Some people wonder whether chia seeds are safe to eat while pregnant or breastfeeding. These tiny seeds are safe and nutritious during these times, and they may provide several health benefits.
Chia seeds come from Salvia hispanica, a herb in the mint family that is native to Central America. Chia seeds were a staple food for the Aztecs and believed to boost energy and stamina.
Today, chia seeds are popular, present in foods ranging from breakfast dishes to desserts. They absorb several times their weight in water to develop a gel-like consistency.
In this article, we explore the potential benefits and risks of eating chia seeds during and after pregnancy.
Chia seeds can be a healthful addition to the diet for the following reasons:
Omega-3s are essential fatty acids. This means that the body must absorb them from the diet to stay healthy.
These fatty acids help fight inflammation, which can benefit the body by staving off heart disease, diabetes, and depression.
During pregnancy, omega-3s are particularly important because they support fetal brain development. Evidence suggests that omega-3s also reduce the risk of premature birth.
Chia seeds are one of the best plant sources of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a form of omega-3.
However, most clinical investigations into the effects of omega-3s during pregnancy have not focused specifically on ALA, but on other forms, such as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
The body converts ALA to EPA and DHA, although conversion rates are relatively low: typically less than 15%. Therefore, it is a good idea to supplement the ALA from chia seeds with other omega-3s, such as those in fish- or algae-based supplements.
Each ounce — about 2 tablespoons — of chia seeds contains 179 milligrams (mg) of calcium. This is almost 18% of a pregnant woman’s recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of calcium, which is about 1,000 mg daily.
Calcium is especially important during pregnancy because it supports the development of the baby’s teeth and bones.
Getting enough calcium may also reduce the risk of preeclampsia, a pregnancy complication characterized by high blood pressure and liver and kidney damage. Untreated preeclampsia can have severe or fatal outcomes for the mother and child.
Other nutrients and antioxidants
Chia seeds are a rich source of several nutrients, some of which function as antioxidants. Antioxidants may have several benefits, including reducing cancer risk and premature aging.
During pregnancy, antioxidants may also help prevent adverse outcomes.
Research indicates, for example, that deficiencies in some antioxidants that chia seeds contain — such as zinc, selenium, and manganese — can increase the risk of preeclampsia and fetal growth restriction. These deficiencies can also increase the risk of diseases in adulthood, including diabetes and heart disease.
Eating chia seeds and other antioxidant-rich foods, therefore, may reduce these risks.
Other nutrients in chia seeds, such as magnesium, are also beneficial during pregnancy. Consuming enough magnesium may, for example, protect the baby from developing eczema, an itchy and painful skin condition.
Each ounce (about 2 tablespoons) of chia seeds contains:
- 95 mg of magnesium (approximately 27% of the RDA during pregnancy)
- 0.8 mg of manganese (approximately 39% of the adequate intake during pregnancy)
- 15.6 micrograms of selenium (26% of the RDA during pregnancy)
- 1.3 mg of zinc (approximately 12% of the RDA during pregnancy)
Chia seeds are a good source of protein and fiber, with each ounce containing 4.7 grams (g) and 9.8 g, respectively.
Also, chia seeds absorb a significant amount of water. This absorption, coupled with high protein and fiber contents, allow chia seeds to help people feel fuller for longer.
This is especially important during pregnancy, when nausea and fluctuations in hormones can cause increases in hunger.
Blood sugar regulation
The fiber and protein contents of chia seeds may help control blood glucose levels.
Relief from constipation
Constipation is a common pregnancy complication because fluctuating hormones can cause digestive distress.
Meanwhile, getting less physical activity and having a low-fiber diet — often because of nausea and vomiting — can contribute to constipation.
Chia seeds, rich in fiber, can help prevent or relieve this issue.
Chia seeds are a relatively low-risk food. However, complications can occur if people eat too many of the seeds.
In some cases, consuming water-absorbing foods that have high levels of fiber — such as chia seeds — can cause stomach discomfort and even diarrhea or constipation.
Also, anyone taking medication to control their blood sugar should consult a doctor before adding more chia seeds to their diet. Because the seeds can reduce blood sugar, they may lower levels too much when combined with medication.
To reduce these risks, soak chia seeds before eating them, and consume them in moderation. A person should probably not eat more than 1 ounce of the seeds per day.
Chia seeds may provide additional benefits during breastfeeding.
Nutrients from the mother pass through the milk to the baby, so eating nutritious foods while nursing is essential.
Research indicates that consuming chia oil during the last 3 months of pregnancy and the first 3 months of breastfeeding may increase the DHA content in the milk. DHA is important for infant brain development.
Other nutrients in chia seeds — such as calcium — may also make their way to babies via breast milk.
Chia seeds can be easy to incorporate into any diet, in part because they are relatively flavorless.
A person could try a chia-focused dish, such as a chia pudding, or simply add some seeds to:
- breakfast cereals or oatmeal
- rice dishes
- vegetable dishes
- sauces, as a thickener
- baked goods, as an egg substitute
Chia seeds are nutritious, and they are safe to consume while pregnant or breastfeeding.
There are very few risks involved, though it may be a good idea to eat no more than 1 ounce of the seeds per day.
Anyone with questions or concerns about chia seed consumption should speak with a dietitian or doctor.