Are Chia Seeds Permitted on The Paleo Diet?

Chia Seeds | The Paleo Diet

Hello Dr. Cordain,

Are there any negative effects associated with chia seeds which would make them inappropriate in The Paleo Diet?

Thank you.

Dr. Cordain’s Response:

Good question. I would imagine that many of our readers have never even heard of chia seeds much less eaten them. Chia seeds (Salvia hispanica L.) are a member of the Labiatae plant family and are native to southern Mexico and northern Guatemala. The seeds are small, oval shaped; either black or white colored and resemble sesame seeds. These seeds were cultivated as a food crop for thousands of years in this region by the Aztecs and other native cultures. Chia seeds can be consumed in a variety of ways including roasting and grinding the seeds into a flour known as Chianpinolli which can then become incorporated into tortillas, tamales, and various beverages. The roasted ground seeds were traditionally consumed as a semi-fluid mucilaginous gruel (Pinole) when water is added to the flour. In post-Columbian times the most popular use of chia flour was to make a refreshing beverage in which the ratio of seeds to water is decreased, thereby resulting in a less gelatinous consistency to which lemon, sugar or fruit juice are added. The sticky consistency of chia seed Pinole or chia beverages comes from a clear mucilaginous, polysaccharide gel that remains tightly bound to the seeds. This sticky gel forms a physical barrier which may impair digestion and absorption of fat from the seed while also causing a low protein digestibility.

In the past 20 years a revival of interest in chia seeds has occurred primarily because of their high fat content of about 25-39% by weight, of which 50-57% is the therapeutic omega-3 fatty acid and alpha linolenic acid (ALA). In the past 10 years chia seeds have been used as a foodstuff for animals to enrich their eggs and meat with omega-3 fatty acids. So I wholeheartedly approve of feeding chia seeds to animals and then eating the omega-3 fatty acid enriched meat or eggs of these animals.

How about feeding chia seeds to humans – should we consume chia seeds because of their high omega-3 fatty acid (ALA) content? The Table below shows the entire nutrient profile of chia seeds. At least on paper, it would appear that chia seeds are a nutritious food that is not only high in ALA, but also is a good source of protein, fiber, certain B vitamins, calcium, iron and manganese.

Unfortunately, the devil is always in the details…


Loren Cordain, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus

About Loren Cordain, PhD, Professor Emeritus

Loren Cordain, PhD, Professor EmeritusDr. Loren Cordain is Professor Emeritus of the Department of Health and Exercise Science at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado. His research emphasis over the past 20 years has focused upon the evolutionary and anthropological basis for diet, health and well being in modern humans. Dr. Cordain’s scientific publications have examined the nutritional characteristics of worldwide hunter-gatherer diets as well as the nutrient composition of wild plant and animal foods consumed by foraging humans. He is the world’s leading expert on Paleolithic diets and has lectured extensively on the Paleolithic nutrition worldwide. Dr. Cordain is the author of six popular bestselling books including The Real Paleo Diet Cookbook, The Paleo Diet, The Paleo Answer, and The Paleo Diet Cookbook, summarizing his research findings.

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“20” Comments

  1. Read the original book he wrote, it has all the chemistry spelled out in detail. You can get it at the library. Not that you will have the capacity to read it since you find the “don’t consume it” advice so hard to digest, (funny)

  2. From Dr. Cordain:
    -“Chia Seeds contain antinutrients, so that once in your body, the available calcium, iron,
    zinc, magnesium and manganese from chia seeds are poorly absorbed, hence making
    chia seeds a poor dietary source for these minerals.”
    -“Chia seed consumption may contain one or more antinutrients which may promote
    chronic low level inflammation.”
    -“In addition, it is possible that other antinutrients found
    in chia seeds may adversely affect gut tissue including saponins which cause a “leaky gut”. When this occurs, the gut contents may then have access to the
    immune system which in turn becomes activated thereby causing a chronic low
    level systemic inflammation.”
    Dr. Cordain sums up by stating, “Until further human studies are conducted, I would be cautious in
    recommending chia seeds for human consumption, particularly in people with food
    allergies or known autoimmune diseases.”
    So- keep the chia seeds for your Chia Pet (do they still sell those? : ) and OUT of your body!

  3. I am not sure if there is an answer that will fit everyone but after reading these articles and listening to my body (I have many digestion issues and food allergies, discovering the Paleo changed my life…for the better) I would say that chia seeds are not PALEO friendly. I tried to add them in to my diet (15g/day) this week and have spent the entire week feeling bloated, stuffed and unwell. I personally will not be eating them anymore.

  4. This is so annoying…the man can never give a straight answer. Makes you wonder if his books are this bland and purposefully vague.

  5. Chia seeds are an unprocessed, whole-grain food that can be absorbed by the body as seeds (unlike flaxseeds). I see patients that make a drink for colon health out of the Chia seeds. One ounce (about 2 tablespoons) contains 139 calories, 4 grams of protein, 9 grams fat, 12 grams carbohydrates and 11 grams of fiber, plus vitamins and minerals. But, kind of high on the calories. I don’t see how it would be included in a diet that avoids foods like grains, breads, wheat, corn, etc. It’s been around for ages so I wouldn’t be surprised if the cavemen ate them but maybe they’re better off on your Barack Obama Chia Pet. I dunno.

    • I have been eating a very high quality chia seed (brand name Mila) for about 2.5 years. I feel great! The Omega 3s provide a great anti-inflammatory solution (no more Advil for sports injuries) and are magnificent in giving clarity of mind and well-being. I have friends who have avoided minor surgery and others who have MS, who are benefiting greatly. It is important to soak the seeds for 5-10 minutes and consume a “cut” seed, such as Mila. The whole seed is not easily digested and does not release many of the nutrients the seed has to offer.

  6. I would also appreciate if you could lay it out in common terms. I don’t quite understand the chart. I don’t know if it’s is good or bad just by looking at the chart. If you have time to clarify the devil and the details and all that, I would SO appreciate it. Thanks in advance. I love this site.

  7. I second the unclear details of the article. Assuming that I’ve never heard anything commonplace about the nutritious aspects of Chia seeds, I will continue to make the choice to use the product. It acts as dietary fiber and you can’t beat that!! I either put them into my protein drink in the morning but mostly pour about two tablespoons of seeds into a small bowl. Sometimes I will add flaxseed powder to that. Add room temperature filtered water to fill half the small bowl or small container and let it stand for about 5-10 minutes. The Chia seeds/flax seeds or powder forms a gelatinized consistency and you drink that down. It will almost form a gelatin sort-of like psyllium seeds do. Drink it down. I often follow that with a cup of plain hot water. By the end of the day…bacteria and toxins “out”….if you know what I mean and it also depends on the speed of your system. Chia seeds is a fiber and can’t be all that bad. You will also find them in many drinks over the counter as well. There are many ways they are good for you. The way I described above is how I use them daily. The gelatin pulls toxins from the walls of the colon and helps the liver do less work in the clearing process.

  8. Pingback: La Revue du Net Paleo #40 | Paléo Lifestyle

  9. I’m still not clear on your conclusion. You start with ‘but feeding to humans …’, talk about nutrient content, and then say ‘unfortunately the devil is in the details’ but don’t expand on the devil or the details. To me devil in details implies you found something to indicate it shouldn’t be consumed my humans. But you don’t say that. Could you give a definitive yes or no, or does this remain a grey area??

  10. I’m still not clear on your conclusion. You start with ‘but feeding to humans …’, talk about nutrient content, and then say ‘unfortunately the devil is in the details’ but don’t expand on the devil or the details. To me devil in details implies you found something to indicate it shouldn’t be consumed my humans. But you don’t say that. Could you give a definitive yes or no, or does this remain a grey area??

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