Some, including singer Taylor Swift, have said that the wildly popular chia seed can help with weight-loss.
Chia seeds are tiny, grey-black seeds that come from the beautiful chia flower, which is native to central and southern Mexico and Guatemala.
In these regions of the world, chia seeds are popular in nutrition drinks because they are loaded with fibre, protein, and some key B vitamins.
Just two tablespoons (or about one ounce) is packed with nutrients including rough percentages of the average adult’s daily allowance of the following:
- 40% fibre, which helps with digestion and can help lower your risk of diabetes
- 9% protein, which is essential for the growth and development of muscle
- 17% calcium, which is important in the formation of bones and teeth and helps with blood clotting
- 12% iron, which is important for the transport of oxygen throughout the body
As of yet, there are no robust scientific studies to back up the idea that chia seeds can help with weight loss.
And be warned: There is a right and wrong way to eat them, especially if you have a disorder called dysphagia which is characterised by difficulty swallowing.
That’s because of the way chia seeds behave in water: Once wet, they will expand to many times their size when dry, and if they’re in your stomach when they expand, it may make you feel fuller than you otherwise would.
Chia seeds are like a thirsty sponge when they come into contact with water — they can absorb anywhere from 12 to 27 times their weight in water. When that happens, the seeds can form a gel-like coating.
Check out the time-lapse GIF below to see how they expand over about 10 minutes after being immersed in a glass of water:
This behaviour is also why, at least according to Rebecca Rawl, who specialises in stomach and intestine disorders at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, N.C. and who recently treated a man who’d become unable to swallow after ingesting the seeds, they can be dangerous if eaten incorrectly.
When preparing chia seeds, it’s common to add them to water, yogurt, salad dressing, or another liquid-based substance.
Some packages of the seeds also suggest they can be eaten raw but at least one recent report suggests that that could be dangerous, especially when washed down with a big glass of water.
Although rare, consuming chia seeds this way can worsen swallowing problems in people who suffer from dysphagia, or difficulty swallowing.
Last year, a 39-year-old man reportedly had to seek medical treatment after swallowing a tablespoon of the dry seeds and washing them down with a glass of water.
Women’s Health Magazine noted that the man had a history of dysphagia, and after ingesting the chia seeds his symptoms worsened significantly.
That’s because, due to his pre-existing condition, the seeds became stuck in his esophagus, or foodpipe, on the way to his stomach, and began expanding.
By the time he reached a treatment center, the seeds had blocked his throat, preventing him from swallowing.
“It was a gel of these seeds, the consistency was similar to Playdoh — not solid, but not a liquid,” Rawl explained to Rachel Zimmerman for Common Health.
While this man’s experience is the only recorded case where someone has suffered from eating chia seeds, there are an estimated 300,000 to 600,000 cases of people in the US alone who suffer from dysphagia each year. And 15% of the elderly reportedly suffer from it.
Though Rawl says it is not a good idea for anyone with this condition to consume chia seeds raw, there is a safe way to eat them:
“Patients with a history of [swallowing problems] … should be cautioned that chia seeds should only be consumed when they have had the ability to fully expand in liquid prior to ingestion,” Rawl told WebMD.
Now, check out this other, mesmerising time-lapse video on YouTube of chia seeds expanding:
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