Our nutritionist analyzes the health benefits of chia seeds
A quick Google, Bing, or Yahoo search on chia might have you convinced that chia seeds - infamous for forming an impressive green coat of fur on Chia Pets - have some seriously awesome health benefits. The seeds are credited with everything from improving cardiovascular health and stabilizing blood sugar to aiding with weight loss, making it ever more tempting to delve into the growing market of foods made with chia. But is it worth it? I asked my intern, Ann Lokuta, Masters of Public Health degree candidate from the University of Michigan School of Public Health (who is also studying to become a registered dietitian) to wade through the claims. Here's what she found.
Weight loss: Chia is loaded with fiber (1 oz. has 11g!) and contains more veggie protein than an equivalent serving size of soybeans. Fiber- and protein-rich foods take longer to digest, giving your brain time to register that you've eaten-potentially before you've overeaten. Still, studies on the weight loss benefits are slim (pun intended) and don't show any payoff.
Related: 7 Guilt-Free Foods You Should Munch
Heart disease: One study found that eating more than an ounce of the seed daily could reduce risk factors for heart disease in people with type 2 diabetes who are already at high risk. Chia has plenty of magnesium, potassium (more than a banana!), and omega-3 fatty acids, which all support a healthy heart.
Anti-Inflammatory Action: True, these ancient wonders contain omega-3s, but not the kind you'll find in fish so the benefits aren't the same. While one study found that daily chia consumption increased levels of certain omega-3's in the body, the authors concluded that there was, "no influence on inflammation or disease risk factors."
Related: 16 Healthy Food Swaps
Bottom line: While the seeds can certainly be a nutritious addition to your diet, at 139 calories per serving, don't count on them to help you shed pounds unless you're making other lifestyle adjustments. As for the other claims, the fiber and other nutrients in chia seeds will likely promote good health, but again, at this point the science is weak.
Where you'll find them: Chia seeds are sold like flax seeds - for adding to yogurts, cereals, and baked goods - and you'll also find them in a growing number of products like energy bars. If you'd like to get in on the trend and reap the potential benefits, here are four of our favorite chia-based products.
- KIND Healthy Grains Maple Walnut Clusters with Chia & Quinoa
- Mary's Gone Crackers Sticks & Twigs Pretzels (made with Chia)
- Enjoy Life Crunchy Flax Cereal with Chia
- Tumaro's Low-in-Carb 9 Grain with Chia Wrapsy
- By Samantha Cassetty, M.S., R.D.
More from Good Housekeeping: