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May 2, 2014

vanilla strawberry chia seed pudding. (paleo, gf, vegan)

Have you heard of chia seeds? I reviewed them before. They have an insane amount of fiber, and make their presence known by texture more than taste. Dry chia seeds are crunchy. When soaked, the seeds absorb the liquid and develop mucilage - which just means they get a little polysaccharide gelatinous coating.

This property is vital in order for chia seed puddings to work. In all the variations I've found, chia seeds are mixed with a non-dairy milk (probably to retain the vegan aspect), and let sit, with occasional stirring. After a couple hours (or overnight), the mixture has thickened substantially, forming a "pudding." Fruit, purees, nuts, and flavorings are added afterwards.

Practicing my shutter speed skills -- see how you can see the individual seeds falling?

These puddings comply with paleo, gf, or vegan diets. I have always understood gluten-free diets as being appropriate for those with Celiac's, gluten allergies, or gluten sensitivities. Or Miley Cyrus who really blew up the idea that eating gf was healthier (not always true). Being vegan generally stems from wanting to respect all living things. Paleo diets are new to me.

Lately I've been questioning the actual validity of all these restrictions. Or liberations, if you feel that way at the end of this blogpost. Warning: it gets a little info-y from here on.

"the morning after" -- only seeds + milk

It all started with a discussion I had with a friend who runs a lot and eats more fruit than anyone I know. He has proposed the concept of cutting grains completely out of my diet many times. I said he was crazy - in the decade I grew up, the "bread" category still made up a large part of the food pyramid, and even though now we have a revised pyramid, or MyPlate or whatever, grains are just too huge a component in everyone's diets to entirely cut out voluntarily. Right?
--> no grains or grain-like things (quinoa, corn, etc.), legumes (peanuts & beans), dairy 
--> unlimited veggies + fruits 
Definitely not genetically engineered ..

Recently, I've been researching the paleo diet, which to me seems more logical than other trends. Logic aside, there is substantial anecdotal and even scientific reasoning/evidence to support the idea that grains are not a natural part of humans' diets. They can actually hurt you.

First, grains have phytic acids that are "anti-nutrients," and bind to metals (ie - magnesium, calcium, iron) that our body needs.

Second, grains can stimulate inflammation and an immune response in the intestinal system. And if there is anything I learned from writing my thesis, it is that chronic inflammation can lead to inflammatory disorders (like Crohn's or leaky gut syndrome). Robb Wolf explains it extremely well here.

Let's not get too extreme - eating, for breakfast, that delicious double chocolate muffin with oozy chocolate chips lightly dusted with powdered sugar does not mean you will get a disease. But even on a basic level, apparently grains can prevent you from functioning and living at your best.

See the thickened texture?!

Anyway, here are counter-thoughts.

1. We were cavemen very, very long ago. We've survived thus far eating grains, haven't we? So although eliminating grains might help us, it hasn't hurt us SO terribly so far, has it?

2. Grains are everywhere, and having grown up consuming them, it is near impossible (for me at least) to eliminate them completely from my diet. Consuming less of them, yes. But total elimination? Sorry, but no.

Unadulterated version

3. I thought whole wheats were good?! Don't grains and things like quinoa, bulgur, and farro have useful nutrients? FYI, quinoa is called "mother seed" in the Incan language - something doesn't get so lofty an epithet that easily.

4. Also - dairy can be healthy! milk mustaches on celebrities touting the benefits of having dairy 3x/day told me so! and never in my life will I give up peanut butter.

I'm not totally sold. I have decided to make an effort to reduce my grains intake when I can but otherwise just gonna keep on practicing moderation.

This chia seed pudding recipe is an ode to the paleo guidelines. I made a "pumpkin pie" version a while ago, which had pumpkin puree, cinnamon, and a Splenda (certainly not paleo) packet stirred in. It was delicious. Play around with it! Vanilla + strawberry is a new favorite flavor pair of mine. Coconut milk would be nice for a slightly more decadent feel.

Highly recommended -- cinnamon + toasted walnuts crumbled in by hand

Vanilla Strawberry Chia Seed Pudding
I just sort of made this up myself. 
  • 2 Tablespoons chia seeds
  • 1 teaspoon ground flax seed (optional - for extra thickening)
  • 2/3 cup almond milk (vanilla flavor preferred, though regular is prob healthier)
  • 1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2-3 strawberries, washed, hulled & sliced
  • optional toppings: cinnamon, chopped fruit, toasted nuts (toasted, shredded coconut would be fabulous)
  1. Stir together the chia seeds and milk. Let sit for 3-5 minutes. Stir again. 
  2. Cover and place in fridge overnight.
  3. In the morning, stir in vanilla extract (if using). 
  4. Add chopped berries.
  5. Add optional add-ins.
  6. Enjoy!

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