Not long ago, a reality star was spotted eating ‘chia cereal’ as she rapidly lost weight — and it instantly sparked a new diet craze that has won over top experts and real-world dieters alike. “Simply put, chia is one of the most effective weight-loss foods in history,” says Bob Arnot, MD, former chief medical correspondent for NBC News and author of The Aztec Diet.
A sample of the science that backs him up: A University of Toronto team found that folks given two heaping tablespoons of chia daily lost 533 percent more weight than a group given oat bran instead.
The seed was cultivated in ancient times to give extreme energy to Aztec warriors, and “battles were fought over chia fields. The plant was nearly burned into extinction in the 1500s,” Dr. Arnot says. But thanks in large part to social media, this seed has made a roaring comeback. And that’s a very good thing.
To use chia to maximize weight loss, experts recommend at least 2 tablespoons 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) to be sure you’re not overeating out of habit. To discover all the benefits of this wonder-seed, keep reading.
3x more fiber than whole-grain bread.
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 blocks hunger-inducing blood-sugar spikes. The result? “You can have a scoop of chia at 8 a.m. and not feel another hunger pang all day,” says the doc. Bonus: Studies show that, over time, chia brings down overall blood-sugar levels by about 44 percent, causing hormonal improvements that drive significantly faster fat burn.
6x more calcium than milk.
The mineral has a reputation for keeping bones strong, but it also keeps waists trim. In one University of Tennessee study, dieters getting lots of calcium from food lost 70 percent more weight and 81 percent more belly fat than dieters getting the same calories but little calcium. Turns out, getting enough of the mineral triggers biochemical changes that help make ab flab disappear. Bonus: While other calcium-rich foods like milk and cheese may cause GI trouble and belly bloat, chia has a soothing effect that helps release water weight and flatten your middle even more.
8x more omega-3s than salmon.
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 percent more weight than those who didn’t. The fatty acids kill hunger and triple the speed at which older women build metabolism-boosting muscle!
15x more magnesium than broccoli.
Among hundreds of roles this nutrient has in our bodies, it helps turn food into energy. Experts say magnesium also does a particularly amazing job of alleviating chronic inflammation that can impair thyroid function and stall metabolism.
So there you have it! Though chia tastes a bit like flavorless poppy seeds, calorie for calorie, it packs a tremendous punch — even compared to other superfoods.
This article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.