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Are Chia Seeds Good For Weight Loss?

When you’re wanting on shredding fat, planning on a total body rebuild or just wanting drop a few pounds for the holidays, you’ve got to cover all angles.

That means not only hitting the gym and upping your activity levels, but nailing your diet too.

In this article we’ll take a look at chia seeds – a food that often comes up when you search for weight loss foods.

But what does the science say about chia seeds and weight loss? Do they work, or are they just a cleverly marketed food source with little benefit?

Let’s take a look. Here’s what we’ll cover:

  • What are chia seeds?
  • The supposed health benefits
  • Can chia seeds help you lose weight?

What Are Chia Seeds?

Chia seeds are small, black seeds found in the South American plant Salvia Hispanica. They have been used as a food source for hundreds of years and were once cultivated by the mesoamerican Aztecs in pre-Columbian times. Back then it as considered an important source of energy, much like maize.

From the same flowering plant family as mint, chia derives from the word chian which means oily. It is grown commercially throughout Mexico, Guatemala and other central american countries, as well as some northern latitudes of the US.

Nutrient content

Based on it’s size, the small black seeds of the chia seem fairly nutritive.

They are high in polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs), with up to 35% of the seeds yielding extractable oil [1]. Over half of the fatty acid content of the seed comes from omega-3 fatty acids in the form of α-linolenic acid – a nutrient much-famed for its effects on metabolic health.

Chia is very high in fiber, with 25 g of the seed providing 9.4 g of fiber. They also provide a range of nutrients, including:

  • Magnesium
  • Calcium
  • Manganese
  • Phosphorous

High in calories

The seeds are quite high in energy, with just one ounce supplying you with over 130 calories.

And if your goals is to drop body fat then calorie intake is hugely important. This is a lot of calories for such a small amount of food.


Chia seeds on a silver spoon. On a slate background

Are There Any Health Benefits to Chia Seeds?

Foods that are high in fiber tend to help with satiety as they increase the amount of time as it slows gastric emptying, meaning you take longer to digest food and consequently feel fuller for longer.

Nutrients like glucomannan for example, have been found to reduce appetite and calorie intake and boost weight loss in a number of clinical trials.

The high antioxidant, protein and fatty acid profile means that chia seeds provide a good range of nutrients. It’s easy to see why manufacturers of the product claim that it improves metabolic health.

And the small number of studies out there do show that regular consumption could reduce cholesterol levels and improve inflammation [2].

Many other studies though show no difference in health markers and even some of the ones that do, use rats and not humans. It’s difficult at this point to say for sure that chia seeds are an important health-giving food. 

Are chia seeds really a ‘super food’?

Although the term ‘super food’ is a complete marketing gimmick, chia seeds have been given this label due to their modest vitamin, mineral and nutrient content.

But does this mean that they’re a good food for weight loss?

Let’s take a look at what the evidence says…


Key Point: Some studies show that chia seeds can improve metabolic health, whereas others do not.


Can Chia Seeds Help You Lose Weight?

The first thing that you’ll notice is that there’s not a great deal of clinical research to draw upon with this food. That means that most of the benefits suggested about its role in weight loss are based on anecdotes and marketing claims.

Because of their high fiber and fatty acid profile, many proponents of chia seeds suggest they could be good for weight loss.

This is because high fiber foods can help improve satiety and therefore decrease energy intake.

But so far there’s little evidence showing that the seed helps with body composition.

Chia seeds don’t speed up weight loss

Study #1: Nieman et al [3]

One study, published in the journal Nutrition Research, wanted to test the effectiveness of chia seeds in promoting weight loss.

They guessed that because of its high fiber and fatty acid content, the seed would induce some weight loss in a group of 76 men and women.

The group were given either 25 g of the seed or a placebo twice daily for a 12-week period. They also attended a range of tests both before the start of the study, and after too.

These tests included body fat, weight, blood pressure, blood lipid levels and inflammatory markers.

What did the research team find?

There were no changes in any marker of body composition or health factors.

The result: Chia seeds did not cause weight loss, nor did they provide any health-related benefits either.

Study #2: Nieman et al [4]

The same author conducted a similar study three years later. It was more than likely a follow-up study to test the reliability of the first research paper, as the design was very similar.

62 overweight women were given either 25g of the seed or a placebo for 10 weeks. And like before they participated in a number of blood and health tests both before and after the study.

The result: No changes in body weight, body composition or blood pressure. However, omega-3 levels in the blood did go up by 58%.

Even larger doses of chia do not cause weight loss

Study #3: Vuksan et al [5]

In a random-design study, researchers from the University of Toronto recruited 20 participants who had a history of type 2 diabetes.

They were given a much larger dose of the seed too – a 37 g per day amount, or the equivalent in bran over a 12-week period.

Again, each participant had a number of health tests run before the study started and then again once the 12-weeks had finished.

The results showed that with a large dose of chia seeds and a long-study period, some markers of inflammation had improved. But again though, there was no change in body weight or blood lipid levels.

The result: Even a higher dose and longer study period didn’t result in weight loss.


Brown-haied young woman running in the woods to get fit

Key Point: Regardless of how much you eat, research suggests that chia seeds don’t cause weight loss.


Summary – Do Chia Seeds Work for Weight Loss?

Chia seeds are small, black seeds from the Salvia family. They are high in fatty acids, fiber and a range of nutrients.

Whilst often referred to as a super food, there is very little research to suggest that the plant food can boost health or decrease the risk of long-term health risk. There are some clinical trials that show it can help metabolic health, but just as many that show it doesn’t.

When it comes to weight loss, chia seeds do not offer any benefits. From all of the clinical human trials that have been published, not one shows an improvement in body composition or weight loss.

There are much better options available to you.



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References

  1. Taga, MS et al. Chia seeds as a source of natural lipid antioxidants. JAOCS. 1984; 61(5): 928-931
  2. Vazquez-Manjarrez, N et al. Effect of a dietary portfolio (nopal, soy, oat, chia seed and inulin) on lipoprotein subclasses and LDL-cholesterol in Mexican subjects with hypercholesterolemia. FASEB. 2014;28(1): 1035-8
  3. Nieman, DC et al. Chia seed does not promote weight loss or alter disease risk factors in overweight adults. Nutrition Research. 2009; 29: 414–418
  4. Nieman, DC et al. Chia seed supplementation and disease risk factors in overweight women: a metabolomics investigation. J Altern Complement Med. 2012; 18(7): 700-8
  5. Vuksan, V et al. Supplementation of Conventional Therapy With the Novel Grain Salba (Salvia hispanica L.) Improves Major and Emerging Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Type 2 Diabetes Results of a randomized controlled trial. Diabetes Care. 2007; 30(11)


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