Do Chia Seeds Help with Belly Fat?

Do Chia Seeds Help with Belly Fat?
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The secret to unlocking the benefits of chia seeds may be grinding them up.

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

In my latest literature review on the “health promoting properties and therapeutic applications of chia seeds,” I ran into a lot of studies like this: “Strategies for incorporation of chia…in frankfurters as a health-promoting ingredient.” After all, in “[r]ecent years [we] have seen increasing pursuit of healthier lifestyles,” healthier “dietary habits. In response to this, there has been a great deal of interest…in…compounds originally present in plants to provide health benefits in [real] foods,” like hot dogs. And, indeed: “Reformulated frankfurters with chia contained significantly greater amounts of [plant] protein, fibre, minerals.” In fact: “Given this [new] nutritional profile, [such hot dogs] could qualify for labelling with a variety of nutrition and health claims.” And, what do you know, the “chia-…enriched restructured pork [a]ffects aged rats fed [bad] diets.” So, let’s slap on a health label.

Chia has been eaten for thousands of years, so that would suggest it’s at least safe to eat. But, does it have any special benefits? It’s certainly nutritious; it’s got lots of fiber, antioxidants—black chia seeds perhaps more than white, plant protein (of course), “a source of B vitamins,” a source of minerals. So, nutritious, sure; just like nearly any whole plant food. But, again, any special benefits? There’s all sorts of claims out there by people trying to sell you chia seeds, but to “definitively establish their actual beneficial effects,” we need a little something called “scientific evidence instead of [just] cultural traditions, personal beliefs, or inaccurate advertising,” which is a redundant term if I’ve ever heard one.

For example, there are about 50,000 videos on YouTube on chia seeds and belly fat. But what does the science say? Dietary chia seed does reduce belly fat…in rats. Does apparently reduce the weight…of chickens. Evidently, people don’t like smelling or tasting fishy chicken; so, by feeding chickens chia seeds, you can boost their omega-3 levels without it turning into funky chicken. But what happens if you just cut out the middle-hen, and eat chia yourself?

What happens if you add a teaspoon or two of chia seeds to yogurt as a snack? After the yogurt with the chia, participants reported significantly less hunger, and that then translated to eating fewer calories two hours later at lunch. Now, my initial thought was, uh, give people more food—add chia to whatever they were eating—and they’re less hungry; duh. But, no, they gave people less yogurt to compensate; so, each snack had the same number of calories. So, we can say at least that chia seeds are more satiating than yogurt. But, at lunch two hours later, they didn’t just eat a little less food, but like 25% fewer calories after the chia. A teaspoon of chia seeds only has like 50 calories; yet, they ended up eating nearly 300 calories less at lunch, way more than compensating. So, if you did that every day, ate some chia seeds as a snack—and one teaspoon seemed to work as well as two—you’d expect to lose weight over time. You don’t know, though, until you put it to the test. “Subjects were randomized” to a whole tablespoon of chia seed twice a day for months “before the first and last meal for 12 weeks.” And, they found: “Chia seed does not promote weight loss” after all. Huh?

Well, we know from the flax seed literature, if you give people muffins made out of whole flax seeds, they don’t seem to really absorb all the benefit, compared to ground flax seed muffins. And, the same appears to be true with chia seeds. Eat whole chia seeds for 10 weeks, and no increase in short-chain omega-3 levels or long-chain omega 3s. But, eat the same amount of chia seeds ground up, and levels shoot up. So, maybe the problem with this study is that they gave people whole chia seeds. But, there’s never been a study on ground chia and weight loss…until, now.

A randomized controlled trial, about two tablespoons of ground chia a day versus a fiber-matched control made of mostly oat bran. That’s how you know it wasn’t funded by a chia seed company, because they put it head-to-head against a real control, not just a sugar pill or something, to control for the fiber content. So, then, if there was weight loss, we’d know it wasn’t just the fiber, but something particular to the chia. And, those eating the ground chia lost significantly more weight, significantly more waist, in terms of waist circumference (a measure of belly fat), and, as a bonus, C-reactive protein levels—suggesting an anti-inflammatory effect, as well. So, maybe some of those 50,000 YouTube videos weren’t completely off.

There is one form of chia powder I’d stay away from, though. I’ve talked about using chia gel to replace eggs or oil in baking; you mix a teaspoon of seeds with a quarter-cup of water, and let it sit for half an hour. Certainly, a way to lower cholesterol, but here you are cutting down on your salmonella risk and, there was an international outbreak of salmonella “linked to sprouted chia seed powder.” Sprouting can create “an ideal environment for bacterial growth.” Ninety-four people infected across 16 states. Granted, not as bad as salmonella-tainted eggs, which may sicken 79,000 Americans every year, but still, I would recommend staying away from sprouted chia seed powder.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image credit: fesehe via Pixabay. Image has been modified.

Motion graphics by Avocado Video.

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

In my latest literature review on the “health promoting properties and therapeutic applications of chia seeds,” I ran into a lot of studies like this: “Strategies for incorporation of chia…in frankfurters as a health-promoting ingredient.” After all, in “[r]ecent years [we] have seen increasing pursuit of healthier lifestyles,” healthier “dietary habits. In response to this, there has been a great deal of interest…in…compounds originally present in plants to provide health benefits in [real] foods,” like hot dogs. And, indeed: “Reformulated frankfurters with chia contained significantly greater amounts of [plant] protein, fibre, minerals.” In fact: “Given this [new] nutritional profile, [such hot dogs] could qualify for labelling with a variety of nutrition and health claims.” And, what do you know, the “chia-…enriched restructured pork [a]ffects aged rats fed [bad] diets.” So, let’s slap on a health label.

Chia has been eaten for thousands of years, so that would suggest it’s at least safe to eat. But, does it have any special benefits? It’s certainly nutritious; it’s got lots of fiber, antioxidants—black chia seeds perhaps more than white, plant protein (of course), “a source of B vitamins,” a source of minerals. So, nutritious, sure; just like nearly any whole plant food. But, again, any special benefits? There’s all sorts of claims out there by people trying to sell you chia seeds, but to “definitively establish their actual beneficial effects,” we need a little something called “scientific evidence instead of [just] cultural traditions, personal beliefs, or inaccurate advertising,” which is a redundant term if I’ve ever heard one.

For example, there are about 50,000 videos on YouTube on chia seeds and belly fat. But what does the science say? Dietary chia seed does reduce belly fat…in rats. Does apparently reduce the weight…of chickens. Evidently, people don’t like smelling or tasting fishy chicken; so, by feeding chickens chia seeds, you can boost their omega-3 levels without it turning into funky chicken. But what happens if you just cut out the middle-hen, and eat chia yourself?

What happens if you add a teaspoon or two of chia seeds to yogurt as a snack? After the yogurt with the chia, participants reported significantly less hunger, and that then translated to eating fewer calories two hours later at lunch. Now, my initial thought was, uh, give people more food—add chia to whatever they were eating—and they’re less hungry; duh. But, no, they gave people less yogurt to compensate; so, each snack had the same number of calories. So, we can say at least that chia seeds are more satiating than yogurt. But, at lunch two hours later, they didn’t just eat a little less food, but like 25% fewer calories after the chia. A teaspoon of chia seeds only has like 50 calories; yet, they ended up eating nearly 300 calories less at lunch, way more than compensating. So, if you did that every day, ate some chia seeds as a snack—and one teaspoon seemed to work as well as two—you’d expect to lose weight over time. You don’t know, though, until you put it to the test. “Subjects were randomized” to a whole tablespoon of chia seed twice a day for months “before the first and last meal for 12 weeks.” And, they found: “Chia seed does not promote weight loss” after all. Huh?

Well, we know from the flax seed literature, if you give people muffins made out of whole flax seeds, they don’t seem to really absorb all the benefit, compared to ground flax seed muffins. And, the same appears to be true with chia seeds. Eat whole chia seeds for 10 weeks, and no increase in short-chain omega-3 levels or long-chain omega 3s. But, eat the same amount of chia seeds ground up, and levels shoot up. So, maybe the problem with this study is that they gave people whole chia seeds. But, there’s never been a study on ground chia and weight loss…until, now.

A randomized controlled trial, about two tablespoons of ground chia a day versus a fiber-matched control made of mostly oat bran. That’s how you know it wasn’t funded by a chia seed company, because they put it head-to-head against a real control, not just a sugar pill or something, to control for the fiber content. So, then, if there was weight loss, we’d know it wasn’t just the fiber, but something particular to the chia. And, those eating the ground chia lost significantly more weight, significantly more waist, in terms of waist circumference (a measure of belly fat), and, as a bonus, C-reactive protein levels—suggesting an anti-inflammatory effect, as well. So, maybe some of those 50,000 YouTube videos weren’t completely off.

There is one form of chia powder I’d stay away from, though. I’ve talked about using chia gel to replace eggs or oil in baking; you mix a teaspoon of seeds with a quarter-cup of water, and let it sit for half an hour. Certainly, a way to lower cholesterol, but here you are cutting down on your salmonella risk and, there was an international outbreak of salmonella “linked to sprouted chia seed powder.” Sprouting can create “an ideal environment for bacterial growth.” Ninety-four people infected across 16 states. Granted, not as bad as salmonella-tainted eggs, which may sicken 79,000 Americans every year, but still, I would recommend staying away from sprouted chia seed powder.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image credit: fesehe via Pixabay. Image has been modified.

Motion graphics by Avocado Video.

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