Why are chia seeds one of the biggest hits among super foods? The Aztecs sure loved them, as chia seeds were a staple in their diet. Chia seeds are claimed to aid in weight loss and boost overall health. They are now being sold online, at your health food store, and most grocery stores. If weight loss is our goal, should chia seeds be a staple in our diets too?
What are the magical properties of chia seeds that enhance health?
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When it comes to chia seeds and weight loss the, claims are usually referring to the fiber content found in the seeds. The idea is that the high dietary fiber keeps you fuller longer which controls hunger, and the nutrients found in chia seeds aid in enhancing overall health. Chia seeds have 10 grams of fiber in every one-ounce serving. The high fiber content allows the seeds to be slowly digested and absorbed by the body. Fiber is important for weight loss and weight management as well as heart health and blood sugar control.
There are however two different kinds of fiber found in foods. Chia seeds are mainly made up of soluble fiber. Soluble fiber is digestible unlike insoluble fiber. When it ferments in your gut, it is doing some pretty cool things too, such as feeding the beneficial gut microbes, or probiotics. This alone can really boost one’s health.
Omega 3 Fatty Acid ALA
Chia seeds are a rich source of plant specific omega-3 fats. They have a slightly higher omega 3 profile than flax seed, and unlike flax, chia seeds do not need to be ground or refrigerated. Omega 3 fatty acids have gained great acceptance in the scientific and medical community as major components of good health. Many of those reasons include heart and brain health, reducing inflammation, and boosting the immune system.
The health enhancing properties of Omega-3 fats are wonderful, but it is important to remember that plant-specific omega-3 fats like those in chia seeds differ from those in fatty fish and pastured animals. Plant-specific omega-3 fats are short-chain ALA rather than long-chain fatty acids such as EPA and DHA. ALA must be converted in the body to EPA and DHA for optimal use, and this conversion is often inefficient due to many people lacking the enzyme needed to make the conversion. Animal foods, rich in omega-3 fatty acids require no conversion. For this reason it would be more optimal to incorporate both chia seeds and animal products if the goal is to obtain more omega-3s and boost overall health.
Antioxidants, Vitamins, Minerals, and Protein
Chia seeds are high in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and protein. One ounce of chia seeds will provide:
– 4.7 g protein
– 179 mg calcium
– 115 mg potassium
– 95 mg magnesium
– 2.2 mg iron
What does research say regarding chia seeds and their role in weight loss?
In the Journal of Obesity Volume 2011 a study titled An Evidence-Based Review of Fat Modifying Supplemental Weight Loss Products researchers concluded that there is little data to suggest the use of chia seeds for weight loss.
Another study titled Chia seed does not promote weight loss or alter disease risk factors in overweight adults in Nutrition Research Volume 29, Issue 6 in June 2009 studied to assess the effectiveness of chia seed in promoting weight loss and altering disease risk factors in overweight adults. The hypothesis was that the high dietary fiber and a-linolenic (ALA) contents of chia seed would induce a small but significant decrease in body weight and fat and improve disease risk factors. Researchers concluded that the ingestion of 50 g/d chia seed vs. placebo for 12 weeks by overweight/obese men and women had no influence on body mass or composition, or various disease risk factor measures.
In conclusion, do not fall victim to nutritional “hype”. While the properties of chia seeds can provide the body with more nutrients, they are certainly not a magical weight loss solution as many have claimed. As with any “superfood” they work best as a part of an overall healthy diet. If weight loss is your goal, stick to eating a diet of clean whole foods as they provide essential nutrients. Focus on eliminating processed foods and sugar and you will be on your way to a slimmer waistline! Not sure where to start? Try out a free Fat Shred diet plan, designed by a dietitian.
(image credit: bowlofdelicious)