Is chia seeds safe to eat during pregnancy?

Some people wonder if it’s safe to eat chia seeds while pregnant or breastfeeding. During these times, these tiny seeds are healthy and nutritious, and can offer many health benefits.

Chia seeds come from Salvia hispanica, a native Central American herb in the mint family. Chia seeds were a staple food for the Aztecs, and believed to increase energy and endurance.

Chia seeds are popular today, present in foods from breakfast dishes to desserts. They absorb their weight in water several times to develop a consistency similar to that of the gel.

In this post, we discuss the possible benefits and risks of consuming chia seeds during pregnancy and after it.

Chia seeds are a good source of omega-3s.
Chia seeds are a good source of omega-3s.

Benefits

Chia seeds can be a healthful addition to the diet for the following reasons:

Omega-3s

Omega-3s constitute essential fatty acids. That means the body needs to consume them from the diet to stay healthy.

These fatty acids help combat inflammation, which can be beneficial to the body by staying off heart disease, diabetes and depression.

Omega-3s are particularly important during pregnancy, as they support the development of fetal brain. Evidence suggests omega-3s often reduce premature birth risks.

Chia seeds are one of the best plant sources of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega-3 type.

However, most clinical research on the effects of omega-3s during pregnancy did not focus exclusively on ALA but on other forms, such as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

While conversion rates are relatively low, the body converts ALA to EPA and DHA: usually less than 15 percent. Hence, supplementing the ALA from chia seeds with other omega-3s, such as those in fish-or algae-based supplements is a good idea.

Calcium

Each ounce of chia seeds— about 2 table spoons — contains 179 milligrams (mg) of calcium. This is about 18 per cent of the recommended calcium dietary allowance (RDA) for a pregnant woman, which is about 1,000 mg per day.

Calcium is particularly important during pregnancy because it helps the baby’s teeth and bones grow.

Having enough calcium can also reduce the risk of preeclampsia, a complication of pregnancy that is marked by high blood pressure and damage to liver and kidney. Untreated preeclampsia can have severe or fatal consequences for both mother and child.

Other nutrients and antioxidants

Seeds from chia are a rich source of many nutrients, some of which act as antioxidants. Antioxidants can have several advantages, including cancer risk reduction and premature ageing.

Antioxidants may also help prevent side effects during pregnancy.

For example, research indicates that deficiencies in some of the antioxidants found in chia seeds— such as zinc, selenium, and manganese — that increase the risk of preeclampsia and fetal growth restriction. Such defects can also raise the risk of adult diseases, including diabetes and heart disease.

Accordingly, consuming chia seeds and other foods rich in antioxidants can reduce those risks.

Other nutrients in chia seeds, such as magnesium, are also beneficial during pregnancy. Consuming enough magnesium may, for example, protect the baby from developing eczema, an itchy and painful skin condition.

Each ounce (about 2 tablespoons) of chia seeds contains:

Hunger prevention

Chia seeds are a good source of protein and fiber, with 4.7 grams (g) and 9.8 g in each ounce, respectively.

Chia seeds also consume a large amount of water. Coupled with high protein and fiber content, this absorption helps chia seeds to help people feel fuller for longer.

This is particularly important during pregnancy, when nausea and hormone changes can trigger hunger increases.

Blood sugar regulation

The fiber and protein contents of chia seeds may help control blood glucose levels.

This, in turn, may help prevent gestational diabetes, a type of diabetes that develops during pregnancy and affects 2–5% of pregnant women.

Relief from constipation

Constipation is a common complication of pregnancy, because fluctuating hormones can lead to digestive distress.

Meanwhile, doing less physical activity and having a low-fibre diet — mostly leading to nausea and vomiting — can improve constipation.

Chia seeds, which are high in fibre, may help prevent or mitigate this issue

Risk

Chia seeds are a food which is relatively low in risk. Complications can occur though, if people eat too many seeds.

In some cases, consuming water-absorbing foods with high fiber levels— such as chia seeds — can cause discomfort in the stomach, and even diarrhea or constipation.

Anyone who takes medication to control their blood sugar should also consult with a doctor before adding more chia seed to their diet. Because the seeds can reduce blood sugar, when combined with medication, they may lower the levels too much.

Soak the chia seeds before eating them and consume them in moderation to reduce these risks. A person probably should not eat more than one ounce of the seeds a day.

Breastfeeding

During breastfeeding Chia seeds may provide additional benefits.

To produce breast milk the body needs an extra 450–500 calories every day. An ounce of chia seeds can add 138 calories while fiber and protein from the seeds can help with digestion and satiety.

Mother’s nutrients move through the milk to the baby so it is important to consume nutritious foods when breastfeeding.

Research indicates that consuming chia oil may increase the DHA content in milk during the last 3 months of pregnancy and the first 3 months of breastfeeding. DHA is important to the development of the infant brain.

Other nutrients in chia seeds-such as calcium-may also make their way through breast milk to babies.

How to include them in the diet

Chia seeds can be easy to incorporate into any diet, in part because they are relatively flavorless.

A person could try a chia-focused dish, such as a chia pudding, or simply add some seeds to:

  • breakfast cereals or oatmeal
  • yogurt
  • rice dishes
  • vegetable dishes
  • sauces, as a thickener
  • baked goods, as an egg substitute

Summary

Chia seeds are nutritious, and are safe for consumption during pregnancy or breastfeeding.

There are very few risks involved, but eating no more than 1 ounce of the seeds a day may be a good idea.

Anyone with questions or concerns about the consumption of chia seeds should speak to a dietitian or doctor.

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