They’re turning up everywhere in all kinds of different health foods: muffins, granola bars, cookies, and cereal all proudly include flax seeds. These tiny little seeds are included for good reason, too! They’re highly nutritious and help protect your body from a range of diseases. All hype aside, we wanted to take an honest look at the health benefits flaxseeds offer us.
Health Benefits of Flaxseeds
While flaxseeds contain a rich variety of nutrition, there are four superstar nutrients that are the main reason health professionals everywhere get excited about them:
- Fiber: Flaxseeds are one of the best sources of dietary fiber. Uniquely, they contain high amounts of both soluble and insoluble fiber. Two tablespoons of ground flaxseed have about 2.8 grams of fiber – 11% of your DV1!
- Omega 3 Fatty Acids: These are some of the best fats to keep in your diet as they have numerous health benefits. Our bodies can’t produce these fats, so we have to rely on our diet to get enough. Flaxseeds (along with walnuts) are one of the best plant-based sources of these fats. One two-tablespoon serving has over 100%2 of the amount of the amount you need each day!
- Antioxidants: Most of us associate antioxidants with fruits and vegetables, but flaxseeds are actually very high in a range of antioxidants2, beating out blueberries and olives with a higher polyphenol content!
- Lignans: You may not know what lignans are, but these important phytoestrogens help balance hormones. Flaxseeds are the #1 dietary source of lignans2: they contain seven times as many lignans as sesame seeds, the runner up.
Flaxseeds as Preventatives
With such an outstanding nutritional profile, it stands to reason that flaxseeds help prevent a number of diseases. The list could get lengthy, but here’s a quick rundown of health issues flaxseeds can save you from:
- Cancer. One of the most-cited benefits of flaxseed is a decreased risk of developing various kinds of cancer, especially breast cancer, prostate cancer, and colon cancer. It’s suggested this is because of the omega 3’s and lignans.
- Inflammation. One of the fatty acids (ALA) along with the lignans have been associated with reduced inflammation3 throughout the body.
- Blood sugar. The high fiber in flaxseeds makes them excellent at regulating blood sugar levels in the body. It’s particularly helpful for men and women with pre-diabetes1.
- Depression. Omega 3 fatty acids are commonly linked to helping with depression, but one Japanese study4 specifically showed flaxseeds were useful in treating depression.
- Hormonal balance. While still being researched, the lignans in flaxseeds have shown strong results in helping women manage peri- and post-menopausal symptoms2. One of the greatest benefits is reducing the frequency and intensity of hot flashes3.
- Cholesterol. One research group1 at Iowa State University’s Nutrition and Wellness Research Center showed including cholesterol in your diet can help lower cholesterol levels. Interestingly, this affect is only true for men.
- Digestive health. The fiber in flaxseeds makes them champions for good digestion. The mucilaginous fiber in flaxseeds improves our intestines’ ability to absorb nutrients, and improve the passage of food through the whole tract.
- Hypertension. A common problem, Greek researchers4 found adding flaxseed to the diet of their study group significantly lowered their blood pressure and reduced the number of associated headaches.
Tips & Tricks
The best part about the health benefits of flaxseeds is that you don’t need very much to reap the reward! Here are a few tips about flaxseeds:
1. Eat ground, not whole. The seeds are so small and the hull is so hard on flaxseeds that our bodies can’t break them down. Ideally, buy seeds whole and grind them as you need them using a coffee or spice grinder. You can also buy ground flaxseed (milled, ground, meal – all different names for the same thing). Brown or golden flaxseeds have an almost identical taste and nutrition profile.
2. Store them properly. Because they are high in unsaturated fat, flaxseeds (ground, whole, or in oil form) will go rancid very quickly. Whole seeds will keep longer than flaxseed meal, which is why it’s smart to buy them whole and grind as needed. Keep them in an opaque container away from heat and light. It’s a good idea to store whole or ground flax seeds in the fridge.
3. Get creative with it! You can easily sprinkle a tablespoon or two of ground flaxseed in your oatmeal, yogurt, cereal, shake, or baked goods. You can even look up how to use flaxseed as an egg substitute!
Have some suggestions for recipes? We'd love to hear from you in the comments below!