The Benefits of Chia Seeds with Ellie Bullen
ur hero ingredient for this edition is the seed of the chia plant; chia seeds are tiny little seeds, full of goodness and belly-filling fiber. We spoke to Ellie Bullen, the 24-year-old Australian author of Elsa’s Wholesome Life, the brand-new lifestyle, nutrition and vegan recipe book, about her love of the benefits of chia seeds and how they fit perfectly into her wholesome, plant-based diet.
Chia seeds are the edible seeds found within the stunning blue flowers of the chia plant (Salvia Hispania); a member of the mint family of plants, and indigenous to Southern and Central America. These seeds might be tiny, but they have an impressive nutritional portfolio. The benefits of chia seeds are myriad, not only are they rich in fiber, they’re packed with protein, omega 3 fatty acids, calcium, magnesium, and antioxidants.
Ellie, who grew up on the eastern coast of Australia, has a super busy lifestyle, traveling the globe with her partner Alex, exploring and getting inspiration for her delicious recipes. The benefits of chia seeds include a slow release energy, crucial to keep her blood sugar levels stable throughout the day. When she’s not traveling, most of her time is spent in Indonesia where she gets to collect her thoughts and develop her recipes for all of us to enjoy.
Ellie’s Plant-Based Lifestyle
Ellie told us that she chose to follow a plant-based, vegan lifestyle and diet because it’s so great for her health. Traveling as much as she does, and crossing so many time zones, means that her diet needs to be perfectly balanced to keep her body nourished with the nutrients it needs. Ellie’s vegan diet is always high in fiber, vitamins, minerals and all nine essential amino acids and is low in saturated fat. And it’s not just her health that is supported by her vegan diet, she takes comfort from the fact it’s also great for the environment and for the welfare of animals.
She goes into a lot more detail about veganism in her book and encourages us all to eat more plants, even if we’re not fully vegan. Her mantra of “eat less from a box and more from the earth” is perfectly aligned with her plant-based lifestyle.
Ellie is a qualified nutritionist and dietician, which she feels is crucial for her to properly and passionately inform and educate people about the benefits of a plant-based diet. In such a connected, online world, Ellie stands out as a nutrition blogger and Instagrammer (her Instagram account is beautiful!) with credibility because of her qualifications and aims to help quash all the misinformation about the diet that is available online.
And sharing her knowledge on chia seeds with us seems a great place to start!
The Origins of Chia Seeds
Grown all over Southern and Central America, particularly in Mexico, chia seeds are thought to have been used as a source of energy by our ancient Aztec, Inca, and Mayan ancestors, over 3,000 years ago. Today’s Mexicans and Guatemalans still eat them as a staple part of their diet, and thankfully we’re all now sharing the benefits of these beautiful shiny black and white seeds all over the world.
Their Rich History
Chia seeds have a fascinating history. Their original Latin name, salare, means ‘to save’ which refers to their healing and curing properties. Chia also means ‘strength’ in Mayan where they are believed to have been eaten for endurance. They’re also thought to have been used as a currency with which to pay taxes in ancient Mexico, proving that they weren’t beloved just for their nutritional value, but that their worth was much more than that.
Across ancient Southern and Central America, they were eaten whole, ground into flour, soaked in water and even pressed to extract their oils. Today, they’re used in just the same ways, although they’re mainly eaten whole after being soaked in puddings and whizzed up in smoothies.
And we, like Ellie, truly believe in their superfood status.
Nutrients and Beneficial Properties
We asked Ellie about the benefits of chia seeds and she told us that “chia seeds are rich in fiber. Just two tablespoons contain around ten grams of fiber and five grams of protein. They’re also rich in calcium which is really beneficial for a vegan diet. Chia seeds most notably contain high amounts of ALA (Alpha Linolenic Acid), omega 3, a plant-based type of essential fatty acid that our bodies need for cellular functions such as energy production and helping to protect our cells, our brain and our cardio-vascular system”.
Fiber and protein both make us feel fuller for longer, so a healthy chia seed pudding for breakfast will help to keep us going until lunchtime. We should all be aiming to eat around 30g of fiber a day, and it’s a nutrient that’s often neglected. Eating a couple of tablespoons of chia seeds for breakfast will see us well on our way to meeting our fiber target. It also helps to keep our digestive system in good condition and a healthy bowel is essential for energy and good health.
When chia seeds are soaked in liquid, in nut milks, for example, they form gel-like coats around themselves. This causes them to cluster together, which bulks up food, making it more filling. Adding a few spoons to your smoothies will take them to the next level, providing extra nutrients and filling you up for longer.
Today, chia seeds are also harvested outside of Southern and Central America, in places such as Australia. The chia plant can grow in a wide range of soils and climates, but it grows especially well in warm climates with minimal rainfall and is therefore ideally suited to Ellie’s homeland. It’s a hardy plant and grows between one to one-and-a-half meters tall. Ellie informed us that farmers often rotate chia crops with leguminous crops to ensure that the soil is replenished with vital nitrogen. Many farmers ripen the seeds using the heat from the sun, but others use less desirable chemical ripening methods. Chia seeds don’t need to be milled as they don’t have a tough outer husk that needs to be removed prior to consumption making them a relatively easy plant to farm.
Chia seeds are closely aligned with the traditions of the ancient Indian healing practice, Ayurveda. Ayurveda encourages the consumption of pure, or ‘sattvic’ foods. These foods help to promote clarity of the mind and help to build ‘oja’, or core vitality, endurance, sustainability, and immunity. According to Ayurveda, chia seeds also cause a natural warming of the body and mind, which helps support metabolism and cognitive health and is believed to cultivate joy.
Elsa’s Wholesome Life Matcha Chia Pudding
When soaked overnight and kept in the fridge, chia seeds make the perfect breakfast. Ellie’s Matcha Chia Pudding is really simple to make and is ideal for a quick and healthy breakfast full of energy, protein, healthy fats and fiber. And if you prefer, you can swap the matcha powder for vanilla or cacao powder. All are equally as delicious!
For two servings:
1/3 cup chia seeds
1 cup almond milk (shop bought or homemade, see page 279 of Ellie’s book for her almond milk recipe)
1 teaspoon matcha powder, plus extra to serve
½ cup coconut flakes
½ cup halved strawberries
¼ cup raspberries
Place the chia seeds, almond milk and matcha powder in a bowl with 1/3 cup of water and stir vigorously. Place in a fridge for 15 minutes to set. Divide the pudding between two bowls and when you’re ready to eat it, top each with the coconut flakes, strawberries, and raspberries. Finish with a sprinkle of matcha powder and enjoy immediately.
For this and more than 100 other simple, healthy and totally delicious vegan recipes, check out Elsa’s Wholesome Life, available to purchase online with international shipping. It’ll make an amazing addition to your kitchen and with over 350 beautiful pages filled with plant-based lifestyle and nutrition tips, it could also become your nutrition bible…
Enjoy. And eat more plants!