Chia is an edible seed that comes from the desert plant Salvia hispanica, a member of the mint family that grows abundantly in southern Mexico. Chia seeds are very rich in omega-3 fatty acids, even more so than flax seeds. Another plus for chia over flax: it is so rich in antioxidants that the seeds don’t readily deteriorate and can be stored for long periods without becoming rancid. And, unlike flax, chia seeds don’t have to be ground to make their nutrients available to the body.
You can sprinkle ground or whole chia seeds on cereal, add them to yogurt or salads, eat them as a snack, or grind them and mix them with flour when making muffins or other baked goods. I find them tasty and an interesting addition to my diet.
I’ve seen no scientific evidence that chia can promote weight loss. One of the few studies that looked into this randomized 90 overweight or obese but otherwise healthy individuals between the ages of 20 and 70 to consume 25 grams of chia seeds or a placebo twice a day for 12 weeks. Results showed no difference at all in weight, body composition or disease risk factors between the two groups.
The notion that consuming chia can lead to weight loss comes from the fact that they’re so high in fiber. You can get 40 percent of the recommended daily intake of fiber from just two tablespoons of chia seeds. High-fiber diets have been associated with weight loss perhaps because fiber keeps you feeling full longer. One of the studies most frequently cited as evidence that a high fiber diet promotes weight loss found that after a year, participants lost an average of 2.1 kilograms (about 4.6 pounds).
Chia’s health benefits stem from its nutritional profile. Its fiber may help lower LDL cholesterol and slow digestion, which can prevent rapid increases in blood sugar. The omega-3 fatty acids the seeds contain can help lower cholesterol, regulate blood pressure and otherwise benefit cardiovascular health. As with other plant sources, the specific omega-3 in chia is ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), which has been associated with a lower risk of sudden cardiac death in several studies. Bear in mind that those findings do not stem from studies of chia. The ALA sources in the relevant research were whole grains, cooking oils, legumes and soy.
Andrew Weil, M.D.
David C. Nieman et al, “Chia seed does not promote weight loss or alter disease risk factors in overweight adults.” Nutrition Research, June 2009, doi: 10.1016/j.nutres.2009.05.011