What are Chia Seeds?
written by Lori Ann
Ch-ch-ch-Chia! Have you ever heard of Chia seeds? Chia seeds (also known as Salva seeds) are small, oval seeds that are native to Mexico, and were enjoyed by the Mayans and the Aztecs. Many North Americans were first introduced to Chia seeds through a ‘made for TV’ product, the Chia Pet, which was popular in the early 80’s. Since it’s debut as novelty houseplant, there has been a second substantial wave of Chia-seed sales since 2012, when Hollywood celebrities such as Dr. Oz first marketed the seeds in North America as an appetite suppressant and super food. These seeds have a mild, nutty flavor, and can be eaten raw or added to other foods. They are often added to smoothies, made into a gelatin-like substance for puddings, or used as a replacement for eggs in various recipes.
Given the many difficult-to-assess weight-loss claims on the market today (note: Dr. Oz is currently being investigated by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission for making false claims about his dietary supplements), it is important to know what the real story is behind Chia seeds, or any other food marketed as a weight-loss aid or supplement. Is it all just hype, or do they really suppress your appetite?
The Chia-Seed Story:
Many of the Chia-seed ‘diets’ that can be found online claim that Chia seeds helped dieters lose weight for three reasons: first, the seeds are high in soluble fiber, which helps to fill you up and is digested slowly. Second, the seeds are hydrophilic, which means that they absorb up to 12 times their weight in liquid when soaked. This makes the seeds “bulk up,” so the claim is that you feel as though you have eaten more then you actually have. Finally, the seeds are high in nutrients and have been advertised as having “properties that can help you control cravings.” These online diets claim “research has shown that when eaten on a regular basis, these seeds can increase your metabolism and help you burn fat faster.” (1)
The Bad News:
While these seeds are certainly very nutritious and contain fiber – which is certainly a healthy choice – and may make you feel fuller than other less-nutritious choices, the research on Chia seeds remains sparse and inconclusive. (2) There is no conclusive evidence that Chia seeds help to speed up your metabolism, and a great deal of evidence about their benefits remains anecdotal. According to a study published by Dr. David Nieman, a professor at Appalachian State University in North Carolina, researchers who followed participants in a 12-week study on Chia consumption “did not see a change in appetite or weight loss": "Our study showed no reduction in body weight, body fat and no improvement in traditional cardiovascular markers from 50 grams of chia per day.” (3)
The Good News:
While the seeds may not be the weight-loss-miracle product that everyone is looking for, they are still very nutritious and a great addition to your diet. They have nutrient values that are similar to other edible seeds, such as sesame or flax. (4) According to the USDA
, a one-ounce (28-gram) serving of chia seeds contains:
- 9 grams of fat (Omega-3 fatty acids…the good kind!);
- 5 milligrams of sodium;
- 11 grams of dietary fiber (about a third of the recommended intake for adults!);
- 4 grams of protein (great for vegetarians);
- 18% of the recommended daily intake of calcium;
- 27% of the recommended daily intake of phosphorus (this helps you maintain your bones and teeth, and helps with cell and tissue repair); and
- 30% of the recommended daily intake of manganese.
All in all, Chia seeds are quite safe, and are a healthy addition to your diet. Like all foods, it is possible to have an allergy to Chia seeds, although this is very uncommon. These seeds are not the extreme weight-loss cure that they are sometimes billed as, but we already know that exercise and a healthy diet (with or without Chia seeds) is the true key to weight-loss success.
(2) Ulbricht C et al (2009). "Chia (Salvia hispanica): a systematic review by the natural standard research collaboration". Rev Recent Clin Trials 4 (3): 168–74.
(4) USDA SR-21 Nutrient Data (2010). "Nutrition Facts and Analysis for Seeds, sesame seed kernels, dried (decorticated)"
. Conde Nast, Nutrition Data. Retrieved 29 November 2010.
(5) USDA SR-21 Nutrient Data (2010). "Nutrition facts for dried chia seeds, one ounce"
. Conde Nast, Nutrition Data.