50 Shades of Chia Pudding
By Adam Brown
What we’ve learned from over 75,000 people about making awesome chia pudding for breakfast: new recipes, new flavors, and how to overcome common stumbling blocks
Chia pudding has struck a resounding chord with diaTribe readers: over 40,000 people have viewed the original column, “The Three-Minute Diabetes Breakfast That Changes Lives,” and more than 30,000 people have now viewed our original how-to video on YouTube and Facebook.
As I shared in Bright Spots & Landmines, chia pudding is an awesome diabetes breakfast: little impact on blood sugar, super filling, three minutes to make without cooking, under $0.60 per meal, infinitely customizable, tasty (when you find a combination you like), and yes – even “life changing.” Simplifying breakfast – which is almost certainly the hardest meal of the day for blood sugars – can be transformative.
Over the past year, we’ve learned how diaTribe readers make chia pudding in their own clever ways. This article organizes more than 50 tips and tricks into a single, choose-your-own adventure guide to making chia pudding with new "bases" and "toppings." It's like the Chipotle approach, but re-applied to my favorite breakfast: Chia-potle?
If you already like chia pudding, this column will give you many more ideas.
If you tried chia pudding and it wasn’t for you, hopefully this piece addresses common stumbling blocks.
And if you’ve never heard of chia pudding before, perhaps this encourages you to give it a shot! We even set up a chia pudding bar in our diaTribe office last week, field-testing this article with our team.
Chia Pudding: Bases and Toppings Menu
Step 1: Make the Base
1/4 Cup Chia Seeds (Buy from Amazon)
1/2 Cup Liquid. Choose one:
Almond milk (unsweetened)
Coconut milk (unsweetened)
Combine the seeds and the liquid, stir for about 60 seconds with a spoon, and then let it sit for a minute. The seeds will soak up the liquid and make a pudding-like gel.
Many readers make this “base" the night before and let it sit overnight. This also helps with texture if you want a slightly thicker feel. The recipe above can also be doubled or quadrupled and left overnight, making enough for multiple breakfasts.
Step 2: Add toppings and flavor to the base
A. Flavor boosters:
Protein powder (vanilla or chocolate, no-sugar)
Dark chocolate cocoa powder (unsweetened)
B. Creamy add-ins. This is optional, and I recommend only choosing one and using a small amount:
Ghee (1 teaspoon) – this vanilla bean option from 4th and Heart has been my recent go-to choice; if you buy ghee, make sure it’s grass fed and not a vegetable option
Coconut oil (1 teaspoon) - part of the original recipe, but I find ghee (above) mixes much better
C. Crunchy toppings (choose as many as you like):
Almonds, peanuts, macadamia nuts
Sunflower seeds (shelled kernels) or pumpkin seeds (either in shell or pepitas),
Cacao nibs (basically unsweetened chocolate chips)
Berries (fresh or frozen) - raspberries, blueberries, strawberries
Coconut flakes or chips (unsweetened)
Dark chocolate chips – This is one diaTribe readers have shared, but I’ve since discovered I have NO self-control around chocolate chips; if they are in my pantry, I will eat too many. Lilly’s brand chocolate chips are the best low-sugar choice I’ve found, but even with those I eat way too many at once.
Example Chia Pudding Combinations
Here’s how I make chia pudding now, which is slightly different from the original recipe shared in Bright Spots & Landmines:
Mix 1/4 cup of chia seeds with 1/2 cup of water OR 1/2 cup of unsweetened almond milk
Stir for 60-90 seconds to make the pudding base, and then let it sit for a minute
Add hearty amount of cinnamon and stir in (I use Kirkland brand Saigon cinnamon)
Stir in 1 teaspoon of vanilla bean ghee OR 1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract
Add crunchy toppings: peanuts, almonds, macadamia nuts, cacao nibs, unsweetened shredded coconut flakes or chips, a few berries
Awesome recipes from diaTribe readers:
Zachary Stenberg - "I like it a lot now that I make it the night before and let everything soak. I found the almond butter was a real game changer."
1/2 cup coconut, almond, or macadamia milk
1/4 cup chia seeds
1/2-1tsp cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
1-2 tbsp almond butter
1 cup frozen mixed berries
Dash of cinnamon and salt
15 dark chocolate chips
1/2 scoop protein powder or 1 tbsp. Swerve for sweetening
Marielle Boström Weinholz - "This routine has been one important part of lowering my A1C drastically!"
"I’ve been eating chia pudding for breakfast since I first read Adam's book about a year ago. It’s been truly great for my morning-to-lunch blood sugars! I do 1/2 cup chia seeds and I add some flax seed. I mix in cardamom, cinnamon and ginger powder and then add 1/4 cup almond milk, 1/4 cup water - mix it and I let it sit overnight. I top it with fresh raspberries or blueberries and my home made turmeric nuts and seeds granola."
Becky Burrell-Dockery - "Love because I don’t have to bolus for this"
"1/4 cup [chia] seeds to 1/2 cup almond milk. 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 tablespoon coconut oil, pumpkin and sunflower seeds, berries...Sometimes if I’m willing to bolus I’ll add raisins which is very good in the pudding!”
"I make my chia pudding with about 3 tablespoons of Greek yogurt (which I get from a farmers co-op direct from the producer), 3 tablespoons of heavy cream, 3 tablespoons of chia seeds, 1 tablespoon of dark chocolate cacao, and a packet of stevia. I mix this up just before I go to bed and put it in a jar in the refrigerator for breakfast the next day!"
Chris Angell, Founder, Glucolift
"My favorite is just doing an overnight version with coconut milk and almonds (so they get a little bit softer)."
"I mix 1/4 cup seeds with 3/4 cup water and let it sit for an hour. I add a dash of half & half, frozen blueberries, cinnamon, stevia, and pepitas/sunflower kernels. I microwave it for a minute. Big improvement."
"I stick mine in the microwave for a couple minutes, then add berries and a spoonful or two of peanut butter. Gives it something of a low-carb oatmeal vibe."
"I shake together in a jar: 1/4 cup chia seeds, 3/4 cup coconut milk, 2 packets stevia, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, pinch of salt. I eat it with blueberries and walnuts. Yum!"
Karen Rose Tank - "LOVE chia seeds!!! Every way possible!"
"Favorite summer chia sorbets in my blender: 3 tablespoon chia seeds, 1 cup coconut milk, 1 cup ice cubes, 1 squirt liquid stevia, and either 1/2 cup raspberries OR 1 teaspoon cinnamon, 3 tablespoon raw cacao, 1 teaspoon instant coffee."
"I mix the seeds with coconut milk and add a handful of berries. The coconut milk gives it a nice sweetness without adding any sugar. I usually let it sit overnight to prevent bloating after I eat it."
Eric Antonow, Founder, Metabolic
“Biggest two changes I've tried: swapping out chia for flax seeds and adding almond milk to make it more like 'cereal with milk' than a pudding.
1. flax seeds - whole seeds, same 1/4 cup quantity. Because they don't absorb liquid the same way, you don't need to mix.
- combine the seeds and the cinnamon
- add warmed coconut oil (so it's in liquid form) and stir
- add the nuts and some blueberries.
2. almond milk - unsweetened, plain almond milk. I add about a 1/2 cup at the end.
Flax seeds are similar but slightly different nutritional properties to chia - less fiber, in particular. Sometimes I do 50/50 flax and chia. Otherwise I just alternate one or the other."
"I have been adding chia seeds to freshly cut berries and leaving them overnight for a mid-morning snack the next day. Really yummy. I was NOT a fan of the chia seed pudding texture."
Common Stumbling Blocks
Q: Help! I don’t like the texture of chia pudding.
Make the base and let it sit overnight before eating.
Try using less liquid, which will result in a thicker pudding
Try heating it up in the microwave; some people find a warm version helps with the texture.
Try one of the creamy add-ins noted above.
Q: Your original recipe had coconut oil. But what about the American Heart Association’s advisory on coconut oil? And doesn’t saturated fat cause heart disease?
This is a big topic and one that remains controversial, which is why it’s far too nuanced to address here. My personal read of the current evidence is dietary fat does not cause heart disease, including the small amount of saturated fat in my diet (less than 6% of my daily calories). If you are worried about this, you can definitely skip the coconut oil or ghee completely. Here are a few articles that I found exceptionally interesting on this front:
Saturated fat does not clog the arteries: coronary heart disease is a chronic inflammatory condition, the risk of which can be effectively reduced from healthy lifestyle interventions – British Medical Journal 2018
Nina Teicholz editorial in the LA Times, "A rigorous review of the evidence shows that when it comes to heart attacks or mortality, saturated fats are not guilty.”
Cardiobrief response to AHA Advisory - Gary Taubes on what was flawed in the AHA's methodology
Good Calories, Bad Calories and the shorter Why We Get Fat are fascinating reads on this topic. The Big Fat Surprise also gets great reviews, though I have not read it yet.
The best way to answer this question is by looking at your own data – after you switch to chia pudding with a combo you like, did your cholesterol and triglyceride numbers change in the right direction? Try using the AHA/ACC, Framingham, or Reynolds heart disease risk calculators to get a sense. (Note: Age is the biggest predictor in these calculators.) Some studies in type 1 (here) and type 2 (here) suggest other lipid parameters may be more predictive of heart disease than LDL alone – e.g., non-HDL/HDL, Total Cholesterol/HDL.
Q: Chia pudding seems to upset my stomach; is there anything I can do?
Let it sit overnight, which lets the seeds “bloom” and helps some people tolerate the pudding better.
Start out eating half the recipe size recommended above. Chia seeds are packed with fiber: 1/4 cup has 16 grams of fiber, or 64% of the recommended daily value. This level of fiber can upset the stomach, especially for those not used to eating this much fiber at one time. Make the recipe as noted above, but eat only half at one time to start.