The seeds of Salvia Hispanica L., also known as chia seeds, are another superfood that has been widely popularized in recent years due to its macronutrient and micronutrient composition. Chia seeds contain 15-25% protein, 30-33% fat (particulary α-linolenic acid and linoleic acid) 26-41% carbohydrates, 10-30% fiber, and a variety of minerals including Calcium, Iron, and Magnesium. Several health blogs and other sites claim that chia seeds have anti-aging properties, ameliorates digestive health, aids in weight loss, offers cardio protection, and cures diabetes. Chia seeds have also been claimed to increase energy, strengthen bones due to its high calcium concentrations, have anti cancer properties, and provide a good source of plant based protein. With all of the health claims surrounding chia seeds, one can see how the health craze behind these seeds began. I have even jumped on the bandwagon behind incorporating chia seeds into my diet and have been adding them into my oatmeal and yogurt concoctions every morning for the past two years. After a discussion on superfoods in one of my classes, I began to wonder if the claimed benefits of chia seeds are supported by scientific evidence. Today, I will discuss two of the main health claims regarding chia seeds.
Claim 1: “Chia seeds aid in weight loss because of their high water retention ability. This ability causes chia seeds to expand in the stomach and increases the feeling of satiety; thus, leading to a smaller intake of food when chia seeds are consumed.”
Although chia seeds have a high water retention ability, there is a limited amount of research on the consumption of chia seeds and weight loss in humans. A study published in the Nutrition Research journal, determined the efficacy of chia seeds in promoting weight loss or changing disease risk in obese individuals. The single blind study consisted of 90 subjects between the ages of 20-70 who had to consume either chia seeds or placebo seed powder every morning over a 12-week period. The results of the study showed that there was not a statistical significance between total body mass or the body composition of individuals who consumed the placebo seed powder compared to chia seeds after the 12-week period ended. Until there is further independently funded research conducted on humans about chia seeds promoting weight loss, I will consider this claim a myth.
Claim 2: Heart Protection
High blood pressure, aka hypertension, high levels of inflammation, and high cholesterol levels (particularly LDL) increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, and according to health claims, chia seeds can decrease blood pressure and reduce inflammation.
However, there are also only few clinical trials conducted on chia seeds having cardio protective abilities. According to a study conducted on overweight individuals (this is the same study mentioned under claim 1), serum CRP, plasma cytokine levels (both of these are inflammation markers), serum lipoprotein, serum glucose, and systolic blood pressure between the placebo group and the chia seed group did not have statistically significant changes over the 12-week period. Alpha linolenic acid serum levels did increase significantly in the chia seed group, but less than 1% of the alpha linolenic acid was converted to EPA or DHA*. I am inconclusive on this health claim until further research is conducted.
While I will continue to consume chia seeds due to their high fiber content, I have become more skeptical of the term superfood in general because consuming one food item cannot solve the health problems prominent in the US today.
*Note: Alpha linolenic acid is an essential fatty acid (our body cannot synthesize the fatty acid on its own) that is converted into eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and EPA and DHA are associated with a decreased the risk of heart disease (Blake, 2008).
- Ali, Norlaily Mohd, Swee Keong Yeap, Wan Yong Ho, Boon Kee Beh, Sheau Wei Tan, and Soon Guan Tan. “The Promising Future of Chia, Salvia Hispanica” Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology. Hindawi Publishing Corporation, 2012 Nov. 21. Web. 8 Mar. 2016.
- “9 Chia Seed Benefits + Side Effects – Dr. Axe.” Dr Axe. N.p., 01 Oct. 2014. Web. 7 Mar. 2016.
- Segura-Campos, Maira, Norma Ciau-Solís, Gabriel Rosado-Rubio, Luis Chel-Guerrero, and David Betancur-Ancona. “Chemical and Functional Properties of Chia Seed (Salvia Hispanica L.) Gum.” International Journal of Food Science 2014 (2014): 1-5. 23 Mar. 2014. Web. 7 Mar. 2016.
- 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. Nutrition Research. 2009;29(6):414–418. Web. 8 Mar. 2016.
- “Inflammation and Heart Disease.” Inflammation and Heart Disease. American Heart Association, 13 Aug. 2015. Web. 8 Mar. 2016.
- “Lifestyle Changes for Heart Attack Prevention.” Lifestyle Changes for Heart Attack Prevention. American Heart Association, 2 Sept. 2015. Web. 8 Mar. 2016.
- Blake, Joan Salge. “Fats, Oils, and Other Lipids.” Nutrition & You. 3rd ed. San Francisco: Pearson Benjamin Cummings, 2008. 144-52. Print.