it’s not, and I’d rather eat this. That said, it is pretty delightful once you get used to the somewhat strange texture. Some people liken chia pudding to tapioca, but I hate tapioca, so I prefer not to use that comparison. All I can say is that after the first weird bite, it really grows on you, and it’s surprisingly satisfying/fun to eat. I promise.
This version of chia pudding is vanilla-tinged and ever so slighty sweet, which makes it the perfect base for a variety of toppings. Go wild with the toppings, friends, especially if you’re new to the whole chia pudding thing, as they will ease the transition. Obviously, you can top your pudding with whatever floats your boat, but the following combinations are guaranteed winners: (a) Mango, Toasted Coconut and Dark Chocolate, (b) Blood Orange and Pistachios (c) Fresh Berries, Lemon Zest and Maple Syrup.
If you’re feeling skeptical about this recipe, I get it. I figured most of you would be. But please, don’t knock it ’til you try it, peeps. The pudding takes all of 5 minutes to prep, and then you just let the seeds do their thing overnight. Magic. The pudding will keep for about 5 days in the fridge, so if you whip a batch up on Sunday, you’ll be on track to a happier, smarter and prettier you by Friday! Get on board.
I forgot to mention that Beyoncé eats chia seed pudding. I probably should have led with that…
Vanilla Chia Seed Pudding: (Serves 4)
¼ cup plus 3 tablespoons raw chia seeds
2 cups unsweetened almond milk (You can also use coconut, soy, or regular milk)
(*For a thicker pudding, replace 1 cup of almond milk with 1 cup non-fat Greek yogurt or non-dairy yogurt of your choice)
1¼ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons good quality maple syrup
Pinch of kosher salt
Suggested Toppings: (These are combinations that I like, but feel free to mix and match and get creative!)
Blood orange segments and pistachios
Mixed berries and lemon zest
Diced mango, toasted coconut, and dark chocolate shavings
Sliced Bananas with cinnamon
Blueberries, toasted almonds and maple syrup
Granola and dried fruit
Preparing your Vanilla Chia Seed Pudding:
-Place the chia seeds in a medium bowl.
-Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, stirring occasionally. I recommend letting the pudding rest in the refrigerate overnight, but 4 hours will do if you’re feeling antsy.
- ¼ cup plus 3 tablespoons raw chia seeds
- 2 cups unsweetened almond milk (You can also use coconut, soy, or regular milk)
- (*For a thicker pudding, replace 1 cup of almond milk with 1 cup non-fat Greek yogurt or non-dairy yogurt of your choice)
- 1¼ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 2 tablespoons good quality maple syrup
- Pinch of kosher salt
- Blood orange segments and pistachios
- Mixed berries and lemon zest
- Diced mango, toasted coconut, and dark chocolate shavings
- Sliced Bananas with cinnamon
- Blueberries, toasted almonds and maple syrup
- Dried Fruit
- Place the chia seeds in a medium bowl. Add the yogurt, almond milk, vanilla, maple syrup and a pinch of kosher salt. Whisk to combine.
- Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, stirring occasionally. I recommend letting the pudding rest in the refrigerate overnight, but 4 hours will do if you’re feeling antsy.
- Before serving, stir the pudding to make sure that there aren’t any clumps. Spoon pudding into bowls or glasses and garnish with toppings of your choice.