Latest Stories

Why chia seeds are today’s ‘it’ food

They are packed with nutrition, but experts caution that they are still no substitute for a balanced diet


CHIA seeds’ Omega-3 fatty acids are much higher than salmon, they’re a good source of complete protein, have more fiber than flax seed and contain a wealth of antioxidants and minerals. ANNE A. JAMBORA

Runners believe it makes them go the extra mile, bodybuilders swear it helps them build more muscle mass. Heck, even ancient Aztec warriors are believed to have sustained their energy with just a tablespoon of this exotic seed.

If you’ve been working out in the gym recently, chances are you’ve heard about the mighty chia seeds. But are chia seeds really the superfood many claim them to be, or is their sudden rise to popularity a mere product of clever marketing?

The fitness industry took interest in chia seeds when American author and journalist Christopher McDougall wrote about it in his 2009 New York Times Bestseller book “Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Ever Seen.”

In the book, McDougall documented the Tarahumara tribe in Mexico, who ran ultra marathons (typically a distance of more than 100 km) at incredible speeds with minimal or no injuries at all.

The tribe’s choice of energy drink? A “home-brewed Red Bull,” wrote McDougall, called chia fresca, made of chia seeds mixed in water with sugar and lime. A tablespoon of chia, McDougall wrote, “is like a smoothie made from salmon, spinach and human growth hormone.”

Wrote the author, “If you had to pick just one desert island food, you couldn’t do much better than chia, at least if you were interested in building muscle, lowering cholesterol and reducing your risk of heart disease; after a few months on the chia diet you could probably swim home.”


Shy Sison Vesagas, a tax lawyer and mother of one boy, first heard about chia from her triathlon teammates. Curious, she tried the seeds December 2012 and noticed that, since taking the seeds, she doesn’t get cramps anymore while running. She said long runs, anything over 15 km, always gave her cramps. She also noted she has been running faster and longer, and even her skin got clearer (she’s also a smoker).

A vegetarian for 19 years, Vesagas said she adds a tablespoon of chia seeds to her coffee three times a day. Chia, when added to water, turns into a gelatinous, chewy substance. “I feel bolder now, more confident, since I don’t get cramps anymore,” she said.

Chia, or Salvia hispanica, is a member of the mint family from Mexico and South America. Eaten raw or added to dishes, chia seeds do pack a lot of bang for the buck. Their Omega-3 fatty acids are much higher than salmon, they’re a good source for complete protein, have more fiber than flax seed, and contain a wealth of antioxidants and minerals.

International Krav Maga Federation instructor Abe Tolentino began taking chia seeds over a year ago when he read about their anti-inflammatory properties. As an instructor, he said, his joints took a beating. He makes green smoothies or puddings with chia seeds. He admits, though, that he is not really sure if the chia seeds have been beneficial so far.

“I have no clinical studies to show that they make a difference. I’m generally a healthy person. For my raw vegan friends, though, it’s the highest source of Omega-3 from a non-animal source,” Tolentino said. His diet consist of 50-70 percent raw veggies per day.

There are also claims that consumption of chia seeds promotes weight loss because it curbs the appetite, balances blood sugar levels, and lowers cholesterol and trigylcerides and blood pressure. Registered nutritionist, dietitian and weight-management consultant Pam Joyce Laiz, however, cautions the public to remain skeptical of any product whose claims have yet to be extensively studied by science.

“While it is true that chia seeds contain so many nutrients in just one small serving, claims of their benefits are not proven and need more scientific studies. These are all testimonials. There is, in fact, no such thing as ‘superfood.’ That’s a term coined by marketing people. You cannot get complete nutrition eating chia seeds alone,” Laiz said.

She said Vesagas’ cramp-free running, for instance, may be attributed to the fact that chia seeds are high in potassium and are extremely hydrophilic. Meaning, they hold water well and retain the electrolytes. For endurance athletes, this is good news, Laiz said. But unless you’re athletic, she said it is best to stick to just one tablespoon or less of chia seeds a day.

Chia seeds are high in fiber, so that consumption of more than a tablespoon a day can cause bloating and constipation. She said that is generally not a problem for active people such as athletes and fitness buffs, who tend to consume a lot of water every day.

Healthy metabolism

The Omega-3 fatty acids in chia seeds, as in most plant sources, are also short-chain, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), not the long-chain eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) found in fatty fish like salmon. So don’t take chia seeds expecting the benefits of fish oils. The body, however, converts ALA into EPA and DHA, albeit in really low doses.

Although it is not known if both short- and long-chain acids are equally beneficial, especially since EPA and DHA seem to be the popular choice for Omega-3, adding both into your diet, said Laiz, is, in fact, beneficial to the body.

“ALA promotes integrity of cells in the colon. That means a healthy metabolism and digestion. One is not necessarily superior over the other. What’s important is, you get the benefits of both short- and long-chain acids,” Laiz said.

Excess consumption of Omega-3, she said, could cause the blood pressure to dip extremely low, dilate the blood, and malabsorption of other nutrients. Laiz said the daily recommended intake of Omega-3 is only 300-500 mg per day, although it is still safe to go up to 3 grams per day (3,000 mg). Chia seeds, she added, contains around 2,250 mg per tablespoon. (A tablespoon has 68 calories.)

Since chia seeds are a complete source of dietary protein, packed with all the essential amino acids, muscle wasting, a concern mostly by bodybuilders and those wanting to build muscles, will be minimized. Muscle wasting happens when proteins break down faster than they are replaced. Amino accids, such as those contained in chia seeds, are the body’s building blocks.

Chia seeds, however, do not act like diet pills. Laiz said because digestion is slowed down, it can give you the feeling of fullness. But this feeling, also caused by its high fiber and protein content, does not necessarily curb the appetite. If you want to lose weight, the most sensible thing to do is to cut your calories and start moving.

Since the transit time in the gastrointestinal tract is slow, the conversion of carbs to sugar is also slower, so that may stabilize blood sugar, she said. Since it lowers the blood pressure, it may also be beneficial to hypertensive people.

But before running to your nearest health store, Laiz said chia seeds interact with drugs. If you’re taking medications for, say, diabetes, hypertension or cholesterol, consult with your doctors first. She added that heart patients must also seek their doctor’s advice before adding chia seeds into their diet.

Laiz’s conclusion? Chia seeds are a good source of nutrition—loaded with high nutritional values than most food sources in such a tiny serving—but they do not provide you with everything you need. A well-balanced intake of nutrients is still recommended.

Follow Us

Follow us on Facebook Follow on Twitter Follow on Twitter

Recent Stories:

Complete stories on our Digital Edition newsstand for tablets, netbooks and mobile phones; 14-issue free trial. About to step out? Get breaking alerts on your mobile.phone. Text ON INQ BREAKING to 4467, for Globe, Smart and Sun subscribers in the Philippines.

Tags: Balanced Diet , chia seeds , Health and wellness , Lifestyle , super food

  • doncleo

    ang sarap basahin pero saan ako makakabili nito?

    • http://twitter.com/Inq_Lifestyle Inquirer Lifestyle

      Pls see above.

  • Meow Ming

    Meron dala kapatid ko nito galing US. HInahalo nya sa orange juice tapos pinapainom sa nanay ko. Kaya lang naubos na. Saan nga ba makakabili nito sa pinas?

    • http://twitter.com/Inq_Lifestyle Inquirer Lifestyle

      We found some in Healthy Options. Other health-food stores might have it as well.

Copyright © 2014, .
To subscribe to the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper in the Philippines, call +63 2 896-6000 for Metro Manila and Metro Cebu or email your subscription request here.
Factual errors? Contact the Philippine Daily Inquirer's day desk. Believe this article violates journalistic ethics? Contact the Inquirer's Reader's Advocate. Or write The Readers' Advocate:
c/o Philippine Daily Inquirer Chino Roces Avenue corner Yague and Mascardo Streets, Makati City, Metro Manila, Philippines Or fax nos. +63 2 8974793 to 94
  1. How to enjoy Buntod
  2. Kim Atienza: At home with art and design
  3. Life lessons I want to teach my son
  4. No tourist draw, Malang the croc will remain wild
  5. ‘Wild West’ Masbate’s pristine marine gems
  6. The best flavors of summer in one bite, and more
  7. How Zsa Zsa Padilla found Conrad Onglao; Sharon Cuneta played Cupid
  8. Homemade yogurt, bread blended with pizza, even ramen
  9. What has happened to Barrio Fiesta and Singing Cooks & Waiters?
  10. Haneda International Airport: A destination on its own
  1. How Zsa Zsa Padilla found Conrad Onglao; Sharon Cuneta played Cupid
  2. Are your favorite malls open this Holy Week break?
  3. Historic Fort Bonifacio tunnel converted into a septic tank
  4. ‘Labahita a la bacalao’
  5. Miss America: Don’t suspend teen over prom invite
  6. How Margie Moran-Floirendo keeps her dancer’s body
  7. This is not just a farm
  8. President Quezon was born here–and so was Philippine surfing
  9. Levine designs womenswear with help from fiancee
  10. Clams and garlic, softshell crab risotto–not your usual seafood fare for Holy Week
  1. How Zsa Zsa Padilla found Conrad Onglao; Sharon Cuneta played Cupid
  2. Mary Jean Lastimosa is new Miss Universe Philippines
  3. Did Angara ruin Pia Wurtzbach’s chances at Bb. Pilipinas?
  4. Dominique–Gretchen and Tonyboy Cojuangco’s daughter–now an endorser
  5. Vinegar test helpful vs cervical cancer
  6. From Jeannie to mom of suicide victim
  7. San Vicente beaches hidden but not for long
  8. Borgy and Georgina are back; others are off–again
  9. Why is the lifestyle set now afraid to wear jewelry–before Kim Henares?
  10. Sen. Angara: I thought Pia Wurtzbach gave a good answer


  • Santiago: Enrile, Lacson, Reyes plotting massive psywar operation
  • Poe, Cayetano to colleagues: Shun formalities, let’s hear Napoles’ tell-all ASAP
  • Name names, Lacson dared
  • 4.6-magnitude quake hits Surigao del Norte
  • Camilla’s brother dies of NYC head injury
  • Sports

  • Promoters Dela Hoya, Arum in talks for Pacquiao-Alvarez—report
  • Benzema guides Madrid to 1-0 win over Bayern
  • Suns’ Goran Dragic win NBA’s Most Improved Player award
  • Heat go up 2-0, hold off Bobcats 101-97
  • Ronaldo shakes off injury fears to play Bayern
  • Lifestyle

  • This woman ate what?
  • Photos explore dynamics of youths’ sexual identity
  • 12th Philippine Food Expo set at the World Trade Center
  • No tourist draw, Malang the croc will remain wild
  • The best flavors of summer in one bite, and more
  • Entertainment

  • Has Ai Ai fallen deeply with ‘sireno?’
  • Sony developing live-action Barbie comedy
  • California court won’t review Jackson doctor case
  • Return of ‘Ibong Adarna’
  • Practical Phytos plans his future
  • Business

  • Facebook profits triple as mobile soars
  • Insular Honors Sales Performers at Testimonial Rites
  • Apple increases stock buyback, will split stock
  • Cost-recovery provisions for affected gencos urged
  • This time, BIR goes after florists
  • Technology

  • Enrile in Masters of the Universe, Lord of the Rings?
  • Top Traits of Digital Marketers
  • No truth to viral no-visa ‘chronicles’
  • ‘Unlimited’ Internet promos not really limitless; lawmakers call for probe
  • Viber releases new design for iPhone, comes to Blackberry 10 for the first time
  • Opinion

  • Editorial cartoon, April 24, 2014
  • Talking to Janet
  • Respite
  • Bucket list
  • JPII in 1981: walking a tightrope
  • Global Nation

  • No travel restriction to Mideast, DFA clarifies
  • PH-HK relations repaired, but families of victims still being courted
  • Filipinos in Middle East urged to get clearance before returning
  • PH seeks ‘clearer assurance’ from US
  • China and rivals sign naval pact to ease maritime tensions