Chia seeds are praised by many people both for nutritional and weight loss benefits. Their main advantage that can supposedly help you lose weight is their high fiber content. The fiber should help reduce your hunger by increasing the feeling of satiation (it provides more bulk in your stomach, especially after it absorbs water). Besides that, chia seeds also contain a majority of the healthy fats (omega-3 instead of the dreaded omega-6 or saturated fats). On top of that, they also contain zero sugar which sounds like another great thing to add to your weight loss arsenal.
I wouldn't dare speaking against the nutritional benefits of chia seeds, since they actually are an excellent source of omega-3's and are also rich in fiber (and since this is a weight loss section I don't really need to). But I do have some objections against some of the clearly one-sided arguments in favor of using chia seeds for weight loss. Let's take a closer look at some of the arguments (the last among them is the most powerful one) that I believe can help paint a much more realistic picture of chia seeds.
1. Chia seeds contain zero sugar, so what?
While it is true that chia seeds contain no sugars, they are still relatively high in calories. With their 486 calories per 100 grams chia seeds are at the 617th place among the highest calorie foods in the USDA Nutrient Database. While they are clearly not the worst food in existence, there are still over 7,000 foods to choose from that have a lower calorie density. Anyone claiming that chia seeds are a great (sugar-free) weight loss food while "forgetting" to mention that they still contain quite a lot of calories probably has other motives than helping you lose weight. When it comes to calories it does not really matter whether or not they come in forms or sugars, healthy fats or unhealthy fats, if you eat too much of them, chia seeds will only be helping you gain weight.
2. Plenty of foods can provide far better satiation
While the high fiber content of chia seeds is undeniable and while fiber can actually help increase the feeling of satiation, it is certainly not the only thing that can do that. One other thing can do a much better job is volume. Let's look at some examples of 100 grams of chia seeds calorie-equivalents. Like I said, 100g of chia seeds contains 486 calories. 3.5 pounds (1.6 kilograms) of watermelon or 8.8 pounds (4 kilograms) of cucumber also contain 486 calories. I can't even begin to guess if you are actually capable of eating 8.8 pounds of cucumber, but I'm willing to bet that whatever you could eat would provide a much better feeling of fullness than all of the fiber that could possibly be contained in the 100 grams of chia seeds. No amount of praise for the fiber-induced feeling of fullness can ever beat what volume can do for you.
3. Chia seeds taste like what exactly?
Maybe you don't like cucumbers or even watermelon, but since chia seeds are also quite tasteless themselves, I'm sure you can come up with some other lower-calorie and better-tasting alternatives. Sure, you can throw the chia seeds into a smoothie and pretend that they taste better that way, but since on their own they taste quite bland, there is no way they are adding anything to the smoothie (except maybe some texture). Taste, in my opinion is one of the most important factors when it comes to weight loss. If the things you are "allowed" to eat on your weight loss journey taste like crap (or like nothing in case of chia seeds), this can only make your journey harder or even impossible. When it comes to eating chia seeds for weight loss I simply don't see the benefit of adding a bland-tasting, high-calorie food to your diet, especially since there are so many better options available.
4. When eaten whole, the calories are still there
Most seeds can't be digested when eaten whole (as opposed to grinding them), which means that the nutrients (and the calories) will not be absorbed. I have written about this in a previous article about using flaxseeds for weight loss, where I pointed out that if flaxseeds are eaten whole, you will still get most of the benefits that fiber supposedly provides (feeling of fullness and other health benefits) without absorbing the high amount of calories. But this is not the case with chia seeds, since the calories can be absorbed from them even when they are eaten whole. With chia seeds this simple calorie avoidance trick is off the table.
5. The science supports the common sense
I hate to rain on anyone's parade, unless it's a parade of someone who is (willingly or unwillingly) misleading people who are already confused enough about weight loss. But this study has shown that ingesting 50 grams of chia seeds per day for 12 weeks had ZERO effect on weight loss. So I guess this blows even the most well-intended theories about the chia seed dynamic weight loss duo (high fiber content and the "good" fats) right out of the water. The same study also showed that no disease risk factors have improved under such regime (but discussing this further would clearly be beyond the scope of this article).
While nutritional profile of chia seeds is better than most modern foods, it is still a high calorie food no matter how you look at it. Calories don't know where they're coming from and when there is too much of them, they will end up as accumulated body fat with most people. While I do believe that chia seeds can be a great alternative to some of the other types of fats (like the trans fatty acids in French fries or Cheeseburger), simply adding chia seeds to your existing diet will probably only make things worse (at least as far as weight loss is concerned).