Packed with fiber, the tiny seeds can help support heart health. But is there a limit to how much you should consume? Here, we explore what chia seeds do to your body.
Chia seeds have a lot of culinary talents, like making silky puddings and fiber-rich smoothies and adding crunch to oat bars. These tiny but mighty seeds come from the Salvia Hispanica plant, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and they pack a ton of nutritional value and health benefits. For example, chia seeds contain soluble fiber, protein and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
So, is more … more? Before loading up on chia seeds and adding them to everything, read on to find out the potential side effects of eating too many chia seeds, how much chia you can eat daily and healthy alternatives to this tiny superfood.
Health Benefits of Chia Seeds
Chia seeds offer an array of nutritional value and health benefits. According to a 2020 review published in Molecules, chia seeds are a rich source of healthy omega-3 fats, carbohydrates, protein, vitamins (A, B1, B2 and B3), minerals and antioxidants.
In addition, chia seeds are rich in fiber, which can help decrease the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers, the authors say. “Chia seeds are high in fiber, which is great for digestion, satiety, balancing blood sugar and reducing cholesterol,” says Sarah Schlichter, M.P.H., RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist at Bucket List Tummy. “Additionally, chia seeds are a plant-based source of several key micronutrients, such as iron, zinc and calcium. These help with optimal body function by improving immunity, blood flow, body temperature regulation and bone formation,” she says.
According to the USDA, 1 ounce (roughly 2 tablespoons) of chia seeds contains:
Protein: 5 grams
Total fat: 9 grams
Carbohydrate: 12 grams
Fiber: 10 grams
Calcium: 179 milligrams
Iron: 2 milligrams
Zinc: 1.3 milligrams
Side Effects of Eating Too Many Chia Seeds
Chia seeds are small and very easy to add to your foods. However, it’s possible to consume too many chia seeds. If that happens, here’s how you may feel:
You May Experience Digestive Issues
About 2 tablespoons of chia seeds pack nearly 10 grams of fiber. And although fiber is an essential nutrient for gut health, a side effect of fiber is gas and bloating, according to Mount Sinai.
“Some people may experience GI and digestive issues from eating too many chia seeds. This is likely because they’re an excellent source of fiber,” explains Schlichter. “Also, these symptoms may be exacerbated if you’re not drinking enough water,” she says.
Chia Seeds Could Cause Choking
When eating whole chia seeds, chew and swallow them carefully. Chia seeds can absorb up to 12 times their mass in water, points out a 2019 article in the journal Nutrients, causing them to congeal into a gel-like substance. “Chia seeds can pose a choking hazard since they absorb water and thicken, which may be uncomfortable for some when swallowing,” states Schlichter. The greatest risk is if you have underlying health conditions that make it difficult to swallow, according to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC). However, if you’re consuming powdered chia seeds in a smoothie or a sauce recipe, there’s no need to worry about choking hazards.
Chia Seeds Could Interact with Medications
If you’re taking medication for high blood pressure, chia seeds may further reduce your blood pressure, according to MSKCC. If you have hypertension and are controlling the condition with medication, talk to your doctor before adding chia to your diet. In addition, chia can also have an effect on blood sugar levels, as well as affect bleeding and blood clotting. If you have diabetes or blood clotting disorders, you should also talk to your doctor.
How Much Chia Can You Eat Daily?
Chia seeds are an excellent source of fiber, and you can use them to supplement fiber in your diet in order to hit your goals. According to the National Institutes of Health, men and women should get at about 38 and 25 grams of fiber per day, respectively. However, most people only consume 14 grams of fiber daily, on average. Going far above those levels may cause some of the side effects mentioned above, most commonly gastrointestinal discomfort. Everyone will have a different threshold.
What’s more, chia seeds are a more concentrated source of calories. Schlichter recommends eating no more than a couple of tablespoons per day.
Chia Seeds Alternatives
Whether you avoid chia seeds because of health reasons, you don’t like the taste or you simply want to switch up your diet, these healthy alternatives offer similar nutritional value and health benefits: