So, you thought Gillian McKeith invented the concept of superfoods.
Think again 🙂
There are records of ‘Chia Seed’ being used as a food over 3,500 years ago and it was recognized as a superfood by the Aztecs, so much so that it was often used as legal tender for exchange of goods!
So what is so special about chia seeds, and why am I writing about them on a running blog?
The chia plant (Salvia hispanica), which is sometimes referred to as chia sage, originated in the central valley of Mexico and is a member of the mint family. Indeed, the name of the Mexican state of Chiapas, originally called Chiapan, translates loosely to “river where the chia sage grows.”
Aztec warriors and runners are believed to have sustained themselves for an entire day on just a tablespoon of chia.
After the Spanish conquests (c.1400-1500), chia seed nearly disappeared as the Spaniards banned foods that were linked in any way to Aztec religion or tradition and virtually wiped out the complex agricultural system established by the Aztecs in order to grow foods that were popular in Spain instead.
The Tarahumara Indians of Copper Canyon brought to fame in Christopher McDougall’s book Born to Run, have harvested chia since the beginning of their culture. It is known as “the running food” and is most often consumed mixed with corn and baked into a dry cake or as a drink known as Iskiate or chia fresca. This popular Mexican drink is made by soaking chia seeds in water until they become gelatinous and then adding sugar and lemon or lime juice.
The Chumash Indians of California also cultivated chia in the 16th century and are know to have prized it for its beneficial properties.
Chia is very rich in omega-3 fatty acids, even more so than flax seeds. And it has another advantage over flax: chia is so rich in antioxidants that the seeds don’t deteriorate and can be stored for long periods without becoming rancid. And, unlike flax, they do not have to be ground to make their nutrients available to the body. Chia seeds provide calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, copper, iron, molybdenum, niacin, and zinc
They are a complete source of protein, providing all the essential amino acids in an easily digestible form. They are also a fabulous source of soluble fibre.
Another advantage: when added to water and allowed to sit for 30 minutes, chia forms a gel. Researchers suggest that this reaction also takes place in the stomach, slowing the process by which digestive enzymes break down carbohydrates and convert them into sugar, making it especially beneficial for diabetics and others with blood sugar issues.
The endurance advantage
Ok, so that’s all very well you might say, but what does this interesting little seed have to do with running?
Well, chia seeds are hydrophilic and can absorb more than 12 times their weight in water. This makes them ‘helpful’ in maintaining body hydration, something that is especially beneficial for athletes who need to remain hydrated during races and endurance activities.
SO…. I tried them last week on a long run and although I seemed to be sweating in the heat, I was taking a swig of chia seed and water on a regular basis, but ended up drinking hardly anything over the 2:40 I was out. Not a very scientific study, I’ll grant you, but promising nonetheless and so I’m looking at how to use these in Leadville in a week.
If it’s good enough for the Tarahumara…. 🙂