Chia: the Complete Guide to the Ultimate Superfood (Book Review)
It’s official: I love chia! This cookbook has opened my eyes to the beauty of this humble but mighty Aztec seed. For smoothies, shakes, muffins, salads, soups, stews, baking, or just energy-boosting ‘agua fresca’ (chia and water plus lemon or lime), Chia: the Complete Guide to the Ultmate Superfood offers everything you never knew you didn’t know about cooking with chia!
Actually, calling it a ‘cookbook’ almost sells the book short. There are tons of chia recipes, but author Wayne Coates also provides a wealth of non-cooking information relevant and interesting to readers aware of the connections between lifestyle and health.
- Chia provides a variety of micronutrients including manganese, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, niacin, and folate. It’s also a rich source of antioxidants.
- Chia contains about 20% protein, and (like quinoa) it’s an extremely high quality complete protein.
- Chia provides high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which the body converts to EPA and DHA. As well as cardiac benefits, EPA and DHA improve joint function and limit arthritis pain by facilitating joint lubrication. Omega-3s are also converted to prostaglandins, which are known to have both pain reducing and anti-inflammatory properties.
- Chia is anti-allergenic, rarely triggering food sensitivity even among people with multiple food allergies.
- One tablespoon of chia contains 5 grams of fiber — as much as 10 cups of Corn Flakes or an entire cantaloupe — which can be especially helpful to people targeting weight loss goals.
- Grain-like seeds complement chia perfectly, for even greater nutritional punch: amaranth (another Aztec favorite, high in protein, fiber, iron, and a full range of amino acids); quinoa (rich in minerals, fiber, and high quality protein; called ‘the mother seed’ by the Incans); millet (high in magnesium, a mineral that acts as a co-factor for more than 300 enzymes necessary for physiological processes including glucose metabolism and insulin secretion); and buckwheat (rich in phytonutrients like flavonoids, and many minerals).
- Ounce for ounce, chia contains more calcium than cow’s milk. It also contains boron, a trace element that helps transfer calcium to the bones.
- Chia can absorb 9-12 times its weight in water. So it increases body hydration, facilitating reduced fatigue and muscle cramping during exercise. Chia’s moisture-retaining properties plus high potassium content protects against electrolyte loss, during strenuous physical activity.
Rather than being set up like a traditional cookbook (appetizers, sides, entrees, etc.) Chia’s chapters give a sense of the broader beyond-cookbook-ness perspective embraced by the author:
- Chapter 1: The Miracle Seed
- Chapter 2: How to Use Chia to Lose Weight
- Chapter 3: Chia and Weight Maintenance
- Chapter 4: The Chia Exercise, Endurance, and Energy Plan
- Chapter 5: Cooking, Eating, and Healing with Chia
- Chapter 6: Staying Healthy with Chia
An enthusiastic long-distance runner and exercise advocate, Coates also offers detailed and useful information about starting an exercise program, buying good shoes for running or other high-impact sports, and other aspects of adopting other healthy lifestyle changes while improving one’s diet using chia and other nutrient-dense ‘superfoods.’
Down to Business: the Recipes!
Coates offers many delicious chia recipes, from simple to sophisticated. My favorite is the ultra-simple chia gel, suitable for adding to infinite other recipes for super-nutritious drinks, smoothies, syrups, jams, breads, bars, soups, stews, and casseroles.
Though chia makes a divine vegan pantry staple, the cookbook isn’t vegan. I found it easy to modify recipes calling for eggs, milk, or (in a few cases) meat; about 2/3 of the recipes are vegan-friendly without modifications needed. I did find myself rolling my eyes a time or two, at the author’s statement of myth as fact regarding vegan diets. For example, he asserts in passing that ‘vegans find it difficult to get the protein they need without complicated food combining’ (false) or ‘vegans do not use eggs, making traditional baking a challenge’ (not challenging at all!)… but the annoyance was minimal, and worth overlooking.
Personal favorites include:
- Citrus Julius (chia, fresh grapefruit juice, lemon, lime, water, ginger)
- Chia Snack Bars (chia, dates, almond milk, oats, wheat flour, nuts, dark chocolate chips)
- Cinnamon-Orange Pancakes with Orange-Date Syrup (these are to die for!)
- Raw Vanilla Coconut ‘Yogurt’ (chia dried coconut, coconut water, agave, vanilla, almond extract, salt)
- Creamy Mushroom-Cashew Soup (cashews, broth, chia, mushrooms, onions, sesame oil, tamari, basil, cayenne, fresh tomato)
- Muligatawny Chia Soup (broth, coconut milk, red lentils, turmeric, madras curry powder, potato, garlic, ginger, cayenne, coriander, lemon, chia)
- Curried Potato Salad (perfect pot-luck dish!)
- Chia Fruit Salad with Chia Sunshine Sauce (the sauce is mango-based, and very delicious!)
- Chia Vegetarian Chili (onions, fresh corn, red bells, black beans, kidney beans, chia, tomatoes, cilantro, chili powder, oregano, cumin, and cayenne)
- Cacao-Chia Pudding (raw cashews, dates, vanilla, cacao powder, chia)
- Chia Ice-Pops (these will make you popular with the neighborhood kiddies! made from frozen strawberries, frozen mango chunks, orange juice, chia, and water)
Recipes are also offered for pet care, nail care, and skin care… I haven’t tried these yet, as I’m too easily distracted by delicious food recipes!
I’m thrilled to have Chia: the Complete Guide to the Ultimate Superfood on my bookshelf. It has opened my eyes to a new world of healthy cooking with chia, and I recommend it as a valuable addition to anyone’s cookbook collection.
Image credit: Creative Commons photo by swanksalot.