To Chia or Not to Chia: This is the Seed/Nut Question

A word about seeds and nuts for food refashionistas

I visit many food blogs when I research recipes.  Many of the blogs that promote healthy eating and/or vegetarian/vegan lifestyles include seeds and nuts in their recipes: chia seeds, sesame seeds, flax seeds or flaxseed meal, almonds or almond flour, pecans, coconut, and so on.  In fact, many recipes that appear to be low-calorie and appropriate for dieters include small amounts of such ingredients.

From one health standpoint, the use of these foods is very sensible.  Seeds and nuts are rich in protein and often high in fiber and other important minerals.  Here, for example, is a description of chia seeds from which provides nutritional data and analysis of different foods: This food is very low in Cholesterol and Sodium. It is also a good source of Calcium and Phosphorus, and a very good source of Dietary Fiber and Manganese.  And this doesn’t begin to mention the delicious taste and crunchy texture that these ingredients can bring to a dish.

So, why not throw a tablespoon or two of chia seeds, flax, coconut, or nuts into a recipe if you can?  After all, we all want to eat “healthy,” don’t we? There is one important reason for people who are dieting.  All seeds and nuts contain very high levels of oil in comparison to their quantity.  One ounce (two tablespoons) of chia seeds, for example contains 9 grams of fat!  But it’s healthy fat, you say.  Unfortunately, fat is fat when it comes to calories.  For Weight Watchers, 2  tablespoons of chia seeds translates into 3 points in both the Points and PointsPlus plans.  That can make a dint in your daily plan.

This doesn’t mean avoiding seeds and nuts, but it does mean being extremely careful about their use.  For instance, if a recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of chia seeds, I suggest using 1 teaspoon.  The result would be a Weight Watcher value of .5 points instead of 3 points.  I generally either cut out, replace, and/or reduce the amount of these ingredients in any recipe I’m re-fashioning.

To help you decide how much of these ingredients you should use, I’ve calculated the point-values of seed-and-nut ingredients that are not included in the Weight Watcher booklets.  If I’ve left any out, please let me know.

  • Almond meal flour (¼ cup): Points 4; PointsPlus 5
  • Chia seeds (2 tbsp.): Points 3; PointsPlus 3
  • Coconut, sweetened (2 tbsp.): Points 2; PointsPlus 2
  • Coconut, unsweetened (2 tbsp.): Points 2.5; PointsPlus 2.5
  • Flaxseed meal (2 tbsp.): Points 1; PointsPlus 2
  • Poppy seeds (2 tbsp.): Points 1; PointsPlus 1
  • Quinoa flakes (¼ cup): Points 2.5; PointsPlus 3

29 thoughts on “To Chia or Not to Chia: This is the Seed/Nut Question

  1. The one thing about chia and flax seeds are that while they have fat, they are also very high in fiber and much needed Omega-3’s. If you are concerned about cholesterol and heart health, chia seeds finely ground in a coffee grinder are perfect for mixing into oatmeal. It is food worth eating!

    • Sarah, thanks for posting! You’re right: these foods have important nutrients for health and don’t have to be left out of a diet. I just wanted to remind people who are watching their weight (also important for heart health) that, like any food other than vegetables, seeds and nuts require portion control. 🙂

  2. Great reminder! My only thought is that perhaps one should be less wary when the flaxseed is substituting for egg in a recipe? I don’t know what the point system is like.

    I also love it whenever someone preaches moderation in the face of a food fad. Funny how they run! Oat bran, anyone? pomegranite?

  3. Hi, thanks again for posting. Re flaxseed versus an egg. Eggs are not “cheap” calorie-wise and under Weight Watchers, a whole egg is 2 points. So if you used 2 tbsp. of flaxseed, it would be less on the older Points plan, which I still follow, and the same on the newer PointsPlus plan. So this would be a good substitution although everything depends on the recipe and what chemicals/nutrients you want or are avoiding. The point system is WW’s way of stopping people from counting calories, and both plans are based on formulas for assessing foods generally according to protein, fiber, carbohydrates, and total fats. Hope that helps! 🙂

    • Hi Molly, thanks for the “nutritious” information. It’s a good reminder of the importance of these foods in our diet. You’ve also reminded me that when I’m adapting a baked product, I should add flax. I keep forgetting.

  4. Pingback: 27 Substitutes for Gluten-Free Eating | The Food ReFashionista

  5. I do love adding flax to everything. I’m not as into chia seeds but I need to get over that issue since they have so many great health benefits.

  6. Thanks refashionista for liking my blog. More to come.

    I enjoyed your piece on chia seeds. I have some friends who are herbal nuts (pun is only slightly intended) and even sell chia in their store.

    The interesting history of this seed is that Chia seeds are an ancient super food that has been used by the Mayans, Aztecs and Incas. In fact, Chia means “strength” in the language of the Mayans, and was considered running food because messengers could run all day with the help of these tiny seeds. Chia seeds were considered medicine and were actually prized more than gold due to their incredible health enhancing properties.

    They are an incredible source in protein, more so than any nut variety. In regards to Weight Watchers, though this seed may have a higher PointsPlus value per gram, it’s considered a power food which is actually suppose to increase metabolism, digestion, and lower hunger as it plenishes the body for a longer extended amount of time than others.

    Also, as others stated, it is a good fat. Part of Weight Watchers goals is to digest three of these fats a day. We need these for healthy brain function and general nourishment for our bodies. Sadly, I believe American culture has taught us that all fats are bad, even with the food pyramid leaving it the least needed intake a day. What many of us have forgotten, myself especially, is that starches and carbohydrates are not the weight of the world, more like the weight around our tummies.

    On my next stop to my floral friends, I hope to grab some chia seeds to begin putting on my granola, cereal, and breading for meats. Having had it before, it tastes good enough to eat out of the jar by the spoonful, but I think I would be pushing Weight Watchers recommending 3 servings.

    Happy eating!

    • Michael, thanks for all that great information! I’m also thinking about chia seeds’ ability to expand in liquid; I bet that that quality, in addition to the protein, also helped the Mayan runners. I haven’t tried this myself but some people use chia in place of egg in recipes because the seeds and liquid form a gel.

      With regard to the dieting issues, I try to follow the Roman playwright Terence’s statement, “Moderation in all things.” In other words, no gorging! Seriously though, I think a good balance of foods is really crucial to having the diet work and eating in a healthful way.

      Again, thanks for the great and thoughtful comment!

    • Thanks Food Refashionista for stopping my blog.
      Micheal, I found your thoughts on chia very interesting. Recently I was reading a post about the linguistics of “fat” in the English language; basically that it is unfortunate that the same word is used for fat on the body, and fat in food, and that both have a negative conotation. I think the blogger stated that body fat in Spanish was a completely different word than fat in food.
      Everyone’s bodies are different and process food differently. I have discovered I have a wheat intolerance, and cut all gluten from my diet, while majorly upping the amount of seeds and nuts (and all protein) that I eat. Despite this, I have found that my weight has dropped since altering my diet… so not everyone who is looking to loose wieght necessarily needs to focus on cutting back on healthy fats (and cutting back on starches may be the answer for some people, like me). Find what works for you, and listen to your body!

      • Thanks for the comment. Just a thought here…it’s clear that going gluten-free meant that you cut a significant amount of carbs and fats from your diet since gluten products such as bread, cakes, bagels, etc. are high in those ingredients. In fact, you cut so much that you haven’t replaced the calories with seeds and nuts; hence you’re losing weight. You’re right that everyone is different and that each of us has to figure out the right balance for our bodies. I just feel that dieters need to know that bandwagons may not be as healthy or effective for them as other choices.

  7. this is exactly what i was looking for. one thing though. in your list, it shows sweetened coconut to have more points value than unsweetened coconut. how can that be? is it a typo?

    • Hi, thanks for visiting and commenting. It’s not a typo. Those points were based on the values on the packages that the two types of coconut came in. I thought it was weird too and checked it twice. Either the package info was wrong or the coconut itself is higher in calories than the sugar…so when sugar is added, it actually lowers the count. I think I should research it some more!

      • Re: points plus for coconut unsweetened vs sweetened. You might check the weight of the 2 tablespoons referenced on the package. Sweetened is shredded while my unsweetened seems to be finely grated. Could be the difference.

  8. Thank you for your thoughtful post. I was looking for WW points plus in 1 TBS of ground flaxseeds and was directed here. I too paused to consider whether tossing a TBS of ground flaxseed into everything wasn’t upping the points values too much! Question: Is flaxseed meal the same as ground flaxseeds?

    • I’m glad you found this page helpful. I certainly found it frustrating that WW doesn’t provide information on these and the alternative flours. About flaxseed meal vs. ground flaxseed. I believe them to be the same although perhaps one is more finely ground than the other.

      I did find the following info on the website:

      “Ground flaxseed and flaxseed meal are the same thing and consist of whole flaxseed that has been ground or milled. Milling flaxseed makes it easier for your body to absorb the nutrients flaxseed contains. Ground flaxseed or flaxseed meal is sensitive to oxidation, and it is best to grind flaxseed yourself as you need it to guarantee its freshness.”

  9. I used to counts calories and fat and carbs, I’ve found if I treat each meal as a nutritional opportunity instead of restrictive event, I eat less and give my body higher quality foods, some of which may be more ‘calorie dense’ (like seeds) but fill me up, help reduce cravings and give me energy and improve my hair and skin’s appearance!

    Interesting to experiment we these foods and see if that’s the case as we are all a little different in our dietary ‘needs’.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful post. And I love your approach to eating! We should all be thinking about food that way. I don’t count calories, etc. either, but I do find the Weight Watcher system helpful for knowing the nutritional value of different foods. To be honest, I could add chia seeds to almost everything because I love their crunch, but I know that would be upping my fat intake so I’m just very careful.:)

    • I’m glad you enjoy chia seeds. I don’t taste anything either but the crunch is terrific. As I don’t eat a lot of chia, I’ve never had any abdominal problems, but good to know that there can be. Thanks for commenting!

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