Flaxseeds are a nutrient power house that are packed with fiber, omega 3’s and lignans that give many health benefits to the body.
Flaxseeds have been used for centuries for its medicinal qualities, and researchers continue to unfold the benefits of the flaxseed.
Omega 3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory and may help protect against diseases like cardiovascular disease, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), cancer and neurodegenerative diseases. Americans typically don’t get enough omega 3’s in the diet and get too many pro-inflammatory foods which include vegetable oils high in linoleic acid (LA).
Foods like fatty fish, walnuts and flaxseeds are high in omega 3 fatty acids. Flaxseeds contain a type of omega 3 acid called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). The ALA found in flaxseeds gives them anti-inflammatory qualities that can protect cells from damage caused by pollution, high intake of omega 6 fatty acids, strenuous exercise, etc.
A phytochemical in flaxseeds called lignan is another powerful source of antioxidants. Lignans are found in other foods like legumes, seeds and berries, but flaxseeds have one of the highest concentrations of lignans.
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The ALA in flaxseeds is also known to help lower risk from heart disease. The University of Maryland Medical Center suggests that people who have a diet rich in ALA may be less likely to have a fatal heart attack.
Flaxseeds are rich in soluble and insoluble fiber, and the soluble fiber in flaxseeds can help lower cholesterol. Soluble fiber is also found in oats, legumes and most fruits and vegetables.
Besides helping with cholesterol, fiber from flaxseeds can also help regulate digestive health. A diet rich in insoluble fiber can help regulate bowel movements regularly. Other sources of insoluble fiber include whole grains, nuts and vegetables.
Soluble fiber found in flaxseeds can help with glucose regulation. Soluble fiber can help delay the release of carbohydrates from the colon into the blood after eating. This is beneficial for potential type 2 diabetes prevention and aiding in keeping blood sugar levels stable.
More research is needed for the role in flaxseeds, specifically the lignans, and how it relates to cancer prevention and treatment. Lignans can have an estrogen like effect in the body, which may or may not be beneficial for those with breast, ovarian or uterine cancers.
According to the American Cancer Society, some research suggests flaxseeds could have a protective effect of developing certain cancers like breast or prostate. Animal studies show a benefit from flaxseed, but human studies have had conflicting results.
More research needs to be done to determine the protective effect of flax and cancers and contraindications to taking flaxseeds while having cancer.
Best form of flaxseed and how much
Add flaxseed in creative ways to your diet so you can benefit from the health benefits of flaxseeds. Most health professionals recommend to use flaxseed meal, which is ground up flaxseeds, instead of eating whole flaxseeds. The reason to use meal over whole seeds is humans are able to absorb more nutrients from ground up flaxseed.
If you have whole flaxseeds, you can grind them yourself with a coffee grinder.
Start by incorporating 1-2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed per day and increase if desired to 3-4 tablespoons per day. Make sure to drink a lot of water when taking flaxseed, as the fiber in flaxseed needs fluid to function properly.
Ways to use flaxseed
Adding flaxseed to your diet can be easy. You can add a tablespoon to a smoothie, oatmeal, yogurt and on top of salads. Add ground flaxseed to casseroles, stir fries or in soups. Flaxseed has a mild, nutty flavor that can usually go unnoticed.
You can use flaxseed oil in a salad dressing, but cooking with flaxseed oil is usually not recommended.
Adding flaxseed to your diet is generally safe, but taking flaxseed with some health conditions or medications may be contraindicated. If you have breast, uterine, ovarian or prostate cancer, talk to a health professional before adding flaxseed to your diet. If you are on blood thinners, medicine for diabetes or on hormone therapy, talk with a health professional before adding flaxseed to your diet.
Do not take raw or immature flaxseed or flaxseed oil as this can be poisonous. Make sure flaxseeds are mature and any supplements are fit for human consumption.
Flaxseeds have many health benefits, mainly attributed to their fiber, omega 3 and lignan content. Some health benefits include anti-inflammatory, heart health, digestive health, glucose regulation and possible cancer protection, although more research is needed with cancer.
Suggested serving size for ground flaxseeds is around 1-3 tablespoons per day. Whenever increasing fiber intake, make sure to increase fluid intake. Talk with a health professional before taking flaxseeds if you are on medication or have a health condition.
References used in this article