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Chia Seeds: Benefits and Side Effects

Posted on January 4th, by Ellie Conway in Diet. 28 comments

Chia Seeds: Benefits and Side Effects

A favourite staple of the Aztec and Tarahumara tribe, chia seeds have been catapulted into the category of ancient super food. However, a few people have spoken out against them including The Paleo Diet author Loren Cordain who says they should be avoided due to potential side effects. We look at whether they are really worth the hype as a miracle running fuel.

The interest in chia seeds blew up when Christopher McDougall wrote about their use by the Tarahumara Indians in his popular book Born to Run. The tribe used a blend of maize and chia to fuel them during arduous ultra runs through the desert. Even ancient civilisations such as the Incas, Mayans and Aztec used chia seeds to help bring strength to hunters and warriors on long expeditions.

McDougall went as fas as to say: “If you had to pick just one desert-island food, you couldn’t do much better than chia, at least if you were interested in building muscle, lowering cholesterol, and reducing your risk of heart disease; after a few months on the chia diet, you could probably swim home.

Chia Seeds Benefits

The most touted benefit of chia seeds is their high omega-3 content. However this is in the form of short-chain ALA omega-3. This needs to be converted to long-chain EPA/DHA omega-3. Unfortunately, our bodies aren’t very efficient in converting ALA to EPA/DHA so much of the benefits are lost. If this is the main reason you’re looking at chia seeds, you may well be better off with some wild fish, grass fed meat and fish oils for your omega 3s.

On the plus side, chia seeds are packed with soluble fibre and are high in antioxidants, calcium, iron, manganese and phosphorous. A unique property of chia seeds is the ability to hold up to 12 times its weight in water. Soaked for 30 mins, the seeds will form a gel like substance. Researches believe this gel reaction also occurs in the stomach, forming a barrier which means carbohydrates are broken down slowly. This makes the seeds popular among endurance athletes and also diabetics, who want a slow release energy source.

Chia Seeds Side Effects

While chia seeds do contain low levels of anti-nutrients and phytates these are fairly negligible unless you’re eating them as a staple. A grey area exists over possible gastrointestinal side effects of the seeds. A number of participants in a chia study left after experiencing problems. The exact cause of this issue is unknown however. As the seeds are extremely hydrophilic, they may possibly absorb fluids in the stomach causing cramps or pain. Again this is only likely to occur in high quantities.

Expert Corner

Mark Sisson“[These are] primal, but be wary of any superfood claims (unless they’re talking about liver and pastured egg yolks), closely monitor your fibre tolerance and don’t rely on them for your omega-3s.”

Loren Cordain“Until further human trials are completed employing a sample size with sufficient statistical power to resolve these immune system issues, then the potential adverse effects of long term, chronic chia seed consumption may outweigh the potential benefits.”

Robb Wolf: “If folks want to throw a couple of tablespoons of it back a day, I don’t think that’s going to hurt them. But it’s  really, really supplementing with that short-chain omega-3 and so expecting it to do anything remotely like supplementing with EPA/DHA is just completely false.”

Matt Lalonde: If you suffer from an autoimmune disease, eliminate this pseudo-cereal from your diet.


A few sprinkled over a dish for texture is fine but the claims of superior omega-3 qualities are overstated. The Aztec may have loved them but they were also into human sacrifice and kicking heads down temple steps. Stick to grass fed meat, wild fish and fish oils for your omega-3 intake.

Where to buy

Chia seeds are available in store and online from Holland and Barrett. They cost approx £2.19 for a 100g pack or 4.99 for a 350g pack. You can also purchase organic whole and milled chia seeds at £12.09 for a 400g and 315 pack respectively.

image courtesy of: sweetbeetandgreenbean

28 thoughts on “Chia Seeds: Benefits and Side Effects

  1. Thanks for this interesting article. I bought some a while back, since lots of health bloggers had been harping on about them for ages. Was a bit disappointed with the taste to be honest! Worth a try but have not made it on to my staple shopping list!

    • Yeh it’s good to try out new things. There will always be different tastes so I think it’s good to see what appeals and what doesn’t. These wont be one of our staples either but wouldn’t mind using them every now and then.

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    • Great Breakfast! I make it before I go to Crossfit and it’s ready when I get home!

      3 TBS Chia Seeds
      1 Cups Coconut Milk
      1/4 TEAS Stevia (Optional)
      Stir all together and let sit a few minutes. Stir again and than put in the fridge. Let gel for at least 1 hour. Top with favorite fruit and/or nuts.

      May also use 1 Cup of Almond Milk. Follow the same directions. When done sprinkle with cinnamon.

  2. I use chia seeds by soaking them in hot water to produce a gel, that I have then used to help “glue” things like kale crackers together…. I have an experimental batch of “various veg” crackers drying at the moment.

    I understand flaxseed can be used the same way…. I remember cooking “linseed” (I presume the same or a related species) up for the horses in the ’70s and it too made a superb gel like the chia seeds.

    • “Linseed” is short for “linen seed”, which is flax seed – flax being the plant linen is made from. And “Linseed oil”, which is used in painting, is simply industrial (non-edible) flaxseed oil. Non-edible because it may be contaminated, is probably rancid (oxidized), etc. It is sometimes boiled (“boiled linseed oil”) to thicken and stabilize it – still inedible. Hope this helps!

  3. A great format; love it. All paleo sites should have reviews like this…keep it up. A great way of helping us pick-up a sense of where and why there is debate about some foodstuffs; cutting through the hype and providing some insight. Thanx guys :-)

  4. Hi just wanted to give you a quick heads up and let you know a few of the images aren’t loading correctly. I’m not sure why but I think
    its a linking issue. I’ve tried it in two different browsers and both show the same outcome.

  5. Im loving chia seeds soaked with milk over night. I add steva and frozen friut and have it for breakfast or for when I need a sweet fix. I havent experinced any pain at all from this. I really enjoy it, its like having a sweet pudding.

  6. I just simply drink it, just add warm water and wait for it to turn jelly and sometimes I add some pure honey to it. tase good :)

  7. I just started using chai seeds about 2 days ago and having the side affect of stomach pain. :( however I think ill wait for this pain to pass and try a smaller amount and not everyday. Hopefully it will help

  8. Hi, I’ve just discovered these seeds at New Zealand, haven’t come across any tum upsets at all, if anythink it stops me wanting anythink sweet at all.

  9. When living in NZ brought chia seeds in bulk at supermarkets. My breakfast everyday was 1 x tablespoon chia seeds left to soak in glass of fruit juice for 20 minutes then in the liquidiser with a banana to make a very filling smoothie….delicious and kept me going all day. NB the cost of chia seeds in UK is double that of NZ :(

  10. My daughter brought me some Chia seeds from Trader Joe’s in Seattle, WA, a few weeks ago. I put it in my oatmeal with blueberries, and cream. It was delicious! After about a week, my daughter left to go back to her home, and left the seeds with me. It took another week to finish them in my oatmeal for breakfast each morning. I noticed that some of my knuckles have swollen and enfact I can’t remove my wedding ring. (I must note that I have an auto immunione disease). Does anyone think the swelling of my knuckles is related to the Chia seeds?..

    • Hi Laura,
      You need to soak the Chia seeds for at least 2 hrs in some water(not tap water) and then add them to your other ingredients, otherwise you get dehydrated and get swollen knuckles and fingers etc…
      and also make sure half an hour after your meal, snack etc.. have some water again, basically throughout the day keep water with you to have small sips.
      hope this help and take care x

  11. I am on a candida cleanse and was told that chia seeds would help me by reducing the candida. However, I made the mistake of taking too many. Like half a cup a day. Ate them in smoothies, In cereal, and all alone. Thinking that more was better. Wrong! I started experiencing what feels like stomach ulcers so while I still believe that they are a good thing, Please do not consume more than the recommended portion like I did.

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