Do we really need to soak chia seeds?

clear drinking glass with red liquid inside

Do you really need to soak chia seeds? Why is there so much fear anchored around these tiny little nutritious seeds?

Chia seeds are a wonderful and super nutritious food to be including in your bubs diet. They are safe to include as soon as you start solids too. They are known for their omega 3, protein, calcium, zinc and B6, which are all nutrients that contribute to bub’s growth and development. (1, 2) We also can’t forget about the fibre, which is so beneficial for digestion.

Chia seeds and choking risk

You have likely heard though that you need to soak chia seeds, so they aren’t a choking hazard. Some people say 30 minutes is enough and others say overnight. Chia seeds can expand anywhere from 10-30 times their original size when they are in liquid, and they can also clump together and become very sticky (1,2).

When you google chia seeds and choking risk many websites discuss how chia seeds can rapidly expand when they touch liquid and can be a choking hazard. They all seem to refer to the same case study of a 39 year old man that presented to ED unable to swallow his own saliva. As things became worse, he was sedated and it then proved very difficult to resolve the chia seed blockage because of the gel like texture. He was okay in the end and the blockage was removed. It is worth noting here that he swallowed a tablespoon of raw chia seeds and followed this with a glass of water.

Now there are a few important things to consider here. This is the only reported case of this nature. The man also swallowed a decent amount of raw chia seeds, that had not been mixed into anything, and then swallowed a large amount of water. Beyond, this there is no research to show the dangers of raw chia seeds.  Now there is one more really critical bit of information that every website we have looked at has not mentioned (probably because so many just copy info without looking at the references!).

The case study from 2014 that triggered this advice is looking at a patient that “had a long history of intermittent dysphagia to solids which had worsened over the preceding 2 weeks”. (3) Dysphagia is a medical condition, and it means that someone has a problem with their swallowing. This particular patient had this condition and a stricture. Here a stricture is the narrowing of the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach. It was this narrowing that resulted in the formation of a blockage. This is the first, and to our knowledge the only, reported case of its kind. The advice from the specific case study simply advises cautionof the use of raw chia seeds, especially in the dry form.(3) So be careful, especially if you have swallowing difficulties, but it did not say chia seeds should never be eaten raw.

So, the question is, is this one case study on someone with a medical condition that makes them prone to blockages enough to have a blanket recommendation that all chia seeds must be soaked?

No. It isn’t. When we provide advice and any sort of rule that says you must do something, it really needs to be based off good quality and substantial evidence. There is however, reason to be cautious with large amounts of raw or even soaked chia seeds for babies. They can form clumps that can be harder to swallow.

So, when it comes to choking hazards and blockages, we suggest you soak chia seeds if you are using a lot, but a sprinkle of raw chia, especially mixed through something else like porridge or on avo toast isn’t something to be worried about.

How about constipation?

When you search online you see lots of people claiming that chia seeds cause digestive issues and constipation. This claim appears to come off the back of the idea that too much fibre can cause constipation (which is true) combined with the fact that chia seeds are indeed high in fibre. There is about 3-5g of fibre in one tablespoon of chia seeds. Now, there is no daily recommended intake for fibre for children under 12 months, but from 1-3 years the recommended adequate intake is 14g per day. For reference, for adults it is 25g for women and 30g for men per day. However, most adults in Australia do not come close to having enough fibre!

Too much fibre in your little one’s diet can cause constipation- it can be a tricky balance. Chia seeds are filled with soluble fibre, this is the type that absorbs water, which is why they swell so much, and this is especially good for constipation. Soaked chia seeds are well known for helping move stubborn bowel motions along. So we know soaked chia is great for resolving constipation, but does serving them raw cause it? It could, but you would need to be serving them raw in excess. Again, there is no quality evidence to support the idea that serving them raw causes constipation in babies.

The more likely culprit of constipation in bubs is probably from not having enough fluid, not enough fibre and some kiddos just have slow transit times for their bowel movement (4).

The take home:

Do you HAVE to soak chia seeds all the time? No, you don’t. If you are serving more than a sprinkle or not mixing it through food, then yes, it is probably a very good idea to soak them so they are easy to swallow. Anything that can stick together and become claggy or hard to swallow should be avoided. This means that if you are serving more than a sprinkle and aren’t soaking them then they should be mixed through food well so they can’t clump together. If you are struggling with constipation, then soaking them can help with this.


  2. Ullah R, Nadeem M, Khalique A, Imran M, Mehmood S, Javid A, Hussain J. Nutritional and therapeutic perspectives of Chia (Salvia hispanica L.): a review. J Food Sci Technol. 2016 Apr;53(4):1750-8. doi: 10.1007/s13197-015-1967-0. Epub 2015 Oct 1. PMID: 27413203; PMCID: PMC4926888.
  3. Rawl, Rebecca MD, MPH; Browne, Lauren MD. Watch It Grow: Esophageal Impaction With Chia Seeds: 833. American Journal of Gastroenterology 109():p S244-S245, October 2014.