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Why Chia Seeds Aren't The Superfood You Think They Are

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Photo: Getty Images.
You've probably heard chia seeds referred to as a "superfood," and they've definitely got a lot going for them. But considering all the hype they get online, it may surprise you to learn how little of it has actually been scientifically substantiated.

"Much of the hype is really overblown for chia seeds," says Kim Larson, RDN and spokesperson for The Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics. "Very little research has been done on them."

In fact, one 2012 study showed that they did pretty much nothing for disease risks. Eating chia seeds every day for 10 weeks didn't lower cholesterol, blood pressure, or inflammation levels. The one thing the seeds did improve were participants' levels of a few important fatty acids, which some have (incorrectly) interpreted to suggest that chia seeds have anti-inflammatory properties, Larson says.

The truth is, the body only converts a small amount of those fatty acids into a usable form. "It’s very unreliable," she explains in an email to R29. "So, people should not think they are getting the same omega-3s from chia seeds as they do from fish and seafood."

That said, chia seeds do have some benefits that are worth checking out. "I look at chia as a nutrient 'booster' — like all seeds," says Larson. "They are easy to use, quick, and convenient, and they add a small hit of nutrition. When used consistently, that can add up."

For one, they do contain all of the essential amino acids, making them a complete source of protein. Plus, their 10 grams of fiber per ounce keep you feeling full. And because they expand into a goopy pudding when soaked overnight, they're a great option for those of us who would rather not put a ton of effort into breakfast. Larson also suggests sprinkling them into salads, cereals, and yogurt. You can even use them in fruit jams as an alternative to pectin.

However, the same properties that cause that gelatinous effect also cause them to expand in the gut. So, if you overuse them, you could find your GI system a bit "challenged," as Larson puts it. (Read: constipated, bloated, and generally uncomfortable.)

The bottom line: Chia seeds definitely can be nutritious — they're just not quite as miraculous as we've all been led to believe.
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