“My bird eats seed, therefore, I should” (every hipster ever, 2015). Yes, it’s a philosophy chia seed consumers live by and with the average budgerigar expected to live between 5-8 years in 2015 – that’s 199 in human years – why wouldn’t you? Rather than take the bird’s word for it, I thought I’d have a look at the scientific data in humans? But before I do, why should you even consider consuming a seed made of chia?
Why Chia seeds might be great:
Well there’s no doubting that chia seeds are a great source of various nutrients. They’re chock full of: B vitamins, fibre, protein, omega-3 fats and antioxidants among other things. This is great, but do they have any clinically significant effect on health?
To answer the above question, I have only analysed human studies from the past five years. Partly because I’m lazy and partly because older data is losing relevance.
The first study I came across was one on a group of 90 overweight women. It was found that chia seed supplementation for a 12-week period had no effect on body composition, blood pressure, cholesterol and inflammatory markers (1). Bummer.
Another study I found, reported that in a group of ten postmenopausal women chia seeds increased plasma levels of certain omega-3 fatty acids. That’s great, but this is a very small sample and does not assess whether any clinical changes have occurred (2).
A further study on a larger group (62 individuals) perhaps overcame this pitfall. It found chia seed supplementation to enhance the same fatty acids, but unfortunately there was no change in: inflammation levels, cholesterol, triglycerides and other metabolic health risk factors (3).
Just as I was about to feed the rest of my seed to the bird, I came across one last study. This found a blended supplement of chia seeds, nopal, oats and soy protein decreased triglyceride, insulin and glucose levels in the fairly large group analysed (4). Again, this is promising – enough to hold on to the seeds at least – but it’s hard to say whether it is the Chia having the effect or one of the various other ingredients.
Is it healthful?
Yes, Chia seeds are a fantastic source of various nutrients and further research may come to light in the coming months or years confirming their greatness from a health outcome perspective. Additionally, they’re probably great, but not absolutely essential, as part of balance healthy diet. However, based on current human data – key words: current human data – there is only limited scientific evidence that they offer any clinically proven health benefits in isolation. For this reason chia seeds are given a slightly healthful rating on this blog.
I hope this has been healthful. What do you think? Do you need the seed and is there any food (superfood) that truly offers health benefits on its own?