Chia seeds, a superfood dating back to Aztec times, are now enjoying a rebirth of sorts. They feature in every nutritional A-list as a rich source of fiber, omega-3 fats, protein, vitamins, and minerals.
Granted, chia seeds are a great source of nutrition as part of a balanced diet and they are also constantly marketed as a weight-loss aid and wolfed down in large quantities by weight watchers, but you can have too much of a good thing, and this superfood is no exception. Here are some side effects of chia seeds you need to watch out for.
6 Side Effects Of Chia Seeds
1. Can Cause Constipation Or Diarrhea
Chia seeds are very high in fiber content – at nearly 11 gm per ounce serving, it takes care of a sizable chunk of the American Dietetic Association’s recommended fiber intake of 38 g for men and 25 g for women for the day.1
“Soak 1 tbsp chia seeds in 1 cup water overnight. Or grind them and use in smoothies.”
But a high-fiber diet doesn’t work for every body type. Too much fiber in one go can lead to flatulence, constipation, and diarrhea.
It’s a good idea to eat chia seeds with a lot of water or soak them first. Soaking makes it easier to digest them. It also offers the added benefit of releasing all the nutrients stored inside.2
Soak 1 tbsp chia seeds in 1 cup water overnight. Or grind them and use in smoothies.
2. Can Make You Choke
Chia seeds have gained notoriety as a choking hazard. As one Time magazine report highlighted, incorrect consumption can lead to complications.3 When you don’t presoak your chia seeds or eat them without roasting, you run the risk of gagging or choking on them. You may even end up in the ER as a result.
“If you eat chia seeds raw, they can absorb water (about 27 times their dry weight) in your food pipe, grow large, and clog up the food pipe, choking you.”
Why? Because the seed when dry and unroasted absorbs as much as 27 times its dry weight in water. It turns gelatinous and expands hugely, plump with water. This sticky mass can get stuck in your esophagus, making you choke.4 Always soak the seeds or roast them.
3. Can Prevent Blood Clotting
As they are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, chia seeds can act as natural blood thinners, preventing your blood from clotting.5 If you are already taking blood-thinning medication like warfarin, steer clear of chia. For the same reason, avoid chia seeds right after a surgery to avoid excessive bleeding.6
4. Can Worsen Your Diverticulitis
People with diverticulitis develop bulging sacs or pockets called diverticula along the lining of the large intestine. These get inflamed and try to push out through the colon wall, causing pain (usually on the left side of the abdomen), bloating, or diarrhea.7
While one cure for diverticular diseases is a high-fiber diet, and chia seeds are high in fiber, you should avoid them when an attack is under way.8 These tiny seeds often get stuck in the diverticula and inflame them.
5. Can Set Off An Allergic Reaction
“If you have a seed or nut allergy, you may be allergic to chia seeds too.”
Chia seeds have a lot of protein in them and that’s bad news if you are allergic to the protein in chia. A 100 gm serving has about 16.54 gm of protein.9 For those with a nut or seed allergy, chia seeds may be off the table.
Reactions can range from skin rashes and hives to watery eyes, vomiting, and diarrhea. Also watch out for repetitive coughing, wheezing, difficulty swallowing, and a hoarse throat. You may also feel dizzy. As inflammation flares up in the larynx, tongue, and mouth, you could find it difficult to talk and even breathe.10
If your allergy is more severe, you may go into shock, your pulse may weaken, and your skin may turn pale or blue.11 Get tested to check anyway.
6. Can Trigger Prostate Tumors
The case for and against chia when it comes to prostate cancer isn’t closed just yet. While some research indicates it could decrease the risk of prostate tumor growth, other research contradicts this.
“Recent research says chia seeds increase prostate tumor formation. Don’t overindulge.”
A 2010 study claimed that the omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid did not increase prostate cancer risk and that it even marginally decreased the risk.12
But a recent 2013 study indicates that eating foods high in omega-3 fatty acids – like chia seeds which contain alpha-linolenic acid – could trigger the formation of prostate tumors. This could imply an increased risk of prostate cancer.13
The jury is still out on this one, but you may want to hold off on binging on chia.
Have No More Than 1.5 Tbsps, Twice A Day
“Have no more than 1–1.5 tablespoons up to twice a day. Always soak them the night before.”
On the whole, the chia seed is a powerhouse of goodness. No wonder every nutritionist loves it. Ayurveda also recommends adding chia to your regular diet, conscious of its high-fiber effects.
But since the superfood is still not fully understood, more studies will be needed before it can be declared safe for those with conditions like high triglycerides and low blood pressure, and even pregnant women.
Just make sure that you don’t rely on just chia seeds for your daily fiber intake. If you are aiming to lose weight, having more of it won’t help you lose much. After all, you will have added on extra calories from the seeds as well.
Typically, 1–1.5 tablespoons taken up to twice a day should be fine for most people. That’s the equivalent of a 20 gm serving that has 139 Cal.14
|↑1||Slavin, J. L. “Position of the American Dietetic Association: health implications of dietary fiber.” Journal of the American Dietetic Association 108, no. 10 (2008): 1716-1731.|
|↑2||Eswaran, Shanti, Jane Muir, and William D. Chey. “Fiber and functional gastrointestinal disorders.” The American Journal of Gastroenterology 108, no. 5 (2013): 718-727.|
|↑3||You’ll Never Guess What Chia Seeds Can Do To Your Esophagus. Time (2014).|
|↑4||Watch It Grow: Esophageal Impaction With Chia Seeds. American College of Gastroenterology.|
|↑5||Omega-3 fatty acids. University of Maryland Medical Center.|
|↑6||Healthy Food Trends: Chia Seeds. U.S. National Library of Medicine.|
|↑7||Diverticular disease and diverculitis. NHS.|
|↑8||Break the Diverticulitis Cycle. University Health News.|
|↑9||Seeds, chia seeds, dried. USDA.|
|↑10||García, Jiménez S., Vargas C. Pastor, M. de las Heras, Maroto A. Sanz, F. Vivanco, and J. Sastre. “Allergen characterization of chia seeds (Salvia hispanica), a new allergenic food.” Journal of investigational allergology & clinical immunology 25, no. 1 (2015): 55.|
|↑11||Food Allergy. American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.|
|↑12||Carayol, Marion, Pascale Grosclaude, and Cyrille Delpierre. “Prospective studies of dietary alpha-linolenic acid intake and prostate cancer risk: a meta-analysis.” Cancer Causes & Control 21, no. 3 (2010): 347-355.|
|↑13||Brasky, Theodore M., Amy K. Darke, Xiaoling Song, Catherine M. Tangen, Phyllis J. Goodman, Ian M. Thompson, Frank L. Meyskens et al. “Plasma phospholipid fatty acids and prostate cancer risk in the Select trial.” Journal of the National Cancer Institute 105, no. 15 (2013): 1132-1141.|
|↑14||Chia seeds and nutrition. Columbia University.|