Chia seeds are one of the top plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids, and they're packed with calcium, iron and fiber. But they pose one potential danger: They can get stuck in your throat if you eat them dry. Gastrointestinal problems are another side effect to watch out for. In addition, chia seeds can interact with medications, so talk to your health care provider to be sure they're safe for you.
Dry chia seeds can absorb up to 27 times their weight in water, according to the American College of Gastroenterology. As they soak up saliva in your mouth, they expand into a gelatinlike mass, which can get stuck in the back of your throat. Depending on how many dry seeds you pop into your mouth, they can become impacted and hard to remove. While anyone could encounter this problem, people who have a hard time swallowing should be especially careful when they eat chia seeds. You can avoid the problem by letting the seeds soak in water before eating them.
Fiber is one of the benefits of chia seeds, with 1 tablespoon containing about 5 grams of fiber or 19 percent of the daily value based on consuming 2,000 calories daily. If you’re accustomed to eating fiber, a serving of chia seeds may not be a problem. On the other hand, increasing your fiber intake by 5 grams may create an uncomfortable amount of gas until your body adjusts to digesting the extra fiber, according to the University of Michigan. Most of the fiber in chia seeds is the insoluble type, which causes cramps and diarrhea when you eat too much.
Risk of Bleeding
Chia seeds are rich sources of alpha-linolenic acid, or ALA, which is an essential omega-3 fatty acid. One tablespoon of seeds provides an entire day's recommended intake of ALA for men and double the daily intake for women. For most people this is a big nutritional benefit, but it could increase the risk of excessive bleeding if you take blood-thinning medications, reports the University of Maryland Medical Center. Consult your physician before consuming chia seeds if you're on this type of medication.
Interactions and Allergies
Avoid chia seeds if you take medications used to treat diabetes, lower cholesterol or reduce high blood pressure because the seeds interact with the medications. Some sources report you have a higher risk of developing a chia allergy if you're already allergic to sesame or mustard seeds. However, this has not been proved, and scientists are still uncertain about whether chia seeds cause any type of allergic reaction, notes the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.
Association With Cancer
The high alpha-linolenic content in chia seeds is sometimes associated with an increased risk of prostate cancer. However, studies so far have not produced conclusive results, according to a report in Food and Chemical Toxicology in August 2014.
An earlier review, published in March 2010 in Cancer Causes and Control, reported a weak association between dietary ALA intake and the risk of prostate cancer. Both studies noted that more research is needed to determine whether ALA has any impact on prostate cancer risk.
- American College of Gastroenterology: Watch It Grow: Esophageal Impaction With Chia Seeds
- USDA National Nutrient Database: Seeds, Chia Seeds, Dried
- University of Michigan: High Fiber Diet
- Linus Pauling Institute: Essential Fatty Acids
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Possible Interactions With Alpha-Linolenic Acid (ALA)
- Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center: Chia
- American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology: Cross Reactivity Between Sesame and Flaxseed, and Sesame and Salba
- Food and Chemical Toxicology: Alpha-Linolenic Acid: Nutraceutical, Pharmacological and Toxicological Evaluation
- Cancer Causes and Control: Prospective Studies of Dietary Alpha-Linolenic Acid Intake and Prostate Cancer Risk: A Meta-Analysis
- National Science Research Institute: Chia Seed -- Salvia Hispanica L. Technical Sheet
- Photo Credit amanda kerr/iStock/Getty Images
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