I first discovered chia seeds when I read Christopher McDougalls book Born to Run a few years back, this was when they were pretty difficult to come by- you couldn’t get them in health stores let alone supermarkets-now they are pretty easy to come by, but why do I use them and what are their benefits?
Chia seeds come from the salva hispanica plant, and are native to Central and South America hence the link to the Tarahumara runners in Born to Run, who used them as a sustained source of energy, to help them run all day-what’s not to love about that!?
The teeny tiny seeds pack a serious nutritional punch, containing good amounts of fibre, plant based protein, essential fatty acids, as well as good levels of calcium, magnesium, manganese and phosphorous- basically ideal for bone health. Although they are rich in omega 3, it is in the ALA form, which the body converts into EPA and DHA, as the conversion rate isn’t fantastic, they aren’t a reliable source of EPA or DHA. I think their nutrient profile makes them an ideal food for runners, particularly us plant based ones.
Chia seeds can absorb up to 10-12 times their weight in water, and when soaked take on a thick gel like consistency. They expand in the stomach which can help with satiety and slow absorption of food, so are great to add to foods like porridge for a slower energy release.
Unlike flax seeds they don’t need to be ground to absorb all the nutrients, so you can add them to anything as and when you like. I like to soak a big batch overnight and then add some of this gel over the next few days, to oat/buckwheat breakfast bowls, or smoothies, or I soak them in some coconut milk and make a chia pudding for an alternative breakfast or snack. They also make an excellent binding ingredient and an ideal egg replacer in Vegan baking. They are incredibly versatile, and because they are pretty tasteless you can add them to anything for a nutrition boost.
I always have a tbsp of them in my porridge before long runs or races, and am a big fan of the chia energy gels from 33shake during long runs, I find them easy to digest and they have always worked well for me in the past.
You can buy black or white chia seeds, and they have absolutely no nutritional difference whatsoever, I usually buy the black ones as they tend to be slightly cheaper.
Chia seeds are a true superfood, although they are just one food amidst a whole range of awesome nutrient dense ones that should make up a varied and healthy diet. If they are slightly out of your price range, then other seeds like pumpkin and sesame are fantastic additions to your diet. Adding chia can certainly add a really good amount of nutrients to your diet, and if it’s good enough for the tarahumara to run ultras on, it’s certainly good enough for me!