What are chia and quinoa?

If you even so much as flicked through a health magazine or book in the last few years then no doubt you’ve seen quinoa and chia seeds mentioned. The chances are you know you should be eating them but aren’t sure what they are and exactly what benefits they offer. I thought it was time I offered some answers as lots of people ask me these questions a lot.

Photo by Larry Jacobson (https://www.flickr.com/photos/ljguitar/)
Photo by Larry Jacobson (https://www.flickr.com/photos/ljguitar/)

Chia seeds

Originating from Mexico and Guatemala chia seeds are tiny but packed with nutrients meaning that you get lots of benefits without having to eat loads of calories.

28 grams of chia seeds contains:

  • 11 grams of fibre
  • 4 grams of protein – this relatively high protein content is what helps them suppress appetite and therefore help those who are trying to reduce their weight
  • Nine grams of fat, including five of the important Omega-3 variety
  • A high quantity of calcium (great for those who don’t eat dairy), magnesium, zinc and some B vitamins
  • Lots of antioxidants
  • They absorb up to 12 times their own weight in liquid so once ingested absorb make you feel more full. This property also means they can be turned into puddings which vaguely resemble rice pudding without much bother.

The other great thing about chia seeds is that they are really easy to add to your diet as they are flavourless so can be added to a wide variety of foods including:

  • Fruit and yoghurt
  • Smoothies
  • Breakfast cereal
  • Baked goods
  • Curries
  • Salads
  • Puddings

And those are just a few ideas to get you started.


Photo by Jennifer (https://www.flickr.com/photos/sweetonveg/)
Photo by Jennifer (https://www.flickr.com/photos/sweetonveg/)

Quinoa (pronounced keen-wa) heralds from South America and in technical terms is a pseudograin. What this means is that it can be used in place of things like couscous and rice and offers very different nutritional benefits:

  • Gluten-free so is a great alternative for coeliacs or others wishing to avoid gluten
  • High in protein so great for vegetarians and vegans
  • High in some B vitamins
  • High in minerals such as iron and zinc
  • Reasonable offering of calcium so good source for those who can’t have dairy

You cook quinoa in the same way as rice, boiling for 10-12 minutes. Here are a few ideas of how you could eat it:

  • In place of rice when eating curry
  • As a substitute for couscous
  • Cold sprinkled over salad
  • You can buy quinoa flakes to which you add a little water and then can be mixed in with yoghurt and fruit for breakfast (I have this every morning actually)
  • Can be served with meat and fish
  • Can be used in baking

So I hope that answers a few questions. If you have any other health, fitness or nutrition questions that you’d like me to answer please email me on laura.f.hilton@gmail.com.


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