Weight loss is big business. From fad diets to “miracle pills” and exercise trends, the search for quick and easy ways to shed pounds is seemingly endless. But those who want a reliable, healthy approach should consider the relationship between chia seeds and weight loss.
A Nutritional Powerhouse
Chia seeds are garnering attention as a so-called “superfood.” They are easily digestible, versatile to use, and full of nutrients and energy-boosting power. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, chia seeds are an excellent source of Omega-3 fatty acids, essential fats that the body can’t make on its own. Omega-3s are critical to cell functioning, hormone production, and protection against cancer and other conditions.
Chia seeds are an excellent source of fiber, and contain protein and minerals including iron (to form red blood cells that carry oxygen throughout the body), calcium (to form strong bones, aid in blood clotting and support muscle and nerve function), magnesium (to help regulate the body’s metabolism) and zinc (for a healthy immune system).
Food and Nutrition, a publication of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, states that as of 2013 there were only four published clinical trials of the benefits of chia, in which three found positive relationships between chia seeds and weight loss, reduced blood glucose, and reduced triglyceride (a type of cholesterol) levels.
Although there are few published studies on the health benefits of consuming chia or the relationship between chia seeds and weight loss, the nutritional profile of these small but mighty seeds offers anecdotal evidence of the role they can play in a healthy lifestyle.
The Relationship Between High Fiber and a Healthy Weight
While research may be lacking about the correlation between chia seeds and weight loss, the relationship between high fiber intake in preventing obesity is well-documented. As noted by WebMD, “When it comes to losing weight, one simple piece of advice may be more helpful than all the diet books, calorie counting, and portion measuring put together: Eat more fiber.”
The article cites a study which found that people who added more fiber to their diets -- without changing anything else -- lost almost as much weight as people who followed a heart-healthy, low-fat eating plan. A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine suggests that simply aiming to eat 30 grams of fiber each day can help you lose weight, lower your blood pressure, and improve your body’s response to insulin just as effectively as a more complicated diet. The participants in each group averaged 19 grams of fiber a day. Both groups lost weight, lowered their blood pressure, and improved their response to insulin. Those following the more complicated diet lost a bit more weight than those on the high-fiber diet, but both groups were able to maintain their weight loss for 12 months.
Chia seeds are high-fiber champions, delivering a whopping 10 grams per ounce (about 2 tablespoons). By adding chia seeds to smoothies, salads, fruit and other foods that already have fiber, it would be easy to meet the 30-gram-per-day recommendation. The study results suggest that if you get enough fiber with the help of chia seeds, weight loss will follow.
How Does It Work?
Fiber isn’t a mystical fat-burning agent. The Journal of Nutrition points out that fiber has unique physical and chemical properties that help you feel full sooner, signaling to your brain that it is time to stop eating.
Without adding a lot of extra calories to your diet, fiber fills the stomach, stimulating receptors that tell your brain that it’s time to stop eating. As it absorbs water and takes up more room in the stomach and digestive system, fiber not only helps you feel full sooner but it also helps you to maintain that feeling for longer periods of time. You need to to drink plenty of water, about eight glasses a day, to move fiber through your digestive system, and that helps fight against hunger pangs too. The water contributes to feelings of fullness and controls thirst, which can often be confused with hunger.
Celebrity nutritionist and alternative health specialist Lindsey Duncan is a proponent of chia seeds. He says that chia absorbs up to 12 times its own weight and expands to curb your appetite, so adding just an ounce or so of chia seeds to your diet can reduce caloric intake and help lower the energy density (or calories) of foods, plus double the amount of fiber you receive.
So while there may be limited definitive research results on the relationship between chia seeds and weight loss, there is evidence that, like other high-fiber foods, chia seeds can play a role in helping you achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
Where Do Chia Seeds Come From?
Chia seeds come from the desert plant Salvia hispanica, a member of the mint family. The plant is believed to have originated in Mexico and Central America where the seed was a staple in the ancient Aztec and Mayan diets, around 3500 B.C. Chia seeds were considered close to magical because of their reputed ability to increase stamina and energy over a sustained period of time. Legend has it that the name chia is derived from the Mayan word for “strength.”
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