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The Truth About Chia

Can chia seeds really help you lose weight?
By
WebMD Expert Column

Remember the Chia Pet? These gift items, clay figurines that sprouted grass-like "fur," were once all the rage. Fast-forward a few decades, and the seeds from the same chia plant are being sold online and in health food stores as a weight loss aid.

They're supposed to help control hunger while they enhance your diet with super-nutrients. But what's the real story on these nutritious seeds and their ability to help you lose weight?

What Is Chia?

Chia is an edible seed that comes from the desert plant Salvia hispanica, grown in Mexico dating back to Mayan and Aztec cultures. "Chia" means strength, and folklore has it that these cultures used the tiny black and white seeds as an energy booster. That makes sense, as chia seeds are a concentrated food containing healthy omega-3 fatty acids, carbohydrates, protein, fiber, antioxidants, and calcium

Chia seeds are an unprocessed, whole-grain food that can be absorbed by the body as seeds (unlike flaxseeds). One ounce (about 2 tablespoons) contains 139 calories, 4 grams of protein, 9 grams fat, 12 grams carbohydrates and 11 grams of fiber, plus vitamins and minerals.

The mild, nutty flavor of chia seeds makes them easy to add to foods and beverages. They are most often sprinkled on cereal, sauces, vegetables, rice dishes, or yogurt or mixed into drinks and baked goods. They can also be mixed with water and made into a gel. 

Can Chia Really Help You Lose Weight?

In theory, chia seeds are supposed to expand in your belly, helping you to feel full, eat less, and ultimately shed pounds. But one study indicates otherwise.

"Over a 12-week period, we did not see a change in appetite or weight loss" in study participants who consumed chia seeds, says researcher David Nieman, DrPH, a professor at Appalachian State University in North Carolina.  "Our study showed no reduction in body weight, body fat and no improvement in traditional cardiovascular markers from 50 grams of chia per day.”

A study reviewing the body of scientific evidence on chia found similar results.

"The evidence is limited on chia, and only two clinical trials examined heart health and body weight," says explains researcher Catherine Ulbricht, PharmD.  "One showed some beneficial heart effect, but neither showed any effect on weight loss."

More study is needed before chia can be recommended either for weight loss and heart health, says Ulbricht, chief editor of Natural Standard Research Collaboration.

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