By: Sharon Basaraba
Chia seeds may have made their mark on the toy market in the late 1970s, but they’re gaining popularity as a whole food with benefits now, for their longevity-boosting dietary fiber and omega-3 fatty acid content. In fact, some proponents say that chia seeds can help you lose weight, and give you an energy boost that will last all day. Is this true?
In chia’s favor as a weight-loss tool, is its capacity for absorbing water – up to 10 times its weight. Barbara Rolls, a highly-respected nutrition researcher, and Director of Pennsylvania State University’s food laboratory, has investigated the power of water-rich foods to keep us full and satisfied longer, with fewer calories, and recommends this strategy for people trying to lose weight as they get older.
Though Rolls has not studied chia seeds in particular, she expects the same principles would apply to chia, if added to other dishes to boost their water content.
In the scientific literature, chia seeds’ ability to help you shed pounds has not been demonstrated. I spoke to David Nieman, head of Appalachian State University’s Human Performance Laboratory. He’s led a few different investigations into the effects of chia seeds on weight-loss and other disease factors (such as blood pressure and inflammation markers). While supplementing with amounts of chia seeds ranging from 25 g to 50 g (about 3-6 tbsp) daily showed some improvement in cardiovascular disease risk factors, none of his randomized trials resulted in weight loss or changes in body composition for the subjects.
“There’s nothing highly unusual about chia, despite the mystique about it,” he tells me. “Companies are pushing it as a miracle food, and it is a good nutritional product, but it’s not very different from other nuts and seeds with the same nutrient makeup.”
Still, Nieman believes the seeds show promise as an energy food for sports performance, and his research into this aspect continues. At the very least, chia seeds are a healthy and natural source of some very beneficial nutrients, and deserve a place in your anti-aging diet.
David Nieman, Director of Human Performance Laboratory, Appalachian State University. Interview conducted April 30, 2013.
Nieman DC, Cayea EJ, Austin MD, Henson DA, McAnulty SR, Jin F. “Chia seed does not promote weight loss or alter disease risk factors in overweight adults.” Nutr Res. 2009 Jun;29(6):414-