Nutrition Myths
Chia seeds benefits

SUMMARY

  • Chia seeds have a well-deserved superfood rank.
  • Chia seeds are a super-healthy energy source.
  • They are exceptionally dense with macro and micro-nutrients, phenolic compounds and antioxidants.
  • Eating chia seeds may lower the blood sugar level after a meal, reduce appetite, improve digestive health and may prevent various health conditions, when given to children at an early stage of development.
  • Chia seeds may reduce blood pressure and improve health in patients with type 2 diabetes.
  • Eating chia seeds will not make you slimmer.
  • Chia seeds are comparatively allergy-safe and are one of the cleanest foods available.
  • Chia seeds are a healthy addition to the daily diet.
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ON THIS PAGE

1. Effects on blood sugar
2. Effects on blood pressure in type 2 diabetes
3. Effects on type 2 diabetes
4. Effects on cholesterol and triglycerides levels
5. Effects on appetite
6. Effects on digestive health
7. Effects on heart health (in the general population)
8. Chia seeds in athlete’s endurance
9. Feeding chia seeds to young children and prevention of health issues later in life
10. Effects on weight loss
11. Effects on omega 3 in blood
12. Chia seeds – allergy-friendly
13. Chia seeds – the “clean” food
14. Chia seeds and cell protective antioxidants
15. Chia seeds as a source of energy
16. Effects on bone and teeth health
17. Chia seeds – a great source of nutrients

17 Chia seeds benefits – what is the evidence?

Numerous, commonly publicized chia seeds benefits have elevated its rank to a superfood.

Producers, distributors, health food stores, media and many online sources attribute a wide range of health benefits to this tiny seed.

In fact, some of the commonly known health claims are backed by strong scientific evidence. However, others are yet to be proven, since the studies are inconclusive. They show conflicting results and others even prove the opposite.

This article reveals which chia seed health benefits are correctly attributed to chia seeds.

Health claims that are based on anecdotal evidence with no scientific basis, have been excluded from this article.  

Note: chia seeds side effects are also still worth considering, even though these seeds are relatively safe.

Benefits of chia seeds and available evidence:

1. Chia seeds benefits related to blood sugar

As little as 7 grams of chia seeds, has the power to reduce the blood sugar level after a meal in healthy individuals.  This makes it easier to control unwanted energy spikes, followed by periods of sleepiness during the day.

The effects on blood sugar are dose dependent. For instance, 24g reduces blood sugar more than 14g and 14g has stronger effects than eating 7g.

Grinding seemed to have slightly better results than whole seeds. (1)

It was found that each gram of these seeds added to white bread, reduced glycemia after eating by 2%.

This effect has even been compared to the effectiveness of an antidiabetic drug called acarbose (although the mechanism of action is different). (1)

More studies are needed, however, to confirm these findings. (1, 2, 3, 4)

MAIN POINTS

  • The benefits of chia seeds on blood sugar reduction after a meal: studies are promising, more clinical trials are recommended.

2. Chia seeds benefits related to blood pressure in type 2 diabetes

Studies on the effects of chia seeds on blood pressure are conflicting.

A 2007 study on 20 adults suffering from type 2 diabetes showed that after 12 weeks of consumption of 37g of chia seeds per day, resulted in an average significant drop of 6.3mmHg for systolic blood pressure and a non-statistically significant drop of 3mmHg for diastolic blood pressure. (5) Systematic reviews, however, are conflicting. (6, 7, 8)

In summary,  recent evidence shows that chia seeds may be effective in reducing systolic blood pressure in type 2 diabetic patients. (see other methods of reducing blood pressure here)

Note that chia seeds benefits related to blood pressure in healthy individuals are still unclear and require more randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials.

MAIN POINTS

  • Chia seed benefits on systolic blood pressure in type 2 diabetes: highly possible, high quality clinical trials required to confirm.

3. Chia seeds benefits related to type 2 Diabetes

The consumption of chia seeds (as much as 37g per day) has shown significant improvements in health in patients with type 2 diabetes, by reducing the risk factors of CVD, improving the control of blood sugar and lipid profile, lowering inflammatory and coagulation markers and reducing systolic blood pressure.

More studies are needed, however. (5, 9)

MAIN POINTS

  • Chia seeds benefits on health in type 2 diabetes: studies show promising results. More studies are needed.

4. Chia seeds benefits related to cholesterol and triglycerides levels

Studies on rats show that chia seeds significantly lower LDL cholesterol and triglycerides and raise HDL cholesterol. (10)

However, studies on humans are conflicting. Some have shown a significant reduction of LDL cholesterol and an increase in HDL cholesterol (11) while others haven’t. (12)

More studies are needed. (6)

MAIN POINTS

  • Chia seeds benefits on cholesterol and triglycerides: studies on animals are promising but on humans conflicting, more studies are needed.

5. Chia seeds benefits related to appetite

The consumption of chia seeds reduces appetite. They seem to slow down the absorption of the nutrients from the stomach to the small intestine and, therefore, provide continuous and extended signals to the gut receptors, which creates a feeling of increased satiety.

These effects are thought to be caused by the high contents of fiber, calcium, magnesium and antioxidants. (1)

Chia seeds are also rich in protein, which has been proven to reduce appetite.

MAIN POINTS

  • Chia seeds benefits on reduction of appetite: one study has confirmed mainly due to high protein contents, although no effects on weight loss were found.

6. Chia seeds benefits related to digestive health

The high amount of fiber in chia seeds (40% of total weight) serves as a prebiotic for intestinal bacteria, improves regular bowel movements, is a great remedy for constipation and slows down digestion. (13) See other high fiber foods here.

MAIN POINTS

  • Chia seeds benefits on digestive health: strong evidence on the positive effects of fiber on digestive health.

7. Chia seeds benefits related to heart health (in general population)

A 2015 systematic review concluded that the available studies on the effects of chia seeds on cardiovascular health are inconclusive and good quality, randomized, double-blind trials are needed. The contradicting results may be coming from poor study design. (14, 15, 8)

The potential cardioprotective effects of these seeds seems more visible in diabetics.

MAIN POINTS

  • Chia seeds benefits on heart health in general population: conflicting results, more clinical trials needed.

8. Chia seeds benefits related to athlete’s endurance

Replacing part of the carbohydrates with nutrient rich chia seeds (referred to as omega 3 chia loading), has been shown to have the same effect on the performance of athletes. (16)

However, other studies suggest that omega 3s in chia seeds (ALA) are not as beneficial as once thought.

More research is needed.  (17)

MAIN POINTS

  • Chia seeds benefits in improvement of endurance in athletes: studies are promising, but more research is needed.

9. Feeding chia seeds to young children and prevention of health issues later in life

A study has shown that children exposed to a sucrose-rich diet, may benefit from early introduction of chia seeds.

This may prevent the development of high blood pressure, liver steatosis, high blood triglycerides and high cholesterol later in life. It has been also shown that the level of visceral fat was lower and that the blood glucose balance and free fatty acids circulating in blood were improved. (18)

MAIN POINTS

  • Chia seeds benefits in children’s diet as a prevention method of health later in life: studies show positive results.

10. Chia seeds benefits related to weight loss

Are chia seeds good for losing weight? This is one of the most commonly quoted health benefits of this superfood that has been shown to be incorrect.

Studies on this subject are conflicting and insufficient.

Although individual nutrients in these seeds are known to improve weight control and overall health, current evidence shows that simply adding them to diet doesn’t result in weight loss.

More quality, long-term studies are needed to show a direct correlation.

MAIN POINTS

  • Chia seeds benefits on weight loss: no evidence of direct effects on weight loss.

11. Chia seeds benefits related to Omega 3 in blood

There is a significant increase of ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) in blood, however, no changes to blood EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) were noted, after eating chia seeds.

While the therapeutic role of DHA and EPA is well-studied and documented, the effects of ALA are not as beneficial, as once thought.

ALA also doesn’t convert efficiently to DHA and EPA in a human body. Therefore the above-mentioned increase of ALA in plasma is not of great significance. (19, 20)

Studies on both men and women show that the consumption of approximately 1-2 ounces (25-50g) of these seeds per day for more than 7 weeks, significantly increases ALA (138%).

EPA also increases, but by only 30%. There are no significant changes of plasma DHA. (21, 22)

In summary, many claims related to health benefits of omega 3s in chia seeds you read online are not supported by science and should not be taken into account.

MAIN POINTS

  • Chia seeds benefits on increase in omega 3 fatty acids in blood: strong evidence of ALA increase in blood. However, at the same time, no evidence of significant health benefits.

12. Chia seeds and allergy

The allergic reaction to chia seeds are very uncommon, and they are generally considered as a great substitute to similar foods (nuts and seeds) known to cause allergies.

The first documented case of an (23) allergic reaction to chia seeds was in 2015.

Elimination diet is an effective way of testing for food allergies. For safety reasons, the test should be performed under a supervision of a health professional.

MAIN POINTS

  • Chia seed benefits as low-allergenic food: strong evidence that chia seeds are generally allergy safe.

13. Chia seeds – the “clean” food

There is an abundance of organic chia seeds products on the market, and so far, they are not genetically modified, making them one of the cleanest foods, unspoiled by chemicals.

MAIN POINTS

  • Chia seeds are a comparatively “clean” food.

14. Chia seeds and cell protective antioxidants

Cell protection is one of the most significant health benefits of chia seeds, since they are one of the richest antioxidant foods. (24)

They have a higher (1.8 times higher) phenolic concentration and higher inhibition of free radicals (68.83%) than previously thought.

Antioxidants have two functions – they protect omega 3 fatty acids from oxidizing and becoming rancid and have protective properties in the body: fight free radicals, protecting body cells from damage, preventing cancers and delaying the aging process. (25, 26, 27)

MAIN POINTS

  • Chia seed benefits as an antioxidant source: strong evidence on cell protective, antioxidant properties.

15. Chia seeds as a source of energy

Due to their high omega 3 fatty acids, high fiber and low digestible carbohydrate contents, chia seeds are a good supply of sustained energy, with no spikes in blood sugar. They are not only a healthy energy source, but an ideal and safe fuel for diabetics.

What makes them an even a more valuable energy source, is that in addition to the sustained energy it releases, it is high in micronutrients and phytochemicals, as discussed in the next point.

MAIN POINTS

  • Chia seeds benefits as an energy source: unique combination of macronutrients provide an ideal source of fuel.

16. Chia seeds benefits related to bone and teeth health

Chia seeds are rich in nutrients that promote stronger bones and healthier teeth:

  • Zinc: good for bone tissue renewal and mineralization
  • Calcium: a major building block of our bones and teeth
  • Protein: for the preservation of bone mass, when aging and for bone mass gain, when growing
  • Magnesium: one of the major constituents of bone structure
  • Manganese: required in trace amounts in bones

MAIN POINTS

  • Chia seeds benefits in bone health: a great source of nutrients promoting bone and teeth health.

17. Chia seeds – a great source of nutrients

Chia seeds are one of the most nutritious plant foods. Only a small amount, easily incorporated into your diet, can provide you with plenty of protein, fiber, omega 3 fatty acids, a great variety of minerals and vitamins and phenolic compounds.

Many of the important chia seeds benefits mentioned above, come from a combination of the wide variety of nutrients and phenolic compounds.

NOTE: to obtain more nutrients, including fatty acids, blend/mill them before eating rather than eating them whole.

The following is a list of beneficial nutrients of chia seeds that either individually or in combination are responsible for the above health benefits:

Note: many sources claim that because chia seeds are not encased in a hard shell like flaxseeds, they don’t need to be ground to achieve the maximum amount of nutrients.  This is incorrect.  It has been shown that grinding releases much more nutrients including omega 3 fatty acids than eating whole seeds.

A serving of chia seeds of one ounce (= 28g = 2 tablespoons) contains:

MICRONUTRIENTS

Excellent amounts of (>=20% of RDA):
Iron: 2.2mg (27% of the RDA)
Magnesium: 95mg (23% of the RDA)
Manganese: 0.6mg (26% of the RDA)
Phosphorus: 265mg (26% of the RDA)

Good amounts of (between 10 and 20% of RDA):
Calcium: 177mg (18% of the RDA)
Copper: 0.1mg (11% of the RDA)
Thiamin (Vit B1): 0.2mg: (17% of the RDA)
Niacin (Vit B3): 2.5mg: (16% of the RDA)
Zinc: 1mg (9.1% of RDA for men and 12.5 of RDA for women)

MACRONUTRIENTS (Energy Nutrients)

In summary:

Protein: 4.4g
Carbohydrates (non-fiber): 1g
Fiber: 11g (35% of the RDA)
Total Fat: 8.6g of which Omega 3: 5g (307% of the RDA)

Protein (high quality)

Protein contents depend on where the seeds were cultivated and can range between 15-23%.  As with flaxseeds, chia seeds have the highest protein contents among all grains/seeds. (e.g. second highest are oats with 13.6%) (28, 29, 30)

Proteins of chia seeds are of high quality, since they are made of an even balance of essential amino acids and contain a high amount of lysine, an amino acid lacking in other grains, making them an ideal substitute for animal protein sources.

Fat (overestimated but still beneficial)

Chia seeds contain about 30% oil. Approximately 64% of the total fat content is omega 3, the highest concentration of any other plant.

While the high concentration of these oils provides a good source of energy, these fatty acids are primarily made up of Alpha Linolenic Acid (ALA). It hasn’t been demonstrated that there are significant health benefits associated with omega 3 contained in these seeds. (19)

While there is considerable evidence that EPA and DHA (other components of omega 3) have plenty of health benefits, the effects of ALA are still largely unknown. (31)

The conversion of ALA to DHA in the human body is also severely restricted, while the conversion to EPA is quite limited.

Carbohydrates (mostly valuable fiber)

Most of the carbohydrates in chia seeds are in the form of fiber.

Chia seeds contain between 36% and 40% of fiber and 5% of mucilage, which behaves as soluble fiber. These amounts are higher than any in other commonly available grains/seeds.

  • Insoluble fiber component makes up between 23% and 46% of total fiber. Insoluble fiber acts as a bulking agent and can retain water up to 27 times its weight. It also has a slowing effect on gastro-intestinal transit time, which regulates the levels of blood glucose and improves insulin sensitivity in the long term. (32, 33)
  • Soluble fiber component between 2.5%-7.1%. Soluble fiber works as a prebiotic. It partially ferments in the colon and improves intestinal flora health.

Sufficient dietary fiber consumed daily, is associated with various health benefits and reduces the risk of (1):

  • Obesity
  • Cardiovascular diseases
  • Vascular diseases
  • Hypertension (reduction of systolic blood pressure)
  • Hyperglycemia (slows down digestion of carbohydrates, lowers blood glucose levels)
  • Hyperlipidemia
  • Type 2 diabetes

PHYTOCHEMICALS

Chia seeds have a very high antioxidant profile. Their antioxidant properties are associated with the high contents of phenolic compounds, phenolic acids and isoflavones. (25)

  1. Phenolic compounds
    Chia seeds contain high amounts of phenolic compounds, which have antioxidant properties. These substances have been shown to be protective against:
  • Cardiovascular diseases
  • Cancers
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Diverticulosis
  • Skin and aging
  1. Polyphenols
    Chia seeds contain high amounts of polyphenols (Quercetin, myricetin, kaempferol, cholorgenic acid, DHPEA-EDA). These bioactive compounds have strong antioxidant properties and have been associated with lower lipid oxidation rates. The total phenol content of chia seeds is approximately 0.9mg (gallic acid equivalent) per gram.

MAIN POINTS

  • Chia seed benefits as a source of nutrient and phytochemicals: it is well-established that chia seeds are rich in macronutrients, micronutrients and phytochemicals.

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