The other day, I was wandering through Whole Foods and ran across a new drink in the aisle: Mamma Chia ($3.50/bottle). It’s a beverage made almost completely out of chia seeds. The texture was different, yes, but not in a negative way. It almost tasted like a smoothie. And the flavor I chose (Cherry Lime, which tasted almost exactly like a Sonic® Cherry Limeade) was delicious, which was surprising given how little sugar and calories the drink contained (only 110 calories for an entire bottle and 9g of sugar, which isn’t fantastic but not terrible either).
Besides the novelty factor, the part that really enticed me was how good this drink was for my body. I was quite surprised by the high amount of fiber (10g) and protein (4g) that a single bottle contained. Any product that makes me feel full and revitalized and only costs me 100 calories is something I’ll check out.
I remembered reading an article from health expert (and, in full transparency, my sister-in-law), Laura Holien, who researched these seeds and had quite a lot of positive things to say about them. I’ve included her original article below for your reading pleasure. Side note: You will see Laura popping up on the site from time-to-time as a health and fitness contributor. Get excited!
So, here's how the story goes. We're all sitting around the backyard last summer discussing good books we've read recently. Of course, most of the people over for the barbecue that night are our friends from the local running club. You know, the 'runny' people. Naturally, the conversation turns to the book "Born to Run". I haven't read it, but my understanding is that it documents a tribe in Mexico that can run through the mountains for days on end. You've seen the documentaries of these people, right? This conversation led to the question, "How do they do it!?" Finally, after putting aside biomechanics, genetics, lifestyles, etc, we got to the meat of the matter: Sustenance?!
All of the sudden, these people in our group, some of them ultra runners, start discussing chia seeds. CHIA seeds? You mean like Chia pets? Yes, like Chia pets. They started saying that chia seeds are the amazing way that ultra runners can go for so long in the mountains. Apparently, these chia seeds are also how the mexican tribal runners went for days on end. (I found out later the use of these chia seeds dates back to ancient Aztec warriors sustaining themselves on them for long combat distances)
I myself had never tried chia seeds but was super intrigued. So I took it upon myself to do some research. Here is what I found:
The seeds, a staple in the diets of Native and Central Americans hundreds of years ago, are offen referred to as "running food," with marketers claiming that as little as one teaspoon of the seeds will sustain a person for a 24-hour trek and can also promote healing and cure infections.
It sounds like the bulk of the chia seeds' potential health benefits are due to their omega-3 content, which is slightly higher than that of flaxseed. They are also a source of antioxidants and a variety of amino acids. They slow the absorption of foods in your stomach and therefore enhance the ability of vitamins and minerals to help your body.
Another interesting tidbit about the Chia seed is its hydrophilic property. Apparently, they have the ability to prolong hydration by holding onto 12 times its weight in water. This helps maintain electrolyte balance and normal cellular function that might otherwise be altered from dehydration. This allows for amazing endurance effects and also enhanced nutritional absorption in your digestive tract, as noted above. Because they digest slowly, they help people with irritable bowels, gluten sensitivities, and blood sugar problems, too!
Apparently there are many ways to eat the seeds, but straight up raw is the best for nutritional gain. The runners here say they carry little bags and just chew them up after hours of running. Others mix them with water and drink them. I guess they almost turn into a gel after sitting in water because of their fiber content. This is also helpful for feeling full and managing hunger. In this way, they have even been tabbed as a 'diet' food wonder!