So What IS the Big Deal About…

…Chia seeds?  Why, I thought you would never ask.  Honestly, there are so many great things about these little devils, I’m just not sure where to begin.

So, I’ll just start with the beginning.  Chia seeds were widely used by Incans and Aztecs to fuel their legendary runners and warriors; they were carried in small pouches and with a small amount of water, could sustain a messenger for 24 hours.  Now, while this admittedly sounds a bit far-fetched, consider their make-up: they’re a great source of protein, calcium, and iron.  They have more potassium than bananas.  They have a ton of soluble and insoluble fiber, AND they’re packed with omega-3’s and omega-6’s, which are essential fatty acids, which–unless you’ve been under a rock–you know are pretty darned good for you…hence the “essential” (they keep the system well-lubed and operating smoothly).

Let’s talk about what this all means for you. Chia seeds can absorb 7-10x their weight in water (depending on which source you’re consulting) which means they help prolong hydration and retain electrolytes during strenuous activity (I think roller derby counts). When you add water to them and let them soak, they form a gelatinous mixture that, while doesn’t necessarily look appealing, can be a super pre-workout snack…because that gelatinous stuff will bulk up in your stomach, help fill you up without making you feel bloated, and form a physical barrier between your digestive enzymes and the carbohydrates they break down, slowing the conversion of said carbohydrates to sugar and giving you a steady energy source. Goodbye, sugar crash! As an added bonus, this weird-looking stuff also acts as a digestive “broom”, helping to clean house in your intestinal tract and sweep out accumulated waste.

Post-workout, because it is so easily digestible, the goods get to your depleted tissues and cells quickly, helping to replace the iron, potassium, and calcium you lost while you were sweating it out on the track. In addition, the high protein content helps tide you over right after practice until you can get a real meal, and in the longer term, speeds muscle recovery.

Do you need more convincing? This is how chia stacks up:

2x the protein of other grains
5x the calcium in milk (PLUS boron, which helps transfer calcium
to your bones
3x the antioxidant power of blueberries
3x more iron than spinach
Double the potassium of bananas
TONS of omega-3’s and 6’s
Gluten-free and vegan!

So what do I do with this stuff, you ask? Well, you can put it on salads or in smoothies, stir it into yogurt…you can even use it as an egg substitute in recipes! (2 T. chia seeds + 1/2 c. water= about 1/4 gel that will equal about 1 egg in a recipe) But for the purposes of this blog–ie something quick and easy, yet satiating–you can roughly follow the “recipe” below.

1/2 c. chia seeds
1 1/2 c. water
dried fruit (goji berries, dried cherries, blueberries, etc)
your favorite spices: vanilla, cinnamon, mint, whatever
sweetener of choice: stevia, agave, real maple syrup

Mix chia seeds and water and let sit for 10-20 min.

Once you have the chia “gel”, you can mix in…well, whatever you like! Try some coconut flakes and coconut oil (chia seeds have kind of a nutty flavor that goes well with coconut), your dried fruit of choice, sweeteners…in a pinch, I have even used water and a little fruit juice (think Berry Boost or something similar from Bolthouse Farms or Odwalla…although be careful because some of those are already pretty thick and might taste chalky).

Something else that was just recommended to me that I can’t WAIT to try is mixing the chia seeds with almond milk and a little chocolate protein powder and letting it sit for a little while…presto! Healthy awesomeness that tastes like chocolate pudding! This is on my list of things to experiment with immediately.

The last thing I want to talk about is acquisition. Where DOES one find this magic food? Any fairly well-stocked health food store should have some brand of chia seed (don’t hijack them from your roommate’s/child’s/teammate’s ChiaPet…they are not food grade), but you can also check around online for best bulk prices and organic options. While I always encourage supporting local business, these little wonders can get a bit pricey, and we’re not out to remortgage the house to afford superfoods or anything.

Anyway, try ’em out. You might never buy GU or Hammergel again.

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