Chia Seeds and Supplements

Benefits of Chia SeedsDo you remember Chia Pets from the 90s? Those terracotta sculptures that sprouted microgreens to look like “fur” or “hair”? Believe it or not, chia pets were sprouting serious superfoods.

Chia seeds (Salvia hispanica L.) are tiny, slippery-when-wet seeds that pack a punch – they are teeming with essential nutrients like soluble fiber, essential fatty acids, essential amino acids and antioxidants. Interestingly, the climate that these seeds are grown affects its phytochemical profile – chia seeds grown in warmer climates have lower levels of protein [1].

Here’s a breakdown of the key nutrients in chia seeds:

Soluble Fiber

Soluble fiber is an important part of every diet. It promotes healthy bowel function, increases the feeling of fullness and lowers glycemic indexes of foods [2]. Including chia seeds in a meal can reduce its glycemic load, helping to regulate blood sugar and insulin release.

Soak chia seeds in water to see them expand in size – one chia seed can retain up to 15 times its weight in fluids! This expansion happens in the gut too, and can help to create a feeling of fullness after a meal. Chia seeds also become very gelatinous when soaked in water, and our beneficial gut bugs love them in this state!

Omega-3 and Omega-6 Essential Fatty Acids

Chia seeds are super rich in essential omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid, with a dash of omega-6 alpha-linoleic acid [1]. They’re a great omega-3 plant-based alternatives to fish oil as it has all the essential fatty acids in an ideal omega 3:6 ratio. The only downside is that you have to eat a lot of them to get a therapeutic dose — consider trying chia seed oil if you need a big omega-3 boost.

Essential Amino Acids

Plant proteins generally contain a blend of essential and non-essential amino acids. However, chia seeds are particularly high in all essential amino acids, especially In the essential “branched-chain” amino acids leucine, isoleucine and valine, which are all very important for muscle repair and great for improving exercise endurance [3].

Antioxidants

Chia seeds contain quercetin, caffeic acid, and vitamin E, which support the immune system by reducing oxidative stress throughout the body by scavenging for “free radicals” [2]. These “free radicals” are unstable compounds which can cause cellular damage and disturb DNA. The antioxidants in chia seeds boost the body’s defences against this kind of damage by quenching the free radicals and supporting healing processes.


Chia Seeds to Reduce Inflammation

Listen up if you suffer from any kind of chronic pain and inflammation – the antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids found in chia seeds help to keep the body’s inflammation processes balanced [4].

Omega-3 fats break down into substances known as anti-inflammatory cytokines which balance out the pro-inflammatory cytokines that are made from other types of fats. Research has also shown that omega-3 substrates inhibit the production of further inflammatory substances known as interleukins [5]. Translation – the healthy fats in chia seeds reduce inflammation and can help to reduce the risk of major inflammatory disease such as cardiovascular disease [6].

  • One 2012 study showed that adding just 25g of chia seeds to the diet each day can boost the level of omega-3 fatty acids throughout the body. The study specifically looked at the effects for post-menopausal women – an important demographic where inflammation and risk of cardiovascular disease increases after menopause [7].

Antioxidants such as vitamin E and quercetin are able to stop inflammation in its tracks. Inflammation is associated with an increase of free radical activity and oxidative stress, and both of these powerful antioxidants can halt these processes in their tracks.

  • Dietary quercetin and vitamin E tocopherols have been shown to work together to reduce the risk of inflammatory conditions such as cardiovascular disease and cataracts [14] [15].

Chia Seeds for Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) involves a build-up of inflammatory cells in the joints as a result of an “autoimmune” response. These cells cause swelling, stiffness, pain and destruction of the joint, and can spread inflammation throughout the body. The omega-3 fatty acids found in chia seeds may help to reduce this build-up and calm down the inflammation by producing anti-inflammatory cytokines [4].

  • Studies on omega-3 intake in patients with rheumatoid arthritis have demonstrated a beneficial effect on morning stiffness, swollen joints and fatigue [8].
  • One 2016 nested case-controlled study demonstrated that omega-3 fatty acids lowered the autoantibodies associated with rheumatoid arthritis in individuals who had a genetic risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis [9].

Even better, the antioxidants in chia seeds can strengthen the immune system and may help to slow down the autoimmune processes involved in RA [14].


Chia Seeds for Weight Loss

Chia seeds can assist in weight loss for two major reasons. The first seems obvious – they fill you up, so you’ll want to eat less. Chia seeds’ high fat, protein and soluble fibre content help to promote satiety and support weight loss alongside a healthy diet and regular exercise.

The second is a little more complicated. Obesity has now been correlated with inflammation – and it’s a two-way stress: obesity can cause inflammation, and inflammation can contribute to obesity. The anti-inflammatory actions of chia seeds may help to break this cycle by reducing inflammation and assisting in weight loss [10].

  • A 2017 double-blind randomized controlled trial looked at the effects of adding 30g/day chia seed consumption to the diets of overweight and obese patients with type 2 diabetes for 6 months. The study found that, compared to a control group, the participants who consumed chia seeds lost more total weight and fat around their waists, and also showed much lower inflammatory markers on their blood test results [11].
  • One study however, found that consuming 25g/ twice a day of chia seeds for 12 weeks did not improve body composition or weight loss in test subjects who were overweight or obese [12]. However, this was a single-blinded study that only lasted for 12 weeks – not long enough for chia seeds to have an effect on weight.

Other

  • Assist glucose and insulin control
  • Reduce cholesterol and support cardiovascular health
  • Improve cognition
  • Improve skin
  • Beneficial for those with Coeliac disease as chia seeds do not contain gluten

How To Add Chia Seeds To Your Diet

As far as seeds go, chia seeds are particularly versatile. They taste neutral and take on the flavour of whatever they’re soaked in. Add a tablespoon to your morning smoothie or oats to help keep you fuller for longer so you don’t crave that mid-morning biscuit.

Dessert? How about a chia pudding? Here is an instance where “dessert” and “healthy” work together:

  • Mix ½ cup chia seeds with 2 cups of almond milk, 2 tbsp. cacao powder, 2 tbsp. maple syrup or honey and a handful of berries. Leave in a single bowl or divide into 4 ramekins and allow it to set in the fridge for at least 2 hours (overnight is best). Sprinkle with extra berries, crushed nuts and coconut flakes.

Always soak chia seeds in water for at least 10 minutes before consumption, even if adding to a salad or mueslis as a “topper”. If chia seeds are not soaked, they will pass through the digestive tract undigested – they’ll add lots of fibre to your stool, but your intestines will be unable to absorb the omega-3 fats and other nutrients.

Never heat chia seeds. The omega-3 fatty acids become unstable when heated and can become rancid [13]. Most omega-3 is found in oily fish which swim in cold waters. This is where omega-3’s like to be – in cool temperatures. It is also a good idea to store your chia seeds in the fridge once the package is opened.

Black and white chia seeds have the same nutritional profile. We suspect that the black seeds may have more phytochemicals and antioxidant pigments, but no tests have confirmed it yet!


Supplementing with Chia Seeds

Supplemental chia seeds are available if you’re struggling to include chia seeds in your diet, or have been advised by a nutritionist or doctor to take more than you can comfortably eat. Most products are encapsulated chia seeds. If you need the omega-3 boost, consider the oil without the rest of the seed – you’ll get a concentrated dose without the fibre.

CAUTIONS: Due to their high fibre content, chia seeds can cause diarrhoea or constipation in some individuals. Begin with a small dose and work your way up. If you have bowel issues, speak to a qualified nutritionist before beginning chia seed supplementation.


Top 5 Chia Seeds & Supplements

#5 Yummi Bears Omega 3 with Chia Seeds (180mg, 90 gummy bears)

Omegas with ChiaGetting your daily omega-3s has never been so fun! Yummi Bears have condensed chia seed oil extract into adorable, tasty gummy bears that are free of artificial colours and flavours. To keep things natural and yummy, these little bears are flavored and colored with blackcurrant and carrot juice concentrates. They contain no common allergens, including fish, gluten, dairy or corn.

Each gummy contains 180mg of omega-3 – not a huge adult dose but a good addition to a healthy diet, and one gummy a day should be enough for most kids. Speak to a qualified nutritionist for personal dosage advice.


#4 Mountain Fresh Health Foods Chia See Capsules (1000mg, 90 capsules)

Mountain Fresh ChiaMountain Fresh have encapsulated as much ground chia seed as they could pack into their custom-made cellulose capsules. One capsule, three times a day will deliver 3g of chia – not as big a dose as those used in the studies we looked at, but it’s possibly enough to make some difference to inflammation and oxidative stress in the body.

This supplement is totally vegan friendly in plant-based capsules, with no chemicals, additives, fillers or flowing agents added. Mountain Fresh use totally pure herbs and no modified extracts – what you see is what you get. Chia, in a capsule.


#3 DEVA Chia Seed Oil Capsules (500mg, 90 capsules)

Deva ChiaIf you can’t stomach chia oil in your diet, try these capsules from DEVA. Each capsule contains 500mg of chia seed oil, with an ideal ratio of omega 3:6 essential fatty acids. These capsules are totally vegan-friendly and free from any added nasties – no preservatives or additives.


#2 Erbology London Organic Cold Pressed Chia Seed Oil (6.8fl oz)

Erbology ChiaIf you’re looking for a pure, high quality chia seed oil – you’ve found it. This cold pressed chia seed oil from Erbology London has a particularly high level of vitamin E tocopherols and a dense concentration of omega-3 fatty acids. By using cold press technology, the heat-sensitive nutrients remain intact and active in the final oil. Erbology London don’t use any additional oils or dilution processes – this is highly concentrated and pure extra virgin chia oil. You can even use it on your skin and hair.


#1 Viva Naturals Organic Chia Seeds (2lb bag)

Viva Organic Chia SeedsReady to incorporate chia into your daily diet? This 2lb bag of organic chia seeds from Viva Naturals is a good place to start. Viva Naturals source their handpicked chia seeds from southern Mexico and South America following fair trade practices, and are certified organic and non-GMO. They work closely with regional farmers to ensure the optimal quality of their soil and the subsequent ideal nutrient density in their chia seeds.

Best of all – these high quality chia seeds are at a great price!

View Viva Naturals Organic Chia Seeds on Amazon Here


Further Reading

  • [1] Mohd Ali, N., Yeap, S. K., Ho, W. Y., Beh, B. K., Tan, S. W., & Tan, S. G. (2012). The Promising Future of Chia, Salvia hispanica L. Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology2012, 171956. http://doi.org/10.1155/2012/171956
  • [2] Ullah, R., Nadeem, M., Khalique, A., Imran, M., Mehmood, S., Javid, A., & Hussain, J. (2016). Nutritional and therapeutic perspectives of Chia (Salvia hispanica L.): a review. Journal of Food Science and Technology53(4), 1750–1758. http://doi.org/10.1007/s13197-015-1967-0
  • [3] Timilsena, Y.P., Adhikari, R., Barrow, C.J. & Adhikari, B. (2016). Physiochemical and functional properties of protein isolate produced from Australian chia seeds. Food Chemistry, 212, pp: 648-656. DOI: http://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodchem.2016.06.017
  • [4] Simopoulos, A.P. (2002). Omega-3 fatty acids in inflammation and autoimmune disease. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 21(6), pp: 495-505. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12480795
  • [5] Calder, P. C. (2010). Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Inflammatory Processes. Nutrients2(3), 355–374. http://doi.org/10.3390/nu2030355
  • [6] Cadler, P.C. (2009). Session 3: Joint Nutrition Society and Irish Nutrition and Dietietic institute Symposium on ‘Nutrition and autoimmune disease’ PUFA, inflammatory processes and rheumatoid arthritis’. The Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 67(4), pp: 409-418. DOI: http://doi.org/10.1017/S0029665108008690.
  • [7] Jin, F., Nieman, D.C., Sha, W., Xie, G., Qui, Y. & Jia, W. (2012). Supplementation of milled chia seeds increases plasma ALA and EPA in postmenopausal women. Plant Foods for Human Nutrtition, 67(2), pp: 105-10. DOI: http://doi.org/10.1007/s11130-012-0286-0
  • [8] Lorente-Cebrián, S., Costa, A. V., Navas-Carretero, S., Zabala, M., Laiglesia, L. M., Martínez, J. A., & Moreno-Aliaga, M. J. (2015). An update on the role of omega-3 fatty acids on inflammatory and degenerative diseases. Journal Of Physiology And Biochemistry71(2), 341-349. DOI: http://doi:10.1007/s13105-015-0395-y
  • [9] Gan, R. W., Young, K. A., Zerbe, G. O., Demoruelle, M. K., Weisman, M. H., Buckner, J. H., & … Norris, J. M. (2016). Lower omega-3 fatty acids are associated with the presence of anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide autoantibodies in a population at risk for future rheumatoid arthritis: a nested case-control study. Rheumatology (Oxford, England)55(2), 367-376. DOI: http://doi:10.1093/rheumatology/kev266
  • [10] Alvarez-Curto, E. & Milligan, G. (2016). Metabolism meets immunity: The role of free fatty acid receptors in the immune system. Biochemical Pharmacology, 114, pp. 3-13. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bcp.2016.03.017
  • [11] Vuskan, V., Jenkins, A.L., Brissette, C., Choleva, L., Jovanovski, E., Gibbs, A.L., Bazinet, R.P., Au-Yeung, F., Zurbau, A., Ho, H.V., Duvnjak, L., Sievenpiper, J.L., Josse, R.G. & Hanna, A. (2017). Salba-chia (Salvia hispanica L.) in the treatment of overweight and obese patients with type 2 diabetes: A double-blind randomized controlled trial. Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases: NMCD. 27(2), PP: 138-146. DOI: http://doi.org/10.1016/j.numecd.2016.11.124.
  • [12] Neiman, D.C., Cayea, E.J., Austin, M.D., Henson, D.A., McAnulty, S.R. & Jin, F. (2009). Chia seed does not promote weight loss or alter disease risk factors in overweight adults. Nutrition Research, 29(6), pp: 414-418. DOI: http://doi.org/10.1016/j.nutres.2009.05.011.
  • [13] Imran, M., Nadeem, M., Manzoor, M. F., Javed, A., Ali, Z., Akhtar, M. N., … Hussain, Y. (2016). Fatty acids characterization, oxidative perspectives and consumer acceptability of oil extracted from pre-treated chia (Salvia hispanicaL.) seeds. Lipids in Health and Disease15, 162. http://doi.org/10.1186/s12944-016-0329-x
  • [14] Rizvi, S., et al. (2014) The Role of Vitamin E in Human Health and Some Diseases. Sultan Qaboos Univ Med J., 14:2, e157 – e165. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3997530/
  • [15] Li, Y., et al. (2016) Quercetin, Inflammation and Immunity. Nutrients., 8:3, 167. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4808895/
About James Lyons

James Lyons (BHSc Nutritional Medicine) is a clinical nutritionist, medical writer, and educator. He specialises in plant-based nutrition and is passionate about improving public access to reliable and accurate health information.

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