Can Chia Seeds Really Help You Lose Weight? Nutritionists Weigh In
Chia seeds are all over Instagram these days—in everything from puddings to smoothies.
With good reason, too. These small black seeds, responsible for a flowering plant in the mint family called salvia hispanica, are a nutritional powerhouse, rich in protein (four grams per one-ounce serving) and omega-3 fatty acids, per the USDA. Plus, the nutrient-rich seed is loaded with 11 grams of fiber per serving, which can help with everything from weight loss to satiety.
“Many Americans are falling short of the recommendations for fiber intake, and incorporating chia into snacks and recipes can be one step towards getting more fiber,” says Cara Harbstreet, RD, of Street Smart Nutrition.
But can chia seeds really help me lose weight?
The data here is still emerging, but there is evidence that chia seeds can definitely help. When groups of overweight and obese people consumed 35 grams of chia seed flour a day for 12 weeks, both groups of people lost weight, saw improvements in their waist circumference, a reduction in cholesterol, and a slight increase in HDL (the good cholesterol), per study in the journal Nutrición Hospitalaria.
All that fiber in chia seeds could certainly help. Increased fiber intake can help with weight-loss goals, according to a study published in Annals of Internal Medicine.
Chia seeds are also a good source of protein, which is an important piece to the weight-loss puzzle. In a study published in Nutrition Metabolism, dieters who increased their protein intake to 30 percent of their diet ate nearly 450 fewer calories a day and lost about 11 pounds over the 12-week study without employing any other dietary measures.
You can also use chia seeds as an aid to help you meet your calorie deficit. When a group of study participants ate yogurt with 7 or 14 grams of chia seeds, they reported feeling less hunger and more satiety, and a lower desire to have sugary foods, per a study in the journal Nutrition Research and Practice. This can be helpful if you’re making an active effort to lower your calorie intake.
Ultimately, though, weight loss is all about paying attention to your overall diet and exercise routine—not about eating more (or less) of one certain food. “No single food or ingredient is able to do that, so if you’re hoping for chia to solve your health concerns or be the catalyst for dramatic weight loss, I recommend reaching out to a dietitian for support for your individual goals,” says Harbstreet.
That also means chia seeds won’t help you burn belly fat—or magically boost your metabolism.
What are the other health benefits of chia seeds?
The nutritional value of chia seeds make them a powerhouse of plant-based nutrition, says Jackie Newgent, RDN and author of The Clean & Simple Diabetes Cookbook. Just one ounce of the seeds offers 10 grams of dietary fiber, 5 grams of protein, 5 grams of omega 3s, 115 milligrams of potassium, and 179 milligrams of calcium. Their calcium content specifically makes them a good option for people seeking the nutrient from a source that isn’t dairy.
Chia seeds’s antioxidant makeup makes them ideal for daily consumption, which may reduce the risk of developing a chronic condition, found a systematic review of chia seed studies published in the Journal of Food Science. Eating chia seeds may improve insulin and glucose tolerance, and reduce the risk of heart disease, though the review also found that having chia oil, instead of the seeds, may help bring on those improvements faster.
Chia seeds can also lower blood pressure. When 12 healthy people ate 50 grams of chia seeds for 30 days, they found that their blood pressure and triglyceride levels both decreased, per a study in the Journal of Food Science and Technology.
Chia seeds may also be beneficial for skin health. Though there’s still limited data about how eating them affects the skin, chia oil applied topically has been shown to improve skin hydration and prevent itchiness, per the Journal of Food Science and Technology study.
Are there side effects to eating chia seeds?
A serving size of chia seeds is about one ounce, or two tablespoons—and there’s a reason for that limit.
“Chia isn’t likely to cause a reaction or trigger symptoms, as with some other foods that are known allergens or spark GI-related symptoms,” says Harbstreet. “That being said, a sudden and drastic increase in fiber intake could potentially cause some ‘misbehavior,’ especially for people who previously consumed very little fiber.” Too much fiber often translates to bloating and diarrhea—womp womp.
You might also find yourself feeling fuller than usual after eating chia seeds—for better or for worse. Think about it this way: Have you ever seen chia seed pudding at your local health food store, or made it on your own at home? If so, then you’ve seen how the seeds absorb liquid and expand in volume. Now imagine that expansion happening…inside your stomach.
That’snot necessarily a bad thing—unless you’re loading up on chia seeds in favor of other foods. “It’s not an issue to eat to fullness, but if it’s replacing other foods in your diet, you may be inadvertently reducing the variety of foods and nutrients in your overall eating pattern,” says Harbstreet.
How should I eat chia seeds?
Good news! It’s super-simple to add chia to your diet. A relatively tasteless seed, they’re easy to sprinkle on yogurt or blend into your morning sip. “You can eat them raw, toasted, soaked, or cooked,” says Becky Kerkenbush, RD and medical representative to the Wisconsin Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “They can also make a great egg substitution in baking, by combining one tablespoon ground chia seeds with three tablespoons water to replace one egg.”
Newgent recommends enjoying 1 tablespoon of any seed per day. So you can make your tablespoon chia seeds alone, or you can mix it up, and make a blend by adding chia seeds to others like hemp or flax.
If you want to stick to chia seeds, you can pretty much add them any food. Here are five simple ways you can enjoy them, according to Newgent.
The bottom line: Chia seeds might help you feel satiated and can be a great nutritional addition to your diet, but long-term weight loss will require rethinking your overall diet and nutrition plan.
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