What Is Flaxseed Good For?
Out of all the superfoods in the world today, flaxseed (Linum usitatissimum) may be one of the most ancient, going all the way back to 8,000 B.C. Historians discovered flaxseed remains in Stone Age dwellings in Switzerland, and ancient Egyptians were believed to use it to manufacture linen.1
During the 8th century, Charlemagne liked flaxseed so much that he created laws that required his subjects to consume it.2 Eventually, the plant reached the United States in North Dakota during the 1800s when the early European settlers moved westward.3
Flaxseed comes from flax, a plant that blooms blue flowers, and is primarily found in the Canadian prairies and the Northern United States.4 The plant has an interesting life cycle, because its flowers only last for a day, but it can produce dozens of blossoms in the course of a month.
Afterward, the seedpods grow into the size of a pea, turn green into gold, and the plant subsequently dries out and dies.5 Despite its short existence, flax (and its seed, in particular) has been known to possess health benefits that may allow you to enjoy life better.
The Health Benefits of Flaxseed
With such a rich history of use in various cultures throughout the world, flaxseed has captured the curiosity of modern science. Through research, scientists have discovered that the health claims made hundreds of years ago may actually be true, such as:
• Boosting Your Heart Health and Controlling Inflammation
Flaxseed is one of the best sources of alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), a plant-based omega-3 fatty acid that may benefit your health in several ways.6 Several animal studies have shown that ALA may help prevent cholesterol deposits from forming in the blood vessels, reduce inflammation in the arteries and reduce tumor growth.7, 8
• Potentially Reducing Your Risk of Cancer
Flaxseed contains lignans, a plant compound that has antioxidant and estrogen properties, which may help reduce your risk of cancer.10 What makes flaxseed great in this aspect is that it contains up to 75 to 800 times more lignans compared to other fruits and vegetables.11
In one study involving 6,000 female participants, researchers suggested that those who consumed flaxseed were 18 percent less likely to develop breast cancer.12, 13 In another study, 15 men who ate 30 grams of flaxseed per day had reduced levels of prostate cancer biomarkers, suggesting a lower risk of prostate cancer.14
• Enhancing Overall Digestive Health
One tablespoon of flaxseed contains 3 grams of dietary fiber.15 Furthermore, flaxseed contains both soluble (20 to 40 percent) and insoluble (60 to 80 percent) fiber.
Soluble fiber is crucial as it can help maintain blood sugar and cholesterol levels, as well as feed the good bacteria in your gut.16, 17 On the other hand, insoluble fiber can help maintain digestive health by binding water to your stools, allowing them to pass through your intestines quicker. This effect can help lower your risk of constipation, as well as irritable bowel syndrome and diverticular disease.18
• Optimizing Your Overall Health
Flaxseed contains a diverse mixture of vitamins such as E, K, C, B1, B2, B3, B5 and B6. As for minerals, flaxseed has calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus and iron.19 All of these are essential to maintaining various functions in your body and supporting your overall wellbeing.
The Various Ways to Use Flaxseed
Flaxseed is mainly used in cooking due to its healthy fats, vitamins, minerals and fiber. If you’re just starting out with flaxseed, the table below contains suggestions on how you can incorporate flaxseed into your diet:20, 21
✓ Use flaxseed in place of breadcrumbs in various recipes
✓ Use as an egg replacement for pudding dishes
✓ Add to smoothies for additional flavor and fiber
✓ Enhance the nutritional profile of your soups without changing the flavor
✓ As a garnish on salads
✓ Pour flaxseed into your favorite sauces to make them thicker
✓ Add to hummus to modify the taste while adding extra nutrients
✓ Mix flaxseed into your yogurt to enhance the flavor and add more nutrients
Super Boost Power Smoothie Recipe
An easy way of obtaining the healthy fats and the other nutrients from flaxseed is to add it in a smoothie. You can try this recipe, which contains a mixture of other healthy ingredients, such as grass fed milk, blueberries, banana and lemon juice to give you the essential vitamins and minerals you need for the day.
✓ 2 tablespoons of flaxseeds
✓ 4 cups of raw, grass fed milk
✓ 1 large banana
✓ 2 tablespoons of whey protein powder or 4 pasture-raised eggs
✓ 1 tablespoon of bee pollen
✓ 1/4 cup of almond butter
✓ 1 teaspoon of spirulina
✓ 1 cup of organic blueberries
✓ 1-inch piece of fresh ginger
✓ 2 teaspoons of lemon juice
✓ 2 fluid ounces of aloe vera juice
✓ 2 cups of filtered water
Place all ingredients into a blender. Mix until smooth.
Follow These Reminders Before Using Flaxseed Oil
One popular derivative of flaxseed is flaxseed oil. While most of flaxseed’s benefits are found in this product, I recommend that you either consume whole flaxseed or use other oils instead, especially for cooking, because flaxseed oil has a delicate and easily oxidized nature.
Heating flaxseed oil past 225 degrees Fahrenheit breaks down the omega-3 fatty acids, causing you to lose the health benefits, as well as the flavor and fragrance. If you still wish to incorporate flaxseed oil into your diet, you can add it into dishes such as salads and soups, but only at the end of the cooking process.
You will know if flaxseed oil has gone rancid when it gives off a slightly bitter odor similar to old, cooked oil. Other indicators of rancidity include a strong, unpleasant, burnt-like taste. High-quality flaxseed oil should be clear, golden yellow and has no cloudiness, and the bottle must not allow light to reach the oil to prevent the product from going bad.
Potential Side Effects of Flaxseed
There are several side effects associated with the consumption of flaxseed. Commonly reported examples include:22, 23
- Allergies: Flaxseed and flaxseed oil may cause an allergic reaction when consumed. You may develop hives, itchy palms, eyes and possibly nausea and vomiting. Digestive pain has also been reported.
- Hypoglycemia: Flaxseed may lower your blood sugar levels to an alarming level, especially when it is mixed with diabetic medication.
- Stool problems: The high amount of fiber in flaxseed may increase the frequency of your bowel movements. Be sure to limit your use of flaxseed in your recipes.
Nutritional Profile of Flaxseed
With its diverse fats, vitamins and minerals, flaxseed has many potential benefits for your health. The table below provides a good overview of flaxseed’s nutritional profile aside from those already mentioned:
|Calories from Fat||363|
|Total Fat||42.2 g||65%|
|Saturated Fat||3.7 g||18%|
|Total Carbohydrates||28.9 g||10%|
|Dietary Fiber||27.3 g||109%|
|Vitamin A 0%||Vitamin C||1%|
*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
Before Buying Flaxseed, Remember These Tips
Flaxseed and flaxseed oil are readily available products due to their popularity. However, there are some things you need to know before buying either of the two to ensure you’re consuming a safe product. When it comes to flaxseed, it’s better to buy whole seeds and grind them at home using a spice or a coffee grinder. That’s because pre-ground flaxseed is more prone to rancidity, which can compromise the quality of the product.24
You can still buy pre-ground flaxseed if you don’t have a grinder, but be sure to store it in a freezer immediately.25 If you’re going to buy flaxseed oil, make sure that the container has opaque packaging, because light can destroy the nutrients and cause the oil to degrade.26
- 1 Journal of Food Science and Technology, 2014 Sep;51(9):1633-1653
- 2 WedMD, “The Benefits of Flaxseed”
- 3 North Dakota State University, “Flax”
- 4 HealthyFlax.org, “What Is Flax?”
- 5 Mother Earth Living, “Herb to Know: Flax”
- 6 See reference 1
- 7 American Journal of Physiology: Heart and Circulatory Physiology, 2013 June 15;304(12):H1743-51
- 8 The Canadian Journal of Cardiology, 2010 Nov; 26(9):489-96
- 9 Journal of Food Science and Technology, 2015 Apr;52(4):1857-1871
- 10 Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, 2007 Feb;16(2):256-62
- 11 See reference 9
- 12 Cancer Causes & Control, 2013 Apr;24(4):813-6
- 13 Authority Nutrition, “Top 10 Health Benefts of Flaxseeds” April 26, 2017
- 14 Urology, 2004 May;63(5):900-4
- 15 HealthyFlax.org, “Flax and Your Health”
- 16 Nutrition & Metabolism, 2012 Feb 3;9:8
- 17 Gastroenterology & Hepatology, 2013 Sep;9(9):560-9
- 18 See reference 9
- 19 SelfNutritionData,”Seeds, Flaxseed”
- 20 Don’t Waste the Crumbs, “18 Ways to Use Flaxseed” August 12, 2016
- 21 SFGate, “What Are Flaxseeds Used for & How Should You Use Them?”
- 22 Mayo Clinic, “Flaxseed and Flaxseed Oil (Linum Usitatissimum)”
- 23 Style Craze, “10 Serious Side Effects of Flax Seeds” April 28, 2017
- 24 See reference 23
- 25 See reference 23
- 26 Bon Appétit, “All About Flaxseed, the Nutrient-Packed Seed You Should Be Eating” July 8, 2015