Chia Seeds: The Good And The Bad


Did you know that chia seeds contain more calcium than milk? Although they are small, chia seeds are known to have tremendous health benefits. They are rich in fibre, protein, omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and minerals which can help prevent diseases such as heart disease and diabetes as well as promote bone health and improve the immune system.1 This tiny seed is versatile and doesn’t need much preparation and so it can be added to many recipes. This article will explore the nutritional value of chia seeds as well as their health benefits and side effects. 

About chia seeds

Chia, also known as salvia hispanica, is a herbaceous plant that originates from Mexico and Guatemala and has been a part of the human diet for about 5500 years. Chia seeds are a powerhouse of omega-three fatty acids as well as a good source of protein, fibre, minerals, vitamins, and a wide range of antioxidants. This tiny seed has become a popular ingredient and is usually added to smoothies, muesli, salads and dairy drinks. They can also be used to thicken soups and sauces.1

Nutritional value of chia seeds

Studies show that chia has a higher nutritional value than cereals and has a higher content of calcium, magnesium, and potassium than milk. Therefore, chia seeds are considered a superfood and are recommended as a part of a healthy diet.1

Chia seeds are a great source of protein and contain a high enough content of protein to correct and prevent protein energy malnutrition. This is especially beneficial for weight loss as food rich in protein has a great effect on weight loss as a result of the loss of fats in the body. A high-protein diet can also help maintain body weight. Interestingly, this tiny seed is absent of any gluten and can therefore be consumed by patients with celiac disease.1

As well as having a high content of protein, chia seeds also contain 34-40g of dietary fibre per 100g which equals 100% of the daily fibre recommendations for adults. This means that chia seeds contain more fibre than quinoa, flax seed, and amaranth. A diet of food high in fibre has tremendous health benefits as it reduces the risk for coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes and many types of cancer.1

Chia seeds are also high in minerals including calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and potassium. The content of these minerals in chia seeds is higher than it is in wheat, rice, oats and corn. Studies also confirmed the presence of vitamins, mainly vitamin B1, vitamin B2 and niacin (vitamin B3).1

Chia seeds are a rich source of phytochemicals such as caffeic acid, chlorogenic acid, and quercetin which have antioxidant properties. Therefore, chia seeds have the ability to protect the body from free radicals which can cause oxidative stress.

In addition, chia seeds are now known as one of the best plant sources of alpha-linolenic fatty acid (ALA), an omega-3 fatty acid. These tiny seeds have higher omega-3 fatty acids than flax seeds. Omega-3 fatty acids play an important role in our health as they prevent the risk of cardiovascular disease.2

Health benefits of chia seeds

Chia seeds have an effect on heart health. The fibre found in chia seeds is soluble fibre which can lower LDL cholesterol which in turn reduces your risk of heart disease. A study on 12 individuals showed that eating chia seeds for 30 days lead to a decrease in blood pressure, a strong risk factor for heart disease.  In addition, as this tiny seed is high in omega-3 fatty acids, it has a beneficial effect on heart health by lowering cholesterol and blood pressure, preventing blood clots, and decreasing inflammation.1 

Chia seeds are also a great source of antioxidants. The phytochemicals in chia seeds including caffeic acid, chlorogenic acid and quercetin can help protect the body against free radicals which can damage cells and contribute to ageing, cognitive decline, diabetes and cancer. The phytochemical caffeic acid can help fight inflammation by reducing inflammatory markers. This can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer which are caused by chronic inflammation.1

Chia seeds can also support weight loss because of their fibre and protein content. Studies show that a high-protein diet can contribute to weight loss. A study involving 113 overweight males and females found that the group that was fed a high-protein diet lost more weight than the group which was fed a low-protein diet. Even better, a study found that adding chia seeds to your plain yogurt as a snack can provide short-term satiety as a result of their high protein content. This increases the feeling of fullness and reduces food intake in the short term which can help with weight loss.1

Moreover, chia seeds can help to prevent type 2 diabetes. This tiny seed's high fiber content effectively reduces insulin resistance and improves blood sugar levels, reducing your risk for type 2 diabetes.2 A recent study found that adding chia seeds to your diet can reduce blood glucose levels as the high fibre content slows the absorption of sugar in your blood. This study showed the group that consumed bread fortified with chia seeds had lower blood glucose levels compared to the group that consumed bread without chia seeds. The lowest level of blood glucose recorded was with the addition of 24g of chia seeds.3

Due to their high content of minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, magnesium and potassium, chia seeds can help support bone health. Calcium is vitally important in bone and muscle health as well as nerve function. An animal study involving rats eating chia seeds daily for 13 months found that this increased bone mineral content and musculoskeletal weight compared to the control group of rats that did not eat chia seeds. Interestingly, they found that this was a result of the ALA content of chia seeds.4

Side effects of eating chia seeds

There are numerous positive side effects of eating chia seeds, including a reduction in cholesterol, reduced risk of heart disease and diabetes, inhibition of blood clotting and improvement of the immune system. In addition, consuming chia seeds during pregnancy can help in the development of the retina and brain of the foetus.1

However, there are some negative side effects of eating chia seeds, including:

Digestive issues

A high fibre content means that eating too many chia seeds can cause diarrhoea, constipation, gas and bloating. They can also cause a flare-up with inflammatory bowel conditions such as Crohn’s disease.5


As chia seeds are in the mint family, those with an allergy to mint, mustard seeds, or sesame should avoid consuming them. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhoea, itchy lips of the tongue or anaphylaxis.6

Interference with diabetes medications

As mentioned before, chia seeds can reduce blood glucose levels which can help prevent type 2 diabetes. However, this can interfere with individuals with diabetes, as consuming too much chia seeds can cause a dip in blood glucose levels that could require an adjustment in the dosage of the insulin medications needed.1

Interference with blood pressure medications

Chia seeds are also known to reduce blood pressure as they are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. However, they can also cause an increase in the activity of blood pressure medications which can result in low blood pressure or hypotension.1 It is recommended that those on blood pressure medications moderate their portion sizes to prevent this interference.

Despite these side effects, chia seeds have been declared safe for human consumption and are recommended as a healthy addition to your diet.


How much chia seeds should you eat a day?

A daily dose of about 15-20g of chia seeds is recommended.2

What happens if you don't soak your chia seeds?

Eating dry chia seeds is not advised. This tiny seed is known to absorb water rapidly and therefore chia seeds are usually eaten with some sort of liquid. Dry chia seeds can be a choking hazard as they can swell up and get stuck in your throat. It is advised to soak your chia seeds for 5-10 minutes before consuming them.2

What is the best time to take chia seeds?

The best time to eat chia seeds is on an empty stomach, in the morning. This is because it can help boost your digestive system and improve bowel movements. Eating chia seeds also contributes to a feeling of fullness which can help you reduce your calorie intake if you are on a weight loss journey.1 

How long does it take for chia seeds to work?

Chia seeds can take as quickly as three days to show positive results.1


Overall, although more human research is needed, various studies show that eating chia seeds has numerous health benefits ranging from a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes to weight loss. Chia seeds can be used in different forms and adding it to your diet can have positive, as well as negative effects on your health To avoid these, excessive consumption of chia seeds is not advised and daily consumption of 15-20g is recommended.

By sprinkling a few teaspoons of chia seeds into your breakfast cereal or porridge, stirring them into salad dressings or sauces, or adding them to smoothies, puddings and baked goods, you can boost your health and increase your longevity.


  1. Ullah R, Nadeem M, Khalique A, Imran M, Mehmood S, Javid A, et al. Nutritional and therapeutic perspectives of Chia (Salvia hispanica L.): a review. J Food Sci Technol [Internet]. 2016 Apr [cited 2022 Dec 2];53(4):1750–8.
  2. Kulczyński B, Kobus-Cisowska J, Taczanowski M, Kmiecik D, Gramza-Michałowska A. The chemical composition and nutritional value of chia seeds—current state of knowledge. Nutrients [Internet]. 2019 May 31 [cited 2022 Dec 2];11(6):1242.
  3. Ho H, Lee AS, Jovanovski E, Jenkins AL, DeSouza R, Vuksan V. Effect of whole and ground Salba seeds (Salvia hispanica l.) on postprandial glycemia in healthy volunteers: a randomized controlled, dose-response trial. Eur J Clin Nutr [Internet]. 2013 Jul [cited 2022 Dec 2];67(7):786–8.
  4. Montes Chañi EM, Pacheco SOS, Martínez GA, Freitas MR, Ivona JG, Ivona JA, et al. Long-term dietary intake of chia seed is associated with increased bone mineral content and improved hepatic and intestinal morphology in sprague-dawley rats. Nutrients [Internet]. 2018 Jul 19 [cited 2022 Dec 2];10(7):922.
  5. Health NRC (US) C on D and. Dietary fiber [Internet]. National Academies Press (US); 1989 [cited 2022 Dec 2].
  6. Żukiewicz-Sobczak WA, Wróblewska P, Adamczuk P, Kopczyński P. Causes, symptoms and prevention of food allergy. Postepy Dermatol Alergol [Internet]. 2013 Apr [cited 2022 Dec 2];30(2):113–6.
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Suad Mussa

Bachelor of Science – BSc, Biology. Queen Mary University of London

Suad Mussa is a biology graduate with a strong passion for medical writing and educating the public about health and wellbeing.

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