What Is Flaxseed?
Flaxseed is a wondrous little seed with an abundant amount of health benefits…
So much so, that you can find this seed in nearly every regional diet dating back to as far as 2500 years or longer. Flaxseed is one of the oldest fiber crops – its roots for cultivation trace all the way back to ancient China and Egypt. The ancient Egyptians would not only use flaxseed as a food, it was even used for medicinal purposed. Surely something that has been around that was used for nutrition and medicine must be a good thing, right?
Over the years, flaxseed has gathered a big following among health gurus as well as folks just trying to make positive changes in their health and lifestyle. With over 300 new products containing flaxseed entering the market annually, what’s this little seed all about anyway?
The health benefits of flax seed come primarily from three components found within the seed:
- Omega3 fatty acids
Flaxseed contains a whopping 2 grams of fiber, making it very useful in improving digestive health. It adds bulk to the stool and helps move it quickly through the intestines, preventing and reducing constipation. Like any other source of fiber, flax seed should be taken with a large glass of water. If you suffer from upset stomach, you can also try ground flaxseed for easier digestion. So, if you are looking for a safe, effective way to up your daily fiber intake and keep your bowels moving regularly and in good health, flaxseed is a great choice.
Abundance of Omega-3s
Omega-3 fatty acids are the “good fats” or the type that have been associated with good heart health. Flaxseed contains a tremendous amount of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is a specific type of omega-3 fatty acid that can help lower blood pressure. Omega-3s also help prevent the hardening of the arteries, and keep the lining from becoming “sticky” where cells may accumulate and form plaques. In addition, they can help irregular heart rhythms and heart failure.
Cancer Fighting Lignans
Lignans are a group of important chemical compounds that act like the female hormone, estrogen. They are formed in the intestines as a result of the breakdown of certain plant-based foods. And the richest dietary source of lignans happens to be… you guessed it… flax seed. This important chemical compound provides a protective link between lignans and hormone-associated cancers.
Healthful Little Seed
Flax seed is a health powerhouse.
There is evidence that it can reduce risk of…
- - Heart disease
- - Stroke
- - Cancer
- - Lung disease
- - Diabetes
Flaxseed has also proven to be a wonderful anti-inflammatory and is a fantastic, natural source for people suffering from arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, or asthma. Along with anti-inflammatory properties, it also reduces the severity of hot flashes!
How to Use Flaxseed
Flax seed is something that you ought to strongly consider including in your diet in some way or another if you haven't already.
It is readily available in grocery stores, easy to buy, and stores well. Flaxseed is best kept in the refrigerator or freezer in an airtight, dark container to keep it fresh and prevent it from going bad.
It is such an easy way to get a boost of fiber, omega 3s and lignans, all of which help promote health and wellness in separate but powerful ways.
Flaxseed oil is the oil extracted from the flaxseeds, just pulling out the ALA (omega-3 fatty acids) and not the fiber or lignans found in the seed. Flaxseed oil has a clean and nutty flavor that can be used in many different foods, like in salad dressings, on steamed vegetables… or anywhere that might require a drizzle of oil. Just avoid using it for cooking since heat breaks down the omega-3 fatty acids, and you want to keep those intact.
Be sure to store it in the refrigerator once open to maximize freshness and prevent spoilage. If your flaxseed oil starts to smell almost fishy, throw it away, since that is a sign it turned rancid and will taste terrible.
Not into the taste of flaxseed oil? No problem! It also comes in capsules that you can take as a nutritional supplement so you can still reap the benefits of the omega-3 fatty acids.
Ground flaxseed is simply made by grinding whole flaxseed until it turns into a floury/meal consistency, giving it the name flaxseed meal, or flax meal. You can buy flaxseed meal already ground up, or easily grind it yourself in a spice mill, coffee grinder, or pestle and mortar at home.
Ground flaxseed is preferable to many people because it can easily be added to baked goods, smoothies, salads, pancakes, waffles, and quick breads, for a health boost or even an alternative to eggs! That's right, adding a bit of water to flaxseed meal can create the same consistency as eggs – making it the perfect substitute for vegans.
Some recipes will also replace a portion of the flour with ground flaxseed. Want to be a little more creative with adding flaxseed? Add it to sauces, casseroles, stews, chili, and meatloaf for an extra punch of nutrition. Flaxseed really can be that versatile. A handy rule of thumb is that for a casserole that serves 4 people, 4-6 tablespoons of added flaxseed can be added relatively undetected. Test it out different recipes to see how you enjoy using flaxseed meal!
Flaxseed Fun Facts
Just one tablespoon of flaxseed will give you the recommended dose of omega-3 fatty acids. Flaxseed in any form is gluten free, so if you are trying to avoid or minimize gluten in your diet, flaxseed gets the green light. As mentioned earlier, in addition to being extremely versatile, many people find that ground flaxseed is more easily digestible than the whole seed. Play around with adding flaxseed (whole or ground) to your favorite recipes to see what works best for you.
Flaxseed and Medication
While there are tremendous health benefits that accompany flaxseed, there are a few areas that require caution or at least special attention. Flaxseed supplements may have an impact on how certain medications work since the fiber in the seed may interfere with the body’s ability to absorb oral medications. If you are taking blood thinners, diabetic medicine, birth control pills, or hormone replacement therapy, you will need to speak with your healthcare provider first before adding flaxseed or flaxseed oil supplements.
One Seed, Many Benefits
With a 2500+ year history of providing nutritional benefits, flaxseed should become a staple in everyone’s pantry – if it isn’t already. There is such a variety of ways to incorporate flaxseed into cooking, baking, and food preparation. If there is one small addition that you will make this year on your journey to better health and wellness through nutrition, flaxseed should be it.