What are the Health Benefits of Flaxseed?

Flaxseed
Flaxseed

When flaxseed first became popular in the 1990’s, it was touted an effective plant-based source of omega-3 fatty acids.  However, researchers then discovered that the form of omega-3 fats in flaxseeds is much less bioavailable to humans and animals, and flaxseed feel out of favor.  However, new research suggests that although flaxseed may not have the omega-3 power of animal sources (such as fish), adding a teaspoon or two into your diet on a daily basis could improve your health in the myriad ways.

Flaxseed is a Nutrient Dense Food

Flaxseeds are an ancient crop, grown for millennia. One tablespoon provides the following nutrients:

  • Protein: 1.3 grams
  • Carbs: 2 grams
  • Fiber: 1.9 grams
  • Polyunsaturated fat: 2.0 grams
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: 1,597 mg
  • Vitamin B1: 8% of the RDI
  • Vitamin B6: 2% of the RDI
  • Folate: 2% of the RDI
  • Calcium: 2% of the RDI
  • Iron: 2% of the RDI
  • Magnesium: 7% of the RDI
  • Phosphorus: 4% of the RDI
  • Potassium: 2% of the RDI

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

As shown above, one tablespoon of flaxseed contains 1,597mg of omega-3 fats, which is exceptionally high for a plant food.  While it’s not as bioavailable as animal sources of omega-3’s, it’s still beneficial.  The type of omega-3 fatty acid in flaxseed is ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), and several animal studies show that the ALA in flaxseed can aid in preventing cholesterol from being deposited in the blood vessels of the heart.  In addition, a Costa Rican study with over 3,600 participants found that people who ate more ALA had a lower heart attack risk than those who ate less.  This has been attributed to the anti-inflammatory powers of omega-3 fats.

Gastrointestinal Health

Since flaxseed is high in fiber, researchers believe that is can aid in relieving constipation, and there is some evidence that it may reduce symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). In addition, it appears that when it gets fermented in the gut, it forms short-chain fatty acids, which are favorable to the gut microbiome.  

Cancer

Lignans are plant compounds that have antioxidant and estrogen properties, both of which can help lower the risk of cancer and improve health, and flaxseed is high in lignans.  In fact, flaxseed contains 800 times more lignans than any other plant food! 

Observational studies suggest that postmenopausal women who eat flaxseeds have a lower risk of breast cancer.   And in one Canadian study involving more than 6,000 women, those who ate flaxseeds were 18% less likely to develop breast cancer.

Diabetes

Eating flaxseed can reduce blood glucose in Type 2 diabetics, along with lowering blood sugar in people with prediabetes.  Several studies show that people with T2D  who add 10–20 grams of flaxseed powder to their daily diet for at least one month, may reduce glucose readings by up to 20%, which is not insignificant.

Additional Benefits

  • Skin Health – some women note that flaxseed consumption aids in skin hydration and fullness
  • Blood Pressure – there is some evidence that consumption has the ability to lower both systolic and diastolic blood pressure
  • High Quality Protein – flaxseed is a good source of plant-based protein

 

Ways to Consume More Flaxseed

Today, flaxseed is available as whole seeds, ground as flaxmeal, flaxseed oil, and and flax-milk.  In fact, flax-milk is the newest type of plant milk and is now competing in the market against almond, hemp and oatmeal milk.

I think ground flaxmeal is the easiest form to incorporate into a daily dietary regimen.  In this form, it’s quite easy to sprinkle into a smoothie or put on top of yogurt.  It can also be added to soups and stews.

References:

Mihir Parikh, et al. “Dietary Flaxseed as a Strategy for Improving Human Health,” Nutrients 2019, 11(5), 1171.  Dietary Flaxseed as a Strategy for Improving Human Health.

Top 10 Health Benefits of Flax Seeds

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