Chia seeds aren’t just a hot superfood: A growing number of experts and true believers are recommending using chia seeds as a weight loss tool. How does chia aid in weight loss, what kind of results can you expect, and what should you consider before hopping on the chia bandwagon?
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How does chia help with weight loss?
Chia seeds, which come from a member of the mint family that grows abundantly in southern Mexico, are a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, protein and antioxidants. But what makes using chia seeds attractive for those looking to lose weight is their fiber content. Chia seeds contain a unique type of soluble fiber that expands by about nine times, creating a gel when combined with fluid. This gel helps to slow the absorption of carbohydrates you eat, says Dr. Vladimir Vuksan, a chia researcher at the University of Toronto. “That’s a good thing. It means that both blood sugar and blood insulin levels remain fairly stable for hours after you eat, making you feel less hungry,” he says. The fiber in chia also supports healthy bacteria in the colon, which may also aid in weight maintenance, Vuksan says.
It does not appear that chia won’t magically make you lose weight if you simply add it to what you are already eating, though. A study done at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, found no weight loss in people who consumed a tablespoon of chia seeds in water 20 minutes before each meal for six weeks. They are best used in combination with a slightly lower-calorie intake so you can lose weight slowly over time, Vuksan says. “I would tell people to cut back by about 500 calories a day on their food intake, then add back 200-300 calories as chia,” he says. (That’s about 3-4 tablespoons.)
A more extreme approach is promoted by Dr. Bob Arnot, author of The Aztec Diet: Get Skinny Fast and Unlock the Power of Chia, the Original Superfood. In case studies, people lost 1/2-1 lbs. a day using chia seeds in meal-substitute shakes three times a day, he says (typical guidelines suggest aiming for a 1-2 lb. loss per week). His research suggests that his regimen is safe for most people for about two weeks at a time and up to 30 days, if they are in good health. “After that time,” he says, “it’s best to start adding back more healthy foods and more calories. Otherwise, your metabolism may start to slow down, impairing weight loss.”
Chia seeds’ nutritional benefits
Whether chia seeds are the answer to weight loss or not, there’s little doubt that they can give you a nutritional boost. Many nutrition experts believe people can be both overweight and undernourished–not getting the vitamins, minerals, protein, fats and other nutrients they need for energy production and good health. Like most seeds, chia is packed with nutrients—calcium, iron, selenium, manganese, B vitamins and protein. Chia is also a great vegetarian source of omega-3 fatty acids, a type of fat that most people don’t get enough of in their diets. Recent research suggests that omega-3 fatty acids are associated with a lower rate of obesity and may play a role in weight loss.
Choosing and using chia seeds
Chia comes in both black and white varieties. One white variety, called Salba, has about 20 percent more nutrients than the more common black varieties. Chia products that contain this variety say so on the label. There is also a brand-name product called Salba.
To get the most nutrients from chia, grind it in a coffee grinder, or purchase it microsliced (a type of processing used by some manufacturers). Do note, though, that chia becomes rancid quickly after it is ground. Simply sprinkle a tablespoon or so of ground chia over whatever it is you’re eating at every meal, suggests Arnot, or add ground chia to a smoothie. Try Arnot’s favorite smoothie recipe, which makes a whole meal (you can sip it slowly over a few hours—just stir or shake occasionally).
Dr. Bob’s Kale Blueberry Smoothie
- 1 cup filtered water
- 4 tablespoons chia
- 1/2 cup plain nonfat Greek yogurt
- 1/2 cup blueberries
- 3 cups stemmed kale leaves
- 1 teaspoon honey
Combine the water, chia, yogurt, blueberries, kale and honey in a blender. Blend until smooth.