3 Reasons Chia Seeds and Flaxseeds are NOT the “superfoods” you think they are.

what are the chia seeds and flax seeds side effectsA lot of media outlets like to sell the idea of “superfoods”. Some of these like kale and spinach are definitely very good to eat on an almost daily basis but for a while I was also eating daily Chia seeds and flax seeds until I found out they are pretty much a waste of time if you eat very little processed foods. Not only are the health benefits a lot weaker than you might expect due to a few reasons (shared below) but also some studies have shown potential side effects. Similarly to my post on are multivitamins good for you, I will try to sum up why some of these “superfoods” under a closer look are actually not that amazing and not worth too much time thinking about or forcing in your diet. Its true they do have a lot of nutrients, but your body cannot take advantage of them as well as you might expect.

1. They contain healthy “omega 3’s”. Really?

Yes, flaxseed and chia seeds do contain some omega 3 but is this omega 3 actually useful for your body? Omega 3’s come in different forms. The most popular and the ones your body actually want are “docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)” and “eicosapentaenoic acid EPA”, these are naturally found in most fish. The form of omega 3 in flaxseeds and chia seeds is “ALA (Alpha Linolic Acid)”. ALA is converted to DHA and EPA at an ABYSMALLY low rate. As this research shows, “in vivo studies in humans show that asymptotically equal to 5% of ALA is converted to EPA and <0.5% of ALA is converted to DHA”. So ya, a terribly low conversion. Definitely not worth considering both of these seeds as a source of omega 3’s, or even worse, to rely on them thinking your omega 3 needs are met. Instead, ideally eat some fish every 2-4 days that is wild and low in the food chain like sockeye salmon. Or, get some fish oil supplements (Currently I use cod liver oil, but fish oil and krill oil are both great as long as you make sure to avoid these potential fish oil supplement side effects).

Also, this research shows an important side effect of flaxseed, a higher risk of prostate cancer due to higher ALA.

Of course, like most seeds they also do contain omega 6s. So you are pretty much messing up your ratio while eating these since the omega 3 content can’t really be calculated. Instead eat grass fed beef or fish a few times a week to get your omega 3’s. Or take supplements.

2. They show impressive nutrient content… but your body usually will poorly take advantage of it.

chiaseeds nutritional information

This is for 50g of Chia seeds, taken from http://cronometer.com/

Chia seeds, and flaxseeds both contain some anti nutrients in the form of phytic acid, while these are not really harmful to your body especially if eaten in moderation they DO make your body absorb a lot less of the nutrients present in the food. Phytic acid in the seeds basically binds to the zinc, iron, copper, and to a lesser extent, the calcium and magnesium present in it. It does not “bind” (unlike what some people believe) to what’s not being presently digested in your stomach from the research I’ve seen. So, they are only a problem while digesting foods in a meal and in the case of these seeds, that means the helpful minerals you could have taken advantage of if phytic acid was not present. So, phytic acid binds to the helpful minerals and prevents your body from absorbing them. You then simply get rid of both when you go to the bathroom. It’s difficult to know what % of the above “nutrients” your body will get from the chia seeds but it is likely to be a lot lower then expected (unless you soak them / de-activate the phytic acid).

3. Flax seeds & Chia seeds side effects

chia seeds side effects pictureThey exist if these seeds are not eaten in moderation and/or not stored properly. So, after you understand that chia seeds aren’t the “perfect” superfood to eat every single day, you might want to be aware of some possible chia seeds side effects. In Dr. Loren Cordain “The Paleo Answer”  book he shows that there is evidence that CHRONIC use of chia seeds can cause inflammation in the intestine and may promote “leaky gut”. The key word is chronic, meaning if you eat them very often. Also, being full of polyunsaturated fats they are prone to easy oxidation (unlike saturated fats like coconut oil or most fat from beef) and if you buy a big amount and leave it in the cupboard for a few months they can easily start having mold by simply not being fresh. You probably want to put anything over two weeks supply in the freezer and just take a portion out for 2 weeks as needed. I think the actual chia seeds side effects are quite mild unless you have some allergy to them, the point is exercise moderation. If you really need more fiber, mix in other vegetables full of fiber like broccoli (my favorite, just don’t overcook it.. Ideally steam them 5 minutes and don’t use the microwave which potentially destroys nutrients in it due to the overheating).

4. Chia Seeds have fiber, fiber is good.

Yes fiber is good and if you want to eat chia seeds mainly for fiber that can be ok but if you are health conscious enough to add chia seeds to your diet you hopefully also changed your diet to have very little processed foods and a lot of vegetables. Vegetables will have all the fiber you need and you can replace the chia seeds with something that you enjoy the taste of more or that has vitamins/minerals you see your diet is low in. For example I calculated my daily meals for a few weeks and saw I tend to be on the low side for vitamin E, so I added almonds on an almost daily basis which taste great and have a lot of vitamin E.

You insist on eating chia seeds and flax seeds? Here is how to minimize the phytic acid so you can absorb more of the nutrients:

If you really like the taste and eat them often you might want to consider the following. To neutralize some of the phylic acid content, you probably want to soak the seeds in some salty water overnight. After that, eat them quickly as the seeds will probably grow mold even faster, unless you dry them. For this reason I honestly do not even bother with either. They provide some minerals but I have other sources to get those and a more enjoyable taste. They just seem like a waste of money (unless you enjoy them). When I want nuts that contain omega 6’s, I’ll stick to my occasional brazil nuts for selenium & almonds for vitamin E which are harder to find elsewhere (in my diet at least) and harder to supplement (both selenium and vitamin E seem to be better to get from diet rather than supplements for absorption and use).

I’ll make some other posts in the future on other anti nutrients contained in foods like broccoli or spinach, but those are quite easy to resolve while still fully taking advantage of the health benefits by lightly heating them such as steaming them for 3-5+ minutes or so.

are all super foods like chia seeds good?

61 thoughts on “3 Reasons Chia Seeds and Flaxseeds are NOT the “superfoods” you think they are.

  1. Steam broccoli for five minutes? Then eat mush!

    have to soak the almonds or Brazilian nuts for the same reason as the chia…

    Even wild fish is animal protein….and studies indicate that can be bad, not to mention the mercury possible even in wild fish.

    Fish oil supplements are very often rancin and harmful at that point!!!!

  2. I don’t if you know what your talking about since you stated, take a portion out for two weeks as needed ( the freezer) I guess you don’t know that seeds don’t freeze! So you would only need to take the seeds out upon immediate use.

    • It might be placebo but I notice a difference in taste between seeds that have been 6+ months outside vs in freezer and just came out a few days ago… This is for when I buy in bulk of course.

    • But they are setting at a freezing temperature. So it’s gotta be better than not putting them in the freezer. Jam doesn’t freeze either…but it prevents molding.

  3. So when talking about omega-6 imbalance, did you take into account that almonds have no traces of omega-3 whatsoever, and that Brazil nuts are extremely imbalanced as well.

    Even with the supposedly poor conversion rate of ALA to EPA and DHA, the ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 in either Flax or Chia would still be only 6.6 to 1, which is slightly worse than walnuts, and BETTER THAN ANY OTHER NUT AVAILABLE. Brazil nuts have an Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio of 377.9 to 1, and Almonds are 1 to 0!!!! These are all facts out of “The Diet,” by Loren Cordain, which is conveniently the ONLY name you have sited to back up you facts.

    You have also completely ignored the fact that Chia seeds are an efficient source of cholesterol free protein.

    • The point is that ALL of these nuts are terrible sources of usable omega 3 for your body and your omega 3s should come from fish, grass fed beef and supplements (if you do not eat enough of the first 2). When I mentioned Brazil nuts and almonds, it was only in the sense that they have other advantages (selenium and vitamin E respectively) that makes them worthwhile for some people (including me) to eat every now and then. The ratios of omega 3 to 6 in Chia or flax seeds is worthless, they are still a poor source of omega 3 that your body uses.

    • Macadamia nuts have a 1:1 ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3.
      Also, cholesterol in food, for most people, has little effect on blood cholesterol.

  4. “ALA, and the apparently deleterious effect of ALA could therefore be caused by high meat intake instead of high ALA intake…This would lead to an increased risk of prostate cancer in those studies in which meat was the major source of ALA…In the Netherlands, where the study of Schuurman et al. (22) showed a protective effect of linolenic acid intake on prostate cancer, vegetable oils in margarines are indeed the main source of ALA (7).”

    This is all from the very same study that you cited at the top of your post. It is also important to note that the only ALA that these people were consuming was coming primarily from red meat or from vegetable oils and margarine. Vegitable oils and margarine are not especially healthy in and of themselves, nor are many of the foods such things would be found in. This also has to be causally factored into the variables that are contributing to cancer. Flax seed and Chia seed are much more nutritious than plain canola oil or margarine. I think even you would be forced to admit this by right of basic logic.

    • Of course flax seed and Chia seeds are more nutritious! The point of this article was for those (like me before) thinking they are worth taking everyday and are a nutrient powerhouse, they are not in the end. Better to try other potential super foods that do not have these downsides (bad source of omega 3, poor nutrient absorption). I dont think taking these are “BAD”, they are simply a waste of time/money unless you need them for a specific recipe or really enjoy the taste. For example I mention Almonds because those DO contain a lot of vitamin E something that can be hard to get) or brazil nuts which has a lot of selenium.

    • Possible, I never looked into Hemp seeds, I find them harder to find unlike the previous too unless you get them online.

    • That’s an interesting study, thanks for showing me it! However it does not mean that ALA is NOT poorly converted, simply that if your body is in low levels of omega 3 it can convert more. And women can get an even higher conversion. That’s good news for vegans but unless they get their levels checked they probably still want to supplement to be on the safe side, I keep my dosage from supplements very low but I eat wild caught salmon a few meals a week to be on the safe side.

      • Are you concerned about the wild salmon now due to a toxic ocean (Japan radiation)? Or do you get your salmon from a non-toxic ocean?

        • It’s a concern, especially considering how bad of a job they seem to be doing around fukishima (downplaying the risk so no one freaks out, and lieing) but it would be too much mental work for me when I go to restaurants or travel to constantly ask where it came from. Usually mine comes form Alaska since I eat sockeye salmon which is not farmed. A lot of salmon is farmed and comes form Norway, which is far away.

    • In people with great health that may be the case, but not in people with elevated insulin which inhibits the enzyme delta 6 desaturase, which is necessary for the conversion.

    • The body’s ability to ‘adapt and convert’ depends entirely upon the correct functioning of an individual’s digestive system. Successful absorption of nutrients can be a critical factor for many people with certain health issues. If you’re not robustly healthy in the first place, the last thing you need is something which makes it more difficult to get the benefit of the foods you ingest, conversely, if you are in great physiological condition, you probably don’t need extra help with your diet in the first place.

  5. Nice weblog right here! Also your site loads so fast! What web host are you
    using?

    I wish my website loaded up as quickly as yours lol

    • I don’t understand how I am wrong, maybe on the exact %, none really knows because it varies depending on the study or individual but the point is that its not a good conversion rate (by good I would say 70%+? I did say the ala to EPA/DHA conversions were low, whether it is 5 or 10% it is still not reliable l if your goal is to boost your EPA and DHA levels by taking flax seeds. If you are a vegetarian I can understand that it is a better option than fish for omega 3s, but if you eat meat than certainly fish oil supplements or eating fish is better and more reliable.

    • You’re correct. The writer of the article isn’t a biochemist.

      Those who are active and with high Vitamin A levels will convert more ALA into EPA/DHA since retinoic acid regulates the enzymes for the conversion. Physical activity upregulates our biochemistry.

      Omega 6 fatty acids aren’t inflammatory. They PROMOTE inflammation. Lipid peroxides aka lipid radicals in oils DO cause inflammation. The ratio science is made up nonsense by doctors and nutritionists that have no idea how the inflammatory response actually WORKS.

      • Feel free to link to research on pubmed or elsewhere that talks about vitamin A helping convert ALA… Also the entire argument I was making is that ALA is still poorly converted into DHA and EPA and it varies widely per individual, depending on sex & perhaps nutrition. It is still not a stable “dependent” source of EPHA/DHA until we have “at home kits” to test the ratio of omega 3 to 6 over many days, many individuals (including me before) were taking these thinking they were covering my bases for my daily omega 3 needs, they weren’t (unless I was very lucky on the conversion genetic pool)

  6. I’m sorry, but you have no clue what you’re talking about. Every cell membrane in the body is 50% fat, 50% protein. Of this 50% fat 25% is saturated fat, and the other 25% is two PARENT essential fats(ALA AND LA) in their ORIGINAL form- NOT in derivative form DHA/EPA. The only ESSENTIAL fat’s are ALA, and LA. DHA, and EPA aren’t essential, they are simply derivatives.. The body converts the PARENTS as needed. Now, they say we all are lacking the enzyme needed to convert the parents to the derivatives. FALSE. Guess how much DHA/EPA we actually require per day? 7mg! That’s all you need for the brain, eyes, etc etc. Essentially DHA/EPA isn’t concentrated anywhere else. What do you think happens when you take 1,000 to THOUSANDS of derivatives? Hm I wonder? Stop spreading your bs.

    Secondly, the phytic acid is a myth. Phytic acid is already bound to minerals. IP-6 has a high affinity for HEAVY METALS, free iron(it will not chelate iron from RBCS), and has no affinity for electrolytes we need like calcium. In order for IP-6 to chelate these minerals it must give up what it is already bound to. The minerals already bound will be freed and the IP-6 can chelate the heavy metals. As you can, if you pseudo-scientific paleo people actually studied the subjects in depth you would understand both of these topics.

    You, and many others are spreading very harmful misinformation.

    • 1) For the fatty acid claims and amount we need of EPA/DHA daily and its “parents” where do you have sources on how much is needed? I”m ok with your viewpoint but never heard about it elsewhere so please link to where you found that information.

      2) I never said phytic acid in itself is a problem, but that it makes the minerals that people think they are gaining by eating these foods not absorbed, or at least a much smaller % than what people believe (what is shown on the “box” is not what the body will absorb).

  7. If I soak chia in an acid, like apple cider vinegar or lime juice, will phytic acid be reduced? I know that traditionally they are consumed as chia fresca, which is chia and lime juice.

  8. hi, I’m kinda unnerved by the weird mould taste from my chia seeds think I got a dud pack? The frogspawn effect in my juice was really fun (lol don’t get out much!) but ffs mouldy taste no thanks

    • I wouldn’t start thinking ALA by itself is some kind of miracle to cure cancer based on one study, which is always very easy to find. For example, this study shows EPA and DHA can help prevent breast cancer. If you start taking things because X has been shown to “cure cancer” you’ll end up taking 20-50+ supplements a day, hoping that one of them will work based on a few studies for each. Cancer is obviously a serious long term concern for most of us but I think if you want to prevent cancer you are better off making significant lifestyle/nutrition changes (eat more veggies, less processed food, don’t take chemicals that have been shown to maybe promote cancer etc.). If one or a few supplements by itself would really prevent or cure cancer for everyone, we would have found it.

  9. Alex is getting a huge cut from the big pharma corporations,so keep listening to his advices and you are safe from the poisoned food,consume more drugs for a better health generation.

    • The point of the post is Chia Seeds aren’t as amazing as some people say and I don’t think everyone should make a big effort to take them all the time, in my case if I want fiber I will eat more vegetables and I prefer getting my omega 3’s from fish. Feel free to eat Chia Seeds, I don’t think they are “Bad” but I don’t see them having any unique benefits better than the alternatives if I want fiber or omega 3’s.

  10. Simply Misinformation, Chia seeds are a very healthy and healing superfood.

    Let’s break lies with truth.
    Chia seeds have a High Fiber content thats heals the digestive system by adding bulk to the foods we eat thus aiding in elimination. Also the fiber restores the digestive system by being a fuel source for pre-biotics then the prebiotics are a fuel source for the probiotics.

    A large portion of the body’s immune system is located in the digestive tract. Meaning that a restoration of our digestive tract is a restoration to our immune system and our whole body. With the immune system restored the body’s ability to fight abnormal cells & diseases is greatly increased due to the fact that our body’s immune system is the body’s main source of defending the body.

    Hope this information helps restore all who read it.

    • Did I ever write that fiber is not good ? No, of course it is, especially if someone does not eat much vegetables or other sources of fiber. However your choices of sources of fiber are not “chia seeds” or nothing else. If you are eating chia seeds to be healthy you are (hopefully) also eating a lot of vegetables which most likely will have all the fiber you need.

      If you are eating fast food/processed foods all day long and “supplement” yourself with some chia seeds everyday for fiber then sure its a good idea.

      This post does not say “chia seeds are BAD”. The point is that if you are eating healthy and minimal processed foods already, chia seeds don’t really have any unique benefits that I can see that are worth making sure to take everyday. If you enjoy the taste or like adding them to a smoothie or something then go ahead, I would prefer adding almonds or something else with nutrients and a enjoyable taste.

      • I don’t know how to start a new post so I”m ‘replying’ here. Please see Dr. Gregor’s YouTube video on phyates. Here he addresses the concern about phyates in nuts and seeds. Studies have shown that they actually help to *increase* bone strength (i.e. the phyates are not preventing absorption of calcium of foods eaten)

  11. Hey Alex. I thought you did a fairly decent job. I feel like I should say that, in contrast to what others were saying.

    The thing people should know is that there is not a lot of scientists involved in researching Lamiaceaes, Salvia columbariae and Salvia hispanica–chai. There are and have been a lot of people eating/drinking chai seeds. This does not, however, automatically make it healthy, otherwise we would believe McDonald’s was. I am not postulating whether they are or are not “good,” by the way, for those of you who read beyond that one sentence that does not bring sunshine and puppies into your heart(s).

    Alex, I think everything in moderation is a great point you made and that there might be other contributing sources for these good fats and other nutrients is smart. Variety is something we are missing out on.

    It might be a good idea to “soak” the seeds, it might. I am just going to throwing that out there.

  12. I am dairy free (well, I eat butter, but not milk, cream, cheese or yoghurt ) and the reason I am (newly) interested in chia seeds is that I have just discovered that they are EXTREMELY rich in calcium – more than twice as much as almonds (264 mg calcium per 100g) or flax seeds (255 mg per 100 g) for example. So Alex, I would say there is something special about chia seeds, as they have 631 mg of calcium per 100g.

    I know I could get loads of calcium from eating tins of sardines with the bones in (382 mg calcium per 100g) but I don’t really fancy doing that too often – when I eat protein I prefer to eat chicken lamb or beef etc, and they don’t contain much calcium. I also know that kale, broccoli and bok choi are all high in calcium, but it’s still not that easy to get enough calcium from just veggies – adults seem to need about 1000g calcium per day. For example, 100g of Kale gives you 150 mg calcium. The fact that the same weight (dry) of chia seeds gives you OVER FOUR TIMES AS MUCH calcium as kale, is quite impressive. Of course, the only problem is that one wouldn’t necessarily want to eat a huge pile of chia seeds. Still, I am keen to include chia seeds in my diet as part of my overall strategy to make sure I get enough calcium in my (largely) dairy free diet.

    However, having read all the above posts, I am still unclear about whether I need to soak the seeds overnight before eating them to make sure I can absorb the calcium … There seem to be conflicting views on this issue! All you super knowledgeable biochemists please tell me what to do! (And by the way I know I need to have vitamins A – retinol – D3 and K2 in order to regulate the calcium cycle in my body properly, as per The Calcium Paradox by Kate Rheaume Bleue.) Looking forward to reading your replies!

    • They do show to have a lot of calcium but I am not sure what % is actually absorbed by our body, I wish it was 50%+ but I think until I see studies that show otherwise it is even lower then that (because of the pytic acid that binds to it so the calcium never has a chance ot be absorbed by your body). I think soaking if anything would ONLY HELP the chance of a higher % of absorption, from studies on other grains such as alomonds, soaking does seem to de-activate some of the anti nutrients. So in this case I have no proof (it would be awesome if someone finds some study) but if you intend to eat Chia Seeds I think soaking can only help.

  13. I like the conversation. One week ago I went to a dentist to deal with a dental pain issue. My teeth on both sides of my mouth were becoming painful. Upon consultation of x-rays, the dentist showed that I had tooth deterioration inside the gum on the 2 teeth they looked at, and they recommended extraction then implementation of plugs with crowns. I think $8850 is what they quoted me.
    I had earlier learned that I could heal my teeth so I reengaged the subject and the issue of phytic acid was mentioned. I had indeed been eating a lot of grain and eating a lot of nuts. I re-balanced my diet eliminating them, and went toward a paleo diet (which I had not previously believed in) and my mouth is already pain free. Did I mention it took only a week?

  14. I find this extremely interesting. I love, love chia pudding, especially when cooked with eggs like a tapioca pudding. I used to eat a LOT of it, because I liked it so much and I thought it was healthy. I stopped eating it on a regular basis because I didn’t have the self control to stop at a reasonable serving and because it would cause constipation. What’s interesting, tho, is that I developed some digestive issues, like a mild case of leaky gut, during that time, as well as a sensitivity to dairy, which I’ve eaten all my life. I had never heard this connection before.

    • My arguments aren’t that flaxseed are bad, rather that its not great and whatever you need from flaxseed (fiber or omega 3, for example) can be had in better “quality” in other foods. If you need more fiber, eat more vegetables, if you want more omega 3, supplement or eat salmon each week. They don’t really taste good so I would only use them for the health benefits, personally I would rather use other foods that do the job better (and might taste better).

  15. I just bought my first (small) pack of Chia seed. On returning home, I did some research and happened upon this wonderful article.

    I did not buy the seed with intentions of making it a mainstay of my diet. I have read so much about Chia seed’s ability to absorb water and bought it for that reason.

    What is your opinion on the occasional, and moderate use of Chia seed as a preventative and treatment for watery stools? Should one expect any negative effects when used in this manner?

    • I think there shouldn’t be any negative effects, I don’t think Chia seeds are bad at all just that for some of the benefits people believe they get from them they can get better elsewhere. If Chia seeds can help to prevent watery stools for you then go for it! I would try eating more vegetables like brocoli if you haven’t however (since it should have much more fiber and also a different kind – maybe combine both)

  16. paleo bullshit.
    the study you reference was bias.
    the only down side of chia seeds is if one consumes A LOT.

  17. Regarding the ALA content of these seeds: Studies have shown vegetarians convert ALA to EPA and DHA at much higher rates than omnivores.

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