An Ultramarathon Trail runner shares his adventures in the Southwest and beyond.
August 3 2011 Chia and Kefir
Superfoods. Why eat anything else? What are these super stars of the food world anyway? Nuts, seeds, berries, hot peppers, garlic, tea, tomatoes, whole grains, yogurt, leafy greens, and dark chocolate (that’s right, chocolate). The two I’m going to talk about are chia seeds and kefir. Lately, I’ve been eating better to reduce inflammation in my body and to become healthier overall. I’m trying to avoid refined sugars and unhealthy fats and increase foods high in omega 3 fatty acids.
With all this healthy eating (and exercise), I should probably live to be at least 120 years old, right? Actually, all I really want is to add life to my years; not necessarily years to my life. My goal is to feel good as long as possible.
Dry chia seeds
Chia seeds are one of the foods highest in omega 3s which are known to defend against or reduce symptoms of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis, and cancer. I take chia seeds in a little bit of cranberry-pomegranate juice before my morning workout because they are also a high energy food. The Tarahumara Indians of Born to Run fame are known for using the seeds on their long endurance runs.
I get my chia from the Living Harvest Bakery, but you can find the seeds at your local “organic” grocery, health food store or in that Chia Pet that’s been sitting in your closet since Christmas. (Did you know there is an Obama Chia Pet for only $19.95?) Throw the little clay figurine away and soak the seeds in water as they will absorb nine times their weight in liquid which will help keep you hydrated in all this heat we have been plagued with.
What I do is put a ¼ cup of seeds in a container and add 11/4 cups of water (1:5 ratio); stirring to make sure the seeds don’t clump together. In a little while this mixture will turn to a gel that is completely tasteless. You can now add the substance to anything you like; oatmeal, yogurt, juice, smoothies, etc. You can even bake with chia seeds, but I have yet to try it.
Watch Chia Obama
Following my morning exercise, I enjoy a smoothie made with kefir. Kefir is a fermented dairy beverage, similar to, but healthier than yogurt, and full of probiotics which are healthy bacteria that enhance the immune function and inhibit inflammation. Kefir originated in the Caucasus Mountains of Russia where, centuries ago, shepherds preserved milk using kefir grains. You can buy Lifeway Kefir at your grocery or make your own.
To do it yourself you will first need to get some kefir grains from someone who makes kefir or search on the internet for a mail order supply. A little bit will get you started and, if you are not careful, you will have more grains than you know what to do with. After you get your kefir grains, put them in a glass container, pour some milk over them, cover with a cloth and let them sit at room temperature for about 24 hours.
Any milk will do, except ultra-pasteurized. Be careful with organic milk; it may have been shipped from across the country and could be overly pasteurized. In other words, buy local if possible. If your kefir turns into a gooey, cheesy, lumpy mess; the grains ran out of food (milk) and you will need to scoop them out and start over. Next time either drink the kefir sooner, use more milk or fewer grains. Pretty soon you will learn the right ratio of grains to milk. I use about a table spoon of grains to 2 cups of milk and let it sit for 24 hours.
To make smoothies, strain 2 cups of kefir into the blender and then add some frozen strawberries, blueberries and chia gel. Make sure to buy no sugar added fruit unless, of course, you want your smoother sweeter. Try agave nectar instead of sugar because it has a lower glycemic index. Don’t forget to place your little friends (kefir grains) back in a clean jar and feed them with some more milk.
The best part of making your own kefir and fruit smoothies is that you avoid the preservatives, additives and sweeteners that are in commercial yogurt. Many of these products, like Go-Gurt, have dozens of ingredients including several types of sweeteners. When is the last time you sat down at the breakfast table and said, “Please pass the xanthan gum, modified corn starch, and food coloring”?
All these probiotics, omega 3s, fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals are bound to keep you going and feeling great for many years to come. By the way, some say the word kefir means “good feeling” in Turkish. See you on the trail.