What are the Health Benefits of Chia Seeds?

Kristina wrote:

Hi Georgie!! I was walking through the grocery store and noticed chia seeds. The health benefits sounded great, but are they worth the premium price? How beneficial are they compared to flax seed? Thanks, and all the best!

Chia seeds, also known as salvia, have come a long way from growing fleece on clay animals. They are rich plant sources of the omega-3 fat alpha linolenic acid (ALA) , the same omega-3 found in flaxseeds. The two are similar in ALA content. One key difference is that you don’t have to grind chia seeds before eating like you do flaxseeds.

There has been a lot less research on chia seeds than on flaxseeds, but there are some promising findings. It’s probably no surprise that claims on packaging can be inflated, but let’s take a peek at what the research says:

A 2007 study reported that chia seed oil reduced the weight of cancerous tumors in experimental animals, and inhibited metastasis (or spreading of the tumor to other tissues) compared to safflower oil or a control diet. This type of finding is common to other omega-3 fat sources as well.

Got chickens? Want omega-3 rich eggs with less saturated fat and cholesterol? Feed your hens chia seeds, according to a study published in Poultry Science.

The amino acid profile of chia seeds is not very complete, since they are fairly low in the essential amino acid lysine, as reported in a 2010 paper.

Soaking chia seeds in water results in a gel-like substance. Soaked chia seeds are often used to replace eggs or oil in baked goods, helpful for those who are vegan or have egg allergies, or just want to reduce calories and fat in a recipe. This article found that substituting up to 25% of the oil in a cake recipe with chia seeds won’t significantly affect it’s taste (really, they gave it to test subjects), but it will slightly reduce the volume. (I wonder if they had to pay test subjects or the free cake was enough….)

Two well-controlled clinical trials have been done to determine in vivo effects in humans. One 2009 study specifically looked for impacts of chia consumption on bodyweight or body fat, or improvements in disease markers such as inflammation, oxidative stress, lipid profile, and blood pressure. Unfortunately, after consuming 50 grams of chia seeds a day for 3 months, subjects didn’t show any significant differences in weight, fatness, or any of the biomarkers. Nada.

A trial conducted on diabetic subjects had more favorable findings. Results of a trial published in Diabetes Care in 2007 reports that type-2 diabetics who added an average of 37 grams of chia seed to their daily diets for 3 months showed significant decreased in blood pressure, C reactive protein, hemoglobin A1c (a marker of long term blood glucose) and fibrinogen. (For comparison, they used wheat bran.) This study concluded that chia seeds do have health benefits, notably reducing cardiovascular disease risk factors and inflammatory markers.

This study was followed up in 201o by some research to help clarify exactly how chia seeds achieved these effects. Data published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition indicate that supplementing a meal with chia seeds results in lower blood glucose levels and increased satiety in healthy people. Note, though that there were only 11 subjects total in this study, which makes for a pretty low-powered experiment.

My take on chia seeds? They taste nice, kind of crunchy, I have eaten them and enjoyed the texture they impart to yogurt. They probably have some health benefits similar to other plant sources of ALA like flaxseed and walnuts. I don’t think chia seeds are a miracle food for curing disease or shedding pounds, but they also don’t seem to have any concerns for health risk, so I’d say give them a try for some extra variety in your diet, if nothing else.

If the cost is an issue, look for a place to buy them in bulk such as Sprouts Markets (my favorite store), or online through NutsOnline, where they are very affordable. Enjoy!

Leave a comment: Have you eaten chia seeds? How do you use them?

Print Friendly

{ 5 comments… add one }

  • Joanne Perry January 6, 2012, 11:04 am

    Hi,

    I sell Chia seeds for a company which distributes whole and (our own) micro-milled chia. While we cannot promise any positive results, the anecdotal information we receive is remarkable. It is worth pursuing if you have health issues such as joint pain, high blood pressure, diabetes or pre-diabetic bloodsugar levels. Endurance athletes find using Chia helps them stay hydrated longer. Any new food should be approached with caution–especially for those who who have a history of sensitivity. Try 1/2 teaspoon chia and give your body 24 hours to react. General maximum usage is 2 tablespoons daily. Personally I prefer the micro-milled Chia. I believe my body absorbs the nutrients more quickly.

  • Shawn M. January 30, 2012, 7:51 pm

    I put a tablespoon in my morning smoothie. I also add 2 or 3 tablespoons mixed in a 1/3 of a cup of applesauce to my banana muffins. I have read that since they do expand to about 9 times there size when put in liquid that you have to be careful about eating them in their dry state – might cause dehydration.

  • Jens February 20, 2012, 1:23 am

    I sprinkle a teaspoon or so on my Chex rice cereal in the morning or sprinkle some in vanilla yoghurt. The past few days I’ve been making peanut butter chia seed cookies with a few variations—this recipe: http://www.yummymummykitchen.com/2012/01/chia-seed-peanut-butter-superfood.html

  • Alexander Althaus July 31, 2012, 6:59 am

    I like to eat some chia seeds because it is also rich in Omega-3 fatty acids. They are very nutritious just like flax seeds. ‘,,:;

    Warmest wishes http://www.foodsupplementdigest.com“>

  • Megan Fisher February 26, 2013, 3:55 pm

    Does any one know what the oxalate reading is on chia. Most nuts and seeds are off the menu for people on a low oxalate diet, but flaxseeds are ok.