November 8, 2011 at 4:56 pm Leave a comment

Last month I joined the CPSDA (Collegiate and Professional Sports Dietitians Association).  It is an amazing group that supports  and promotes the contribution of Registered Dietitians to collegiate and professional sports.

It has also been a wonderful resource for me for anything related to nutrition for athletes.  Chia seeds was a topic of discussion a few weeks ago.  Some athletes are using them as a means of hydration and also for enhanced endurance.  I decided to take a deeper look into this natural food.

Chia seeds are originally from South America.  They were a diet staple for the Mayans and Aztecs.

The Tarahumara people use Chia seeds, also known as Salvia hispanica, as fuel.  They are barefoot runners and are famous for running for hundreds of miles without stopping.  They claim the chia seeds keep them hydrated.  Now that’s endurance!!  I found a recipe for their version of a power bar or gel on a blog.  The recipe includes corn meal, cinnamon, brown sugar or honey, and chia seeds.  The mixture is cooked and water is added for the consistency of choice.  Sounds good, actually.










The nutrition information for the seeds is as follows:

Serving size:            1 Tbsp

Calories            70

Fat                        5g

Carbs                    6g

Fiber                      5g

Protein                  3g

Calcium                8%

Iron                        6%

Omega-3            2900mg

Omega-6            1100mg


Chia seed are said to be beneficial in so many ways.

Manufacturers claim Chia seeds help in weight loss by preventing the food you eat from getting absorbed.  A study in 2009 showed no effectiveness of Chia seeds on weight loss.   No surprise.

Another claim is that you feel fuller faster because the seeds absorb so much water.  The manufacturers claim “chia gel” hydrates the body.  The other claims are that it reduces blood pressure and is a good source of Omega-3 fatty acids.  The same study in 2009 showed no effectiveness on heart disease or high cholesterol.

Then there is the claim that chia seeds are good for diabetics because chia seeds slow down how fast the body changes carbs into sugar.  The science isn’t there on that claim, but the seeds may slow gastric emptying, which would slow the delivery of carbohydrates into the bloodstream.

Finally, chia seed manufacturers contend that the seeds are easier to digest than flax seeds because they don’t need to be ground.

A study was performed to determine if chia seeds could be used for carbo-loading for events lasting longer than 90  minutes.  The chia seeds were compared with using Gatorade alone.   The results did not show a significant difference between Gatorade use and the chia seeds.  This demonstrates that using chia seeds in place of Gatorade during carb-loading can reduce the intake of carbohydrates (hint:  less calories) with the added benefit of increasing the intake of Omega-3 fatty acids.

There actually is very limited evidence to support the effectiveness of Chia seeds in any role.  They MAY be effective in reducing allergies, enhancing athletic performance, reducing the incidence of cancer and heart disease, and reducing cholesterol and high blood pressure.  Chia seeds are safe for nonallergic people.

Try eating chia seeds after they have been soaked in water so they do not absorb the fluids in your gi tract.  Measure 1/3 cup seeds into 2 cups of warm water.  Mix well.  Let sit for 15 minutes, mix again, then put into the refrigerator.

Spoon 2-3 tablespoons of chia “gel” into smoothies or onto yogurt or cottage cheese.  Use the seeds baked into muffins or cookies.

The bottom line:  Chia seeds contain beneficial nutrients.  Used in moderation, they can be a source of healthy Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids.  There have not been any studies to prove that chia seeds can help you lose weight, lower your cholesterol, or help you win a marathon.  But you try them.  Do they work?  Tell me if you feel they increase your endurance!


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