If you’re of a certain age, you may remember chia seeds as something that you used to sprout “hair” on ceramic animals — and the catchy jingle, “cha-cha-cha chia.” But chia seeds have come a long way since the 1980s. Today, chia seeds are considered one of the most powerful superfoods and garnering buzz all over the internet. And it’s a trend experts and dieters alike love. Why? These tiny seeds can be a major boon for your health, plus using chia seeds for weight loss can lead to impressive results. Just ask Jane Scheidler, 56, who shed 96 pounds noshing on the seed. Keep reading to discover what science says about the health benefits of these seeds, how you can add them to your diet and the startling weight loss results other women have experienced.
What are chia seeds?
Chia seeds come from Salvia hispanica, a plant that’s in the mint family. The small edible seeds have been a longtime favorite of dieters and health-conscious folks. They were first cultivated in ancient times to give extra energy to Aztec warriors, and “battles were fought over chia fields. The plant was nearly burned into extinction in the 1500s,” says Bob Arnot, MD, former chief medical correspondent for NBC News and author of The Aztec Diet.
Now thanks in large part to social media, chia have made a roaring comeback. Folks rave about the seeds adding a healthy crunch to salads. Others are fans of chia pudding and cereal, made by soaking the hard-shelled seeds in liquid where they absorb as much as 10 times their weight.
The health benefits of chia seeds
Chia seeds are loaded with healthy fats, fiber and nutrients that can do everything from increase energy to ward off heart disease. Here, the science behind the claims:
1. Chia seeds may lower cholesterol
Chia seeds brim with omega-3 fatty acids that are known to lower cholesterol and triglycerides. Plus, fiber in the seeds also aids in balancing “good” HDL cholesterol and “bad” LDL cholesterol. According to a study in the Journal of Food Science and Technology, when combined, these two nutrients can keep LDL down and HDL in a healthy range. That’s key for warding off heart disease. Indeed, researchers reporting in the British Journal of Nutrition say a daily dose can notably lower your risk for the condition.
2. Chia seeds help build strong bones
There are several nutrients that help boost bone health, and you can get a healthy amount from chia seeds. The seeds brim with calcium, phosphorus and magnesium, all of which are essential for maintaining bone mineral density. In one animal study, chia notably increased the bone strength of rats compared to those who were not given the seeds.
3. Chia seeds balance blood sugar levels
Chia seeds are rich in soluble fiber, an indigestible type of the nutrient that is key for warding off type 2 diabetes since it slows the absorption of carbs to help stabilize blood sugar. In fact, a study in Experimental and Therapeutic Medicine revealed that study subjects who ate 20 grams of fiber daily lowered fasting blood sugar 473% more than those who ate little to no fiber.
4. Chia seeds improve gut health
The fiber in these super-seeds is a boon for our overall health. Our microbiome is made up of trillions of gut bacteria that boost immunity, increase nutrient absorption and improve digestion. Fiber is key for feeding those healthful bacteria, and studies show chia can up levels of good bugs like Enterococcus spp and Lactobacillus spp. These bacteria are known to alleviate gastrointestinal diseases like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and Chron’s. Experts also note the fiber in chia seeds may reduce constipation, since the gel-like substance they form when exposed to liquid helps keep the GI tract moving. (Click through for more on the gut health benefits of chia seeds.)
How chia seeds boost weight loss
A bevy of research confirms that the buzz around chia isn’t just a craze — it’s a proven way to help boost fat burning. “Simply put, chia is one of the most effective weight loss foods in history,” says Dr. Arnot. Indeed, a University of Toronto team found that folks given two heaping tablespoons of chia daily lost 533% more weight than a group given oat bran instead.
One way to think about it to consider that chia seeds contain up to 15 times more nutrients than some of our favorite healthy foods. Upping your levels of these key nutrients may help speed fat burning and boost weight-loss results. Keep reading to see how chia sizes up against some other healthful favorites:
1. Chia boasts 3x more fiber than whole-grain bread
The main reason chia speeds weight loss is to be found in the seed’s ability to keep you full for hours. The soluble and insoluble fiber in chia seeds are both key for keeping you satisfied between meals. And research from Brigham Young University confirms it: Women in their study who upped their fiber intake lost notable weight, while those who didn’t eat enough of the nutrient gained pounds.
Harvard research shows chia’s load of soluble fiber — 5 grams per 70-calorie tablespoon — absorbs so much fluid that chia ends up at about 10 times its original weight. “It really helps fill your stomach,” says Dr. Arnot. On top of that, the seeds’ fiber releases a thick gel that literally traps food in your system for hours longer than usual. The same gel also helps block hunger-inducing blood-sugar spikes.
Bonus: Studies show that, over time, chia brings down overall blood-sugar levels by about 44%, causing hormonal improvements that drive chia seeds to burn fat significantly faster.
2. Chia has 6x more calcium than milk
Calcium is best known for keeping bones strong. But one lesser-known benefit is that the mineral found in chia seeds boosts fat burn. In one University of Tennessee study, dieters getting lots of calcium from food lost 70% more weight and 81% more belly fat than dieters getting the same calories but little calcium. Turns out, the mineral triggers biochemical changes that help make midsection flab disappear.
Bonus: While other calcium-rich foods like milk and cheese may cause GI trouble and belly bloat, chia has a soothing effect on the GI tract that helps release water weight and flatten your middle even more.
3. Chia includes 8x more omega-3s than salmon
Many people typically get their dose of essential omega-3s from fatty fish or a supplement. These healing fats play a crucial role in supporting our heart and brain, and they can even help lower blood pressure and boost mood in folks with severe depression.
Omega-3s from plant sources like chia also “activate the metabolic master switch,” according to a team of Korean scientists. They found that dieters who boosted plant omega-3s lost 200% more weight than those who didn’t. The fatty acids kill hunger, plus speed metabolism-boosting muscle formation in older women.
4. Chia offers 15x more magnesium than broccoli
Magnesium serves hundreds of roles in our bodies, including lowering risk of fractures, restless legs syndrome and even migraines. And when it comes to slimming, it may be the missing link for many folks. One 2021 analysis revealed that people with a magnesium deficiency were far more likely to struggle with obesity than those who had adequate amounts of the nutrient. But by enhancing sleep, lowering stress hormones and easing anxiety, the powerful nutrient in chia seeds may boost fat burning. Plus, experts say magnesium also does a particularly amazing job of alleviating chronic inflammation that can impair thyroid function and stall metabolism.
With 95 mg of magnesium, a 1-ounce serving of chia seeds provides about a quarter of your daily magnesium needs. While it may not sound like a lot, compared to other foods, chia is particularly high in the nutrient for very few calories.
Chia seed weight loss testimonials
Success story: Sioux Druckman, 54
After a healthy-seeming diet failed to help Siouxe Druckman slim down as she prepared for hip surgery, “my doctor wanted me to try a keto diet instead. I wasn’t thrilled with all the meat, so I did a little research and found chia is a great way to get plant protein with few carbs,” recalls the California caregiver. She began incorporating it daily. In addition to bowls of chia cereal and pudding, she sprinkled the seeds on salads, used them to make jam and mixed them with peanut butter to slather it on celery. “I felt so satisfied, and it seemed to accelerate the process of me losing weight,” she shares. Before she knew it, she was trading her size 16s for size 4s. “More important, all that pressure is off my bad hip and I don’t need pain meds anymore. I’ve postponed surgery indefinitely!”
Before and after: Jane Scheidler, 56
After years of knee trouble, “it was hard to walk. I put on weight and the pain got worse,” recalls New Hampshire insurance specialist Jane Scheidler. Diet after diet was a bust; she couldn’t stick with them. Then her hips got achy. “I worried how bad things could get for me.” So when a local DJ found a diet that worked, Jane tried it too. “It was nothing new — just measured portions with no sugar, dairy or gluten.” The big difference? Jane read about chia and put it in daily smoothies. “It took my hunger away for hours, so I finally stayed on track. I lost 20 pounds in two weeks!” She soon experimented with chia cereal. “I add nuts and fruit. My whole family loves it.” Chia is worth a shot for anyone who struggles, Jane says. “I’m down 96 pounds, and my knee and hips are 100% better.”
How to use chia seeds for weight loss
To use chia to maximize weight loss, experts recommend at least 2 tablespoon daily along with plenty of water and a diet built around healthy, unprocessed fare. Chia will naturally shrink your appetite, so just pay attention to your body or use a food tracker like the one at LoseIt.com to be sure you’re not overeating out of habit. To get started, we have four easy recipes to inspire you. (Click through to learn why you may want to try grinding your chia seeds.)
1. So-Easy Chia Jam
Gently heat 2 cups berries in ¼ cup water until soft. Mash with a fork, adding 2 Tbs. chia, 1 Tbs. lemon juice and healthy sweetener to taste. Spoon into jar; chill.
2. Super-Nutrient Crunch
Add chia to anything you’d normally jazz up with nuts or seeds — such as yogurt, oatmeal, muffin or cookie batter, creamy soup or salad.
3. Chia Chips & Dip
Stir a little chia into guacamole and enjoy with chia-spiked crackers or chips like Garden of Eatin’ Chia Seed Tortilla Chips.
4. Slimming Chia Cereal
In a cereal bowl, combine 2 Tbs. chia seeds, 1 cup of any type of milk and optional mix-ins like vanilla, cinnamon, stevia or other healthy sweeteners. Cover and chill 10-15 minutes. Add any desired healthy toppings, like fruit.
For more super-seeds that have big health benefits, click through:
This article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.
This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.