Side effects of eating too many chia seeds: Is overindulging a health risk?

The fiber-rich seeds in chia seeds help support heart health, but how much should you eat?

There are many culinary applications for chia seeds, including making silky pudding, fiber-rich smoothies, and adding crunch to oat bars.

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, these small but mighty seeds that come from the Salvia Hispanica plant are loaded with nutrition and health benefits [1]. Chia seeds, for instance, are rich in soluble fiber, protein, and omega-3 fatty acids.

Does more really mean more? Here are the potential side effects of eating too many chia seeds, how much you can eat daily, and healthy alternatives to it.

What are the antioxidant properties of chia seeds?

There are a number of health benefits and nutritional benefits associated with chia seeds. An article published in Molecules found that chia seeds contain antioxidants, carbohydrates, healthy omega-3 fats, protein, vitamins (A, B1, B2, and B3), and minerals [2].

Moreover, chia seeds contain fiber that may reduce the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers, according to the authors.

The fiber in chia seeds is great for digestion, satiety, blood sugar balance, and cholesterol reduction, explains Sarah Schlichter, MPH, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist [3].

Aside from being a plant-based source of several micronutrients like iron, zinc, and calcium, chia seeds also improve immunity, blood flow, body temperature regulation, and bone formation.

The USDA reports that one ounce (roughly two tablespoons) of chia seeds contains [4]:

  • Calories: 138
  • Protein: 5 grams
  • Total fat: 9 grams
  • Carbohydrate: 12 grams
  • Fiber: 10 grams
  • Calcium: 179 milligrams
  • Iron: 2 milligrams
  • Zinc: 1.3 milligrams

What happens if you eat too much chia seeds?

Small and easy to add to your food, chia seeds are a great addition to your diet. Consuming too many chia seeds is possible, however. You may feel the following if that happens:

Problems with digestion

There are almost 10 grams of fiber in two tablespoons of chia seeds. Despite fiber’s essential role in gut health, it causes bloating and gas, according to Mount Sinai [5].

The fiber content of chia seeds may cause GI and digestive issues in some people, says Schlichter. Furthermore, not drinking enough water may exacerbate these symptoms.

Choking

Chia seeds should be chewed and swallowed carefully when eaten whole. According to a 2019 article in Nutrients, chia seeds can hold up to 12 times their mass in water, causing them to thicken into gel-like particles [6]. 

Since chia seeds absorb water and thicken, they could pose a choking hazard, according to Schlichter. Having underlying health conditions that make swallowing difficult is the greatest risk, according to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) [7]. In smoothies and sauce recipes, powdered chia seeds are safe to consume.

Interactions with medications

According to MSKCC, chia seeds may further reduce high blood pressure if you take medication for it. Talk to your doctor before including chia in your diet if you have hypertension and are taking medication to control it. 

Additionally, chia can affect blood sugar levels, bleeding, and clotting. Those with diabetes or blood clotting disorders should also see their doctor.

How much chia seeds should I eat a day?

You can use chia seeds to supplement your diet with fiber to achieve your goals by eating them. Men and women should consume about 38 and 25 grams of fiber per day, respectively, according to the National Institutes of Health [8]. 

On average, people consume only 14 grams of fiber per day. Most commonly, gastrointestinal discomfort is caused by exceeding those levels. 

The threshold will be different for everyone. Furthermore, chia seeds have a higher calorie content than other seeds. Schlichter recommends eating no more than a couple of tablespoons a day.

What is a healthy food like chia seeds?

Whether you avoid chia seeds because of health reasons, you don’t like the taste, or you simply want to switch up your diet, these healthy alternatives offer similar nutritional value and health benefits:

  • Flax seeds
  • Hemp seeds
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Quinoa
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Wheat germ

In closing

Chia seeds are a nutritious superfood high in soluble fiber, protein, and omega-3 fatty acids. These tiny seeds can provide fiber that helps lower cholesterol, boost your heart health, and reduce your risk of developing chronic disease [9]. 

That said, because chia seeds are packed with fiber and calorie-dense, stick with no more than two tablespoons per day.

FAQs

What are the dangers of eating too many chia seeds?

Eating too many chia seeds can lead to digestive discomfort, including bloating and diarrhea.

Does chia seed have health warnings?

Chia seeds do not have specific health warnings, but overconsumption can lead to side effects.

Is it bad to eat chia seeds whole?

It is not bad to eat chia seeds whole, but soaking them can make them easier to digest and prevent potential issues.

Can chia seeds affect your kidneys?

Chia seeds, when consumed in moderation, are unlikely to affect your kidneys.

[1] https://www.eatright.org/food/food-groups/fats/what-are-chia-seeds
[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6994964/
[3] https://www.bucketlisttummy.com/about/
[4] https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/2343065/nutrients
[5] https://www.mountsinai.org/health-library/supplement/fiber
[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6627181/
[7] https://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/integrative-medicine/herbs/chia
[8] https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2010/08/rough-up-your-diet
[9] https://www.eatingwell.com/article/8043202/can-eating-too-many-chia-seeds-cause-side-effects/

Photograph: Olena_Rudo/Envato
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