Given the popularity of chia seeds today, it’s crazy to think that not too long ago we primarily used these nutrient-rich seeds to turn terra cotta figurines into green furry “pets.” It’s been awhile since we’ve heard that catchy cha-cha-cha-chia jingle — these days, chia seeds are more likely to pop up in pudding recipes, smoothies, and other delicious foods. They’ve been touted as a superfood, and some people claim there’s a link between chia seeds and weight loss. But before you go dumping seeds onto everything you eat, get your facts straight on chia.
What Are Chia Seeds?
Chia seeds are tiny, edible seeds from a desert plant called Salvia hispanica, which is a member of the mint family. This ancient grain has been on the radar for more than 5,000 years — in Mayan and Aztec cultures, chia seeds were used in foods and folk medicines. The seeds can be black or white, and both colors are equally nutritious.
Is Chia a Superfood?
There’s no agreed-upon definition for what qualifies as a “superfood,” but the term typically refers to nutrient-rich foods with health benefits. “I think people call chia a ‘superfood’ because it packs a lot of nutritional benefits into such a small quantity,” says Keri Gans, RDN, author of The Small Change Diet.
Just one ounce of chia seeds (around two tablespoons) contains 138 calories and nearly 5 grams of protein and 10 grams of fiber. Chia seeds also provide some iron, calcium, magnesium, and zinc, as well as omega-3 fatty acids in the form of alpha linolenic acid (ALA).
“Omega-3 fatty acids have a health halo around them,” says Andrea Giancoli, MPH, RD, nutrition manager for Openfit, because they’re anti-inflammatory and may support neurological health.
Do Chia Seeds Really Burn Belly Fat?
Short answer: No.
Long answer: The fat-burning rep of chia seeds likely comes from a study published in 2009 in which scientists fed rats a high-sucrose diet to induce insulin resistance. Then they split the rats into two groups, with half the rats consuming chia seeds in addition to their high-sucrose diet. By the end of the experiment, the chia-eating rats had less of the deeper belly fat that’s linked to an increased risk of diabetes and heart disease.
That’s great for rats — but so far, there’s no evidence showing the same results in adults.
Can Chia Seeds Help With Weight Loss?
Many people swear by chia seeds (and flax seeds, too) for weight loss. “This is because chia seeds have a good amount of fiber — and since they expand and form a gel when they come in contact with water, the thought is they keep you full longer,” Giancoli says. “The thought is that this may help you to eat less or avoid overeating. But that hasn’t really panned out in the scientific literature.”
Studies have linked low fiber intake to a higher BMI, and experts believe dietary fiber could play a role in weight management. However, researchers haven’t found a specific connection between chia seeds and weight loss. One study found that consuming 25 grams (just under one ounce) of chia seeds twice a day for 12 weeks didn’t impact body mass or composition.
Another study found that consuming 35 grams of chia flour daily for 12 weeks helped participants lose weight — but this was a small study, and the weight change was very modest.
Bottom line: “Chia seed, in and of itself, doesn’t have superpowers to promote weight loss,” Gans says.
How Do I Add Chia Seeds to My Diet?
Even if they’re not a magic ingredient for weight loss, chia seeds are still a great source of nutrients.
So how much chia should you eat in a day? Gans and Giancoli both say up to two tablespoons per day appears to be a healthy intake. Even a single tablespoon of chia seeds will add 5 grams of fiber to your diet, which is 20 percent of the recommend fiber intake for women and 13 percent of the daily recommendation for men.
Of course, chia pudding is one easy (and tasty) way to add chia seeds to your diet. But there are many foods you can add whole or milled chia seeds to, including:
- salad dressing
What Are the Side Effects of Eating Chia Seeds?
The good news: There are no known dangers of eating chia seeds.
But keep in mind that chia seeds pack a lot of fiber, which can definitely get things moving. “If you add too much too quickly, you may experience gastrointestinal distress if you’re not used to fiber,” Gans says. “Even people who eat a lot of fiber may have a hard time digesting 20 grams at one sitting.” So just don’t go pouring the entire bag of chia seeds into your smoothie — a little bit of chia goes a long way.