Nutrition Hotline

QUESTION: "I've heard a lot of buzz about chia seeds. What exactly is a chia seed? What are the nutritional benefits, and how can I use them in cooking?"

ANSWER: Believed to be eaten by the Aztecs, the chia seed is a 'superfood' that resembles a black sesame seed and is nutty to taste. It is an excellent source of minerals and antioxidants. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), 2 Tablespoons of chia seeds provide approximately 100 milligrams of calcium, 7.5 grams of dietary fiber, and 3 grams of protein. Chia seeds are also high in alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid, with 3.5 grams of alpha-linolenic acid in 2 Tablespoons1.

What's even better? Chia seeds do not need to be crushed the way flaxseeds do to release their omega-3 benefits2. Whole chia seeds can be added to oatmeal and vegan yogurt, sprinkled over salads, stirred into smoothies, and tossed into stir fries - or you can get creative! Chia seeds can also be ground and added to any flour-based or grain dish.

Natural foods stores typically carry chia seeds. Call ahead to see if your favorite store stocks them or if it's possible to order them. Because chia seeds have gained popularity, they can be expensive; you may find lower prices online or by shopping around.

Here's a fun fact! The infamous 'Chia Pet' gets its name from these tiny seeds.

Now that you know a bit about chia seeds, try this warm and yummy oatmeal recipe. It's packed with taste and nutrition, thanks to the chia seeds!


(Serves 1)

  • ½ cup old-fashioned oats
  • 1/3 cup non-dairy milk
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 Tablespoon chia seeds
  • 4 Tablespoons pumpkin purée
  • 2 Tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1 Tablespoon sliced almonds
  • Sugar and cinnamon to taste

In microwave-safe bowl, combine the oats, milk, water, chia seeds, and pumpkin purée. Microwave on high for approximately 2 minutes. Allow to cool. Add maple syrup and stir. Top with almonds, sugar, and cinnamon.

Total calories per serving: 430 Fat: 12 grams
Carbohydrates: 71 grams Protein: 14 grams
Sodium: 56 milligrams Fiber: 13 grams

1 Reyes-Caudillo E, Tecante A, Valdivia-López MA. 2008. Dietary fiber content and antioxidant activity of phenolic compounds in Mexican chia (Salvia hispanica L.) seeds. Food Chem 107:656-63.

2 Nieman DC, Cavea EJ, Austin MD, et al. 2009. Chia seed does not promote weight loss or alter disease risk factors in overweight adults. Nutr Res 29:414-18.

QUESTION: "I've recently switched from a vegetarian to vegan diet and have gained weight! Is this common?"

ANSWER: When making the switch from a vegetarian diet to a vegan one, there are several points that you should keep in mind:

  • Don't replace your lowfat yogurt with potato chips on a daily basis! Be careful about which foods you choose to substitute into your diet. Remember that not all vegan foods are low in calories. Some choices, especially convenience items, can be loaded with sugars, fats, and excess calories. Check the label to identify what is in the product and how much.

  • Just because foods do not contain animal products does not necessarily mean they are healthful. As with any diet, it's important to choose nutritionally dense foods such as fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and whole grains most often and to limit empty calorie foods that mainly contain sugar and fat. Candy, soda, coffee drinks, vegan mayonnaise and margarine, and salad dressings are all examples of foods that are high in calories and should be limited.

  • Watch out for healthful vegan foods that are still high in calories. Nuts, nut butters, hummus, and falafel are mainstays of many vegan diets but should be eaten in moderation. In other words, consuming half a jar of peanut butter each day isn't a good idea! Even small portions of such foods are high in calories, and a little bite here and there can really add up.

    If you find yourself needing to eat more food to be full, try incorporating more fiber into your diet. Ways to add fiber include eating raw fruits and vegetables; using whole grains like bread, brown rice, or quinoa; and incorporating high-fiber breakfast cereals or cereal bars into your new vegan diet. Flaxseeds and chia seeds can also be added to meals to increase fiber content.

  • Sometimes, our bodies trick us into feeling hungry when all we need is fluid! The best thing to drink is water. However, if you are in the mood for something sweeter, consider lowfat, low-sugar milk alternatives or 100 percent fruit juice mixed with water. If you're watching your weight, try to limit caloric beverages to no more than 4-6 ounces a day.

  • A final thing to remember is that 'energy in' should equal 'energy out.' In more loose terms, don't eat more calories than your body needs.

    The best way to increase your 'energy out' is to exercise! By exercising 30 or more minutes most days of the week, you can increase your body's metabolism. By increasing your metabolism, you can burn more calories when your body is at rest. This can help promote weight loss and sustain weight maintenance. Just remember not to gorge on vegan cupcakes to reward yourself after a hard workout!

QUESTION: "I recently went to an Indian restaurant and discovered that some traditional breads are made with milk and butter. Which Indian breads contain dairy products, and which ones don't?"

ANSWER: Indian breads are often made from maida, a finely ground wheat flour very similar to cake flour, as well as water and salt. Depending on the type of bread, it may also include oil, yeast, yogurt, milk, or ghee. (Ghee is a type of clarified Indian butter. It can be mixed into the dough or brushed on top of the bread before baking.)

Breads that typically contain milk, ghee, or yogurt include roti, paratha, kulcha, and bhatoora. Indian breads that are usually vegan are naan, which is a leavened, oven-baked flatbread, and poori (or puri), which is a deep-fried flatbread.

Still, it is a good idea to ask your server how the restaurant prepares each bread! Some that are typically vegan may be prepared with yogurt or ghee, while some typically non-vegan breads may be made without dairy.

Also, you could ask your server if it's possible to replace ghee in your bread of choice with oil. Remember that it never hurts to ask!