Chia seeds are the seeds of the flowering plant Salvia hispanica, which is a member of the mint family. In recent years, these seeds have become a popular so-called superfood.
Some people claim that eating chia seeds aids weight loss.
In this article, we outline the science behind this claim. We also provide information on the nutrient content of chia seeds and suggest ways to incorporate them into the diet.
Chia seeds are rich in fiber, boasting 9.75 grams (g) per 1 ounce (oz) serving. They also contain 4.69 g of protein per serving.
Both fiber and protein can temporarily suppress appetite by making a person feel fuller for longer. Moreover, each serving of chia seeds contains only 138 calories, making them a low calorie, nutrient dense snack.
Scientists have only recently begun studying the potential weight loss benefits of chia seeds. Some of these studies have shown promising results, but the data are far from conclusive.
There was no difference in weight loss between the two groups after 12 weeks. However, the researchers noted a significant weight loss among those in the chia group. The participants who had obesity at the start of the study lost more weight than those who were less overweight at the beginning.
In addition, people in the chia group who had abnormal cholesterol levels at the start of the study showed significantly improved levels at the end. The chia flour led to a reduction in overall cholesterol and an increase in high density lipoprotein ('good') cholesterol.
All of the participants followed a calorie restricted diet for 6 months. One group ate Salba chia daily, while the other group ate an oat bran-based control food.
The participants who did not consume chia lost 0.3 kilograms (kg), or 0.66 pounds (lb), on average. Those who ate chia lost an average of 1.9 kg, or 4.19 lb. The chia group also showed a significant average reduction in waist circumference compared with the control group.
Together, these findings suggest that chia seeds are unlikely to cause significant weight loss on their own. They may promote weight loss in people who eat a low calorie diet, although the evidence for this claim is inconclusive.
There is a need for more extensive and better designed studies to test the effects of chia seeds on weight loss and overall health.
Chia seeds contain many healthful nutrients. A 1 oz serving contains the following amounts of minerals:
Chia seeds also contain several antioxidants and are a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids. Some research links omega-3 intake to a reduced risk of depression, inflammatory bowel disease, and childhood allergies. Omega-3 fatty acids may also lower the risk of heart disease.
Research into the potential health benefits of chia seeds is still in its infancy. There is a need for more clinical trials of a higher quality.
However, current research suggests that chia seeds may provide some of the following health benefits:
- a reduction in inflammation, possibly due to the antioxidant content
- better blood sugar control, which can help with the management of diabetes
- more regular bowel habits, including relief from constipation
- lower blood pressure
- thinner blood due to the omega-3 content, which may prevent blood clots
- improved cholesterol levels
It is fine to snack on raw chia seeds, and some people like the taste. Many studies of chia seeds have used relatively high doses, which amount to much more than a single serving.
For people who struggle to eat larger quantities of chia seeds, there are several simple ways to add them to the diet. Try one or more of the following:
- Add a spoonful of chia seeds to a morning smoothie.
- Sprinkle chia seeds on top of a salad.
- Cook with chia flour.
- Make chia water by soaking one-part chia seeds in 16-parts water for 20–30 minutes. Drink it on its own or mix in honey, lemon, or fruit juice to add flavor.
- Add chia seeds to trail mix.
- Make a chia seed pudding by mixing the seeds into milk or yogurt and leaving it overnight to thicken. Adding honey or fresh or dried fruit can make it into a tasty breakfast.
Chia seeds are available to purchase in many health food stores and online.
Chia seeds are safe for most people to eat, and they do not typically cause side effects. However, the high fiber content of chia seeds may cause gastrointestinal problems in people who are sensitive to fiber.
It is also worth noting that larger doses of omega-3s, such as those that supplements provide, can thin the blood.
While this may help lower blood pressure and improve heart health, it also increases bleeding risk. Therefore, people who take blood thinners or have bleeding disorders should avoid chia seeds. At the very least, they should talk to a doctor before incorporating chia seeds into the diet.
Some people may find that they are allergic to chia seeds, although this is uncommon. People should stop eating chia seeds if they notice any signs of an allergic reaction.
Research on chia seeds has not kept pace with public interest in chia as a superfood.
As the research continues, scientists may discover more convincing evidence linking chia seeds to weight loss. For now, there is little reason to believe that chia seeds on their own can aid weight loss. It is also clear that chia seeds are not a substitute for a healthful diet and exercise.
However, people interested in losing weight should consider adding chia seeds to their diet. They are a nutritious and healthful replacement for higher calorie foods and an excellent source of fiber. They may also help a person manage their food cravings while they pursue their weight loss goals.