Super Food: Chia Seeds

If you’re in Boston this weekend, you’ve probably seen the runners in their commemorative blue Boston jackets getting rid to run on Marathon Monday. My roommate and I decided to brave the crowds and head down to check out the expo today.

Runners are a funny group. We train for 18 weeks and run hundreds of miles – often early on weekend mornings – to run for several hours one day. Then, what? We eat, drink, sleep…and do it again. I have to be honest – the “runner’s high” is real. Every once in a while, I’ll have that effortless run where I’m on top of the world and end up being a smiling ball of sunshine for the rest of the day. It sure is a great feeling.

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Totally cheering for Kara Goucher tomorrow – she gets how wonderful running can be.

Another great feeling is cheering squads during a race. During my marathon last year, the spectators during miles 20-25 yelling out my name really pumped me up when I was wondering why I ever signed up to run 26.2 miles. It’s super motivating to have someone cheer for you by name, except when they tell you that you’re “almost there!” Sorry, but until I can see the finish line with my own eyes, I’m not “almost there.” Since I’m in Boston this year, I’m taking on the role of cheering on all those speedsters who qualified for Boston. I’ll be out there in the last few miles hopefully helping some runners through the last few, often tough miles of a race. It should be perfect running weather too – much better than the hot 90 degree temperatures at last year’s race.

At the expo, there were numerous food stands, including the typical Gu and electrolyte drinks, but the superfood that appeared at numerous stands was chia seeds. They became famous in the running world from the book “Born to Run” which describes the Tarahumara tribe in Mexico who use them as fuel for 50+ mile runs. Runners may rely on them for an endurance boost – one study found that a mix of chia seeds and Gatorade worked just as well as 100% Gatorade for endurance athletes. I say skip the Gatorade (sugar) and go for water and chia.

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They’re not just for runners though – they have powerful health benefits for everyone. These little seeds are a great plant source of omega 3 fatty acids, and as a result, are anti-inflammatory (don’t rely completely on chia for omega 3s because plant sources lose some during a conversion – fish is best source). They also contain protein and soluble fiber to fill you up, regulate your blood sugar, and aid in constipation. They boast micronutrients, including phosphorus and manganese, and powerful antioxidants, including quercitin. Quercitin has anti-inflammatory and anti-histamine activity to boost the immune system and aid in allergic reactions from allergies, asthma, or more. It also may play a beneficial role in heart disease and preventing cancer.

Chia seeds can be easily found these days. They are a little pricey, but keep in mind that the bag will probably last you for a few months, depending on how chia crazy you get. Amazon or Costco will probably have the best prices.

Once you pick up a bag, don’t let them sit in your cupboard! These little seeds may be intimidating if you don’t know what to do with them, so here’s a list of ideas. They don’t have much taste to them, so they work well in a variety of items.

  • Chia pudding! This is my favorite way to eat chia seeds. They soak up water and expand to up to 10 times their weight. Just throw 2 tbsp chia seeds in 1/2 cup non-dairy milk (almond or coconut) or water and let sit overnight or for at least 3 hours. The seeds will soak up the fluid and turn into a tapioca pudding-like consistency. Throw some berries in it for a balanced breakfast, or mix cocoa powder and full-fat coconut milk for a rich, delicious dessert.

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  • Egg substitute. They can be used in baking for an egg substitute. Eggs are pretty hard to substitute, so baking can be pretty tricky if you have an egg allergy or intolerance. Mix 1 tbsp chia seeds with 3 tbsp water for 1 egg in the recipe, and let it sit to thicken.
  • Sprinkle on food. Since they are pretty tasteless, you can throw them in your smoothies, salad dressings, or soups (as a thickener) to boost the nutrition of your meal.
  • Make your own energy gel or drink. Last year when training for my first marathon, I experimented with the fuel during a run. On some long runs, I carried a water bottle with 1/2-1 tbsp chia seeds in it, and I also made dates with honey and chia seeds as a real-food fuel. Fueling is highly individual for runners, so I recommend figuring out what works best for your body for several runs before using it in a race.

Consider buying a bag of chia seeds and giving them a try! If you need more ideas, just google chia seed recipes – there are TONS. Let me know if you find any exciting and delicious recipes with them.

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