The other day, I caught myself sprinkling a tablespoon of ground flaxseed onto a warm and bowl of morning oats and fruit. This is force of habit as much as anything else: I’m simply very accustomed to putting flax into my oats as they cook, or sprinkling it upon them after. As soon as I did, I thought, “why?”
Don’t get me wrong, I love flax. I do. I put it in everything, from smoothies to my plentiful raw breads and crackers. But as a topping, I’ll be honest: I think it lacks something to be desired. Yes, it’s nutty, and yes, it’s darn healthy, but it’s a little bland. Compared to other toppings I love—say, my hempesan, or a sprinkle of one of my raw granolas—it pales a little.
So that got me thinking about toppings, and what I might put on my oatmeal that would be slightly more flavorful than flax (this isn’t to say that I might not still put a good heap of flax into my oats as they cook). I thought about hemp seeds, which are a frequent topper in my house (I sprinkle them on salads all the time). I thought about nooch, but quickly rejected the idea (too savory for my typically fruit-sweetened oatmeal). And then I decided to get creative, stop examining what was already in my pantry, and come up with something new.
And so this oatmeal topper was born. Chia seeds, along with flax seeds, are my favorite binder, topper, and source of sprinkled nutrition. On their own, they haven’t got much taste—if anything, they’re less flavorful by far than nutty flax seed—but what they can do is absorb flavors really well, in puddings and drinks. They also can be eaten whole (as opposed to flax, which has to be ground in order for us to digest and assimilate it), and they can be mixed with just about anything.
This morning, I mixed them up with cacao nibs, which are also among my favorite toppers. Cacao nibs impart a chocolatey taste without getting overly sweet or making you feel as though you just dumped a cup of chocolate chips onto your food (not that that would be a tragedy). They’re also high in antioxidants, and a good source of iron and magnesium. I like to use the Navitas Naturals brand for both cacao nibs and chia!
No matter how you prepare it, this topper is supremely simple.
Easy Chocolate Chia Crumble Topping (raw, gluten free, soy free)
Makes 1 Cup
- 1/2 cup cacao nibs
- 1/3 chia seeds
- 5 pitted dates
And mix them in a food processor till they’re crumbly.
Serve them on top of oats or any other breakfast cereal, or you can do what I did, and sprinkle them on top of a green smoothie. Check it out: banana, strawberry, Vega whole foods optimizer, spinach, chlorella, and almond milk, topped with my new creation:
You can store the topping in a glass jar or ziplock bag for a couple of weeks. But I doubt it’ll last that long.
This versatile topping is great for any breakfast dish, and you can enjoy it with the knowledge that you’re getting natural, energy-fueling simple sugars from the dates, as well as protein, calcium, and heart-healthy Omega-3 essential fatty acids from the chia seeds.
Speaking of that, did you happen to see the fascinating VegNews interview with Victoria Boutenko, Chad Sarno, and Elaina Love this week? These three leaders in the raw foods world have written a new book detailing how their diets have shifted in recent years from 100% raw to high-raw. One of the primary reasons for this change is that the three authors felt that traditional raw diets were too reliant on nuts and oils, which provide a great deal of Omega-6 fatty acids, but not enough Omega-3s. In addition to adding steamed vegetables and other cooked foods to her diet, Victoria Boutenko now advises against nuts and oils.
I am thrilled to hear of this shift toward more cooked food acceptance, as it were, from raw foods leaders. And I admire the three authors for being honest and forthcoming about their dietary evolutions; I hope that more and more raw foods leaders will continue to share a passionate, pro-raw message while also sharing an appreciation for healthy cooked foods.
That said, I’ll be curious to read the book, because from the interview alone, it seemed to me that Boutenko had traded one villain (cooked food) for another (nuts and oils). And the impulse to identify single culprits for complex nutrition and health problems is often, at least in my experience, overly reductive. It’s true that most people eat too many Omega-6s, and not enough Omega-3s. Both EFA’s are essential to proper metabolism, but too many Omega-6s in the absence of Omega-3s have been associated with inflammation and some chronic disease.
Avoiding nuts and oils, however, may not be a necessary approach to this dilemma. It may, in fact, be an unwise one, since there are many positive and proven health benefits associated with nuts and seeds, including overall cardiovascular support and lowering of LDL. The problem here is an imbalance, and the solution is not to create another one by excluding all dietary Omega-6’s. It’s also worth saying that most of the health problems associated with this improper ratio are among people eating diets that are dramatically high in processed vegetable oils and/or snack foods, and not people who are eating high quality oils, along with almonds, cashews, sesame seeds, or walnuts (and walnuts, in fact, are a good source of Omega-3s).
My upshot advice? Be mindful of your nut and oil consumption, certainly, and keep to reasonable portion sizes (1/4 cup nuts, 2 tbsp nut butter, 1 tbsp or less of oil). But don’t feel that you must eliminate all nuts and oils to be healthy; instead, eat them moderately, and also focus on getting more Omega-3s into your diet. Good sources include chia, hemp, flax, and full fat, non-GMO soy foods. So you can start with a little chia crumble.
And have a great weekend.