Chia seeds, water, lemon juice – bottoms up?
If you’ve taken to TikTok lately, you may have been served videos featuring this curious concoction that has a terrifying name: The Internal Shower.
To date, #internalshowerdrink has been linked to countless videos that have racked up over 7 million views. Thanks to the chia seeds’ highly fibrous properties, the gelatinous beverage is being touted for its ability to clear a blocked system and hailed as a detox after a weekend of drinking or indulging in junk food.
The viral recipe joins the rise in fibre-related posts that point to the essential nutrient making a wholesome comeback. But what’s lurking below the surface?
For starters, the trendy drink isn’t exactly new. “It’s based on a traditional Mexican drink, called ‘Agua de limon con chia,’” says Bri Beaudoin, a Vancouver-based cookbook author, food stylist and certified holistic nutritionist. “The main difference is that the internal shower recipe uses a much larger amount of chia seeds, resulting in a mixture that’s much thicker and gelatinous.”
Nutritionally speaking, the standalone ingredients have their merits.
“Hydration? Love it. Chia seeds are a good source of fibre and micronutrients. And, from a science standpoint, we know that lemon juice mainly just provides some flavor,” says Hannah Magee, a registered dietician from Halifax, NS, who under the handle @hannahmagee_rd regularly posts recipes and tips for healthy eating for her 33K TikTok followers.
However, it’s important to consider the sum of the parts here. “There’s this huge gut health trend on social media right now. And the way that I see the internal shower being promoted is similar to juice cleanses, detox drinks or weight loss teas,” says Magee. “It’s diet culture repackaged.”
Beaudoin also has conflicting feelings about the beverage, and the larger fibre trend.
“There are many people that would benefit from increasing their fibre intake, while also consuming more liquids, to help keep things moving,” she says.
But as anything that can go viral on social media, the trending recipe has been mixed up with misinformation.
“The trouble for me starts with how it’s often touted as a miracle cure with lofty health claims that aren’t backed by science,” says Beaudoin, “[It] is pitched as a one-size-fits-all ‘solution’— when the reality is, it’s definitely not for everyone.”
In fact, like many Internet trends, it should come with a “user beware” warning.
Calling for two tablespoons of chia seeds, the internal shower drink packs a 10 grams of fibre punch. That puts a dent in Health Canada’s daily recommendation for women who need 25 grams of fibre per day, and men who require 38 grams. “[It’s] a good percentage of that daily recommendation,” says Magee. “But if you are someone that already doesn’t eat enough [fibre], a significant amount at once can potentially cause some uncomfortable digestive symptoms, like bloating, cramping, or even diarrhea.”
While social media can be a great tool to deepen your understanding of health and wellness, and a resource for new meal ideas, this is a prime example that an all-access pass doesn’t guarantee a positive impact.
“I wonder if some people’s willingness to watch, share, [and] re-post this type of content could be a by-product of an unhealthy obsession with being ‘healthy,’” says Beaudoin. “The research on orthorexia, an eating disorder characterized by an obsession with healthy eating, is still in very early stages, but it’s possible that social media encourages social comparisons that could lead to disordered eating.”
This craze for fibre, after all, is just the latest chapter in Internet nutrition obsessions, which has ranged from acai berries to coconut oil.
A more balanced approach to a fibre boost is by upping your consumption of plant-based foods, including fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. “Dinner is usually a great place to start with, because it can be fairly easy to swap brown rice instead of white rice, [or] to add some roasted vegetables to the plate,” says Beaudoin. She shares recipes on her Evergreen Kitchen website, and her upcoming cookbook, Evergreen Kitchen: Weeknight Vegetarian Dinners for Everyone.
“Beans and legumes are also very fibrous,” adds Magee, “I love lentils, incorporating those into your meals would definitely help you increase your fibre intake.”
The only watch out is to go slow, gradually increasing fibre-based foods, and to top up your water intake too. “We need water as well because [it] lubricates our digestive system. If we don’t have that, constipation, or cramping [can occur] because things aren’t moving along smoothly with that fibre,” says Magee.
Though keeping you regular is fibre’s big claim to fame, there are plenty of other reasons to add more of it to your diet. “Beyond maintaining bowel health, fibre helps regulate blood sugar levels, keeps you feeling full after a meal, and may play a role in energy balance,” says Beaudoin.
It also impacts the gut microbiome. “We know it can help lower cholesterol levels, which is important for heart health, and when fibre gets to the large intestine it gets fermented by our gut bacteria, which produces short chain fatty acids that are important for preventing colon cancer and reducing inflammation in the gut,” says Magee.
And chia seeds are still fair game! As a source of fibre, fatty acids, micronutrients and protein, Magee and Beaudoin are big fans but suggest starting out with a small amount and seeking alternative recipes to the internal shower. Chia seed pudding is a more palatable go-to, for example.
And while it’s fibre having a moment in the spotlight now, it’s only a matter of time before the next healthy hack floods your feed. Be prepared to take it with a grain of salt.
“I do hope that people recognize that viral trends, by nature, tend to be quite extreme. It doesn’t have to be true to go viral,” Beaudoin says.
“Translating online tips to your real-life should take some critical thinking and personal modifications, and do know it’s totally fine to just scroll right on by if it doesn’t serve you.”