I was recently discussing Flaxseeds with a friend and decided to do some research and write a blog to share. If you haven’t tried flaxseeds in your diet or “eating style”, consider the benefits (and make sure to read the cautions, just in case).
Here’s to getting healthier, day by day!
What are Flaxseeds?
Flaxseeds and Flax Oil have been touted as healthy additions to the diet for quite some time. But what are they good for? And how do you eat them to gain their benefits?
Flaxseeds are sometimes called “linseeds” and are small seeds that may be brown, tan or golden in color. They all have the following properties:
- Omega-3 fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).
ALA is one of the “good” fats often mentioned in health articles and discussions. This is a different type of ALA than what is found in fish.
These have both plant estrogen and antioxidant qualities which can promote hormonal balance in the body. Flaxseed contains 75 to 800 times more lignans than other plant foods.
Flaxseeds are high in both soluble and insoluble fiber.
They include manganese, thiamine and magnesium.
Some of the Benefits of Flaxseed include:
- Weight Loss, Reduced Sugar Cravings.
The good fats, low carbohydrates and high fiber help you feel satisfied for longer. This means you may end up eating fewer calories throughout the day.
- Improved, Clearer Skin and Anti-Aging.
The essential fatty acids and B vitamins can help reduce dryness and flakiness of skin. The antioxidants found in the lignans can help reduce free radical damage, supporting anti-aging and cellular-regenerating effects.
- Lower Cholesterol.
It helps reduce cholesterol levels by increasing the amount of fat excreted through bowel movements because of its high fiber properties.
- More Balanced Hormones.
The phytoestrogens in flaxseed can alter estrogen metabolism which can either increase or decrease the estrogen activity depending on the individual’s hormonal needs. Flaxseeds may even help maintain menstrual cycle regularity for some women. And for menopausal women, it may reduce the intensity of hot flashes.
- Improved Digestion.
Flaxseeds are extremely high in both soluble and insoluble fiber and help maintain regular bowel movements. The anti-inflammatory characteristic of the ALA helps to reduce inflammation in the lining of the GI tract and promotes beneficial gut flora.
- Reduced Risk of Heart Disease, Stroke, Diabetes and Cancer.
The ALA, lignans, and fiber characteristics may be preventative for certain types of cancers including breast, prostate, ovarian and colon cancer. They may also help reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke and even diabetes. Lignans may reduce plaque buildup in arteries while ALA may keep plaque from being deposited.
- General Health Benefits.
Lignans are also known for their antiviral and antibacterial properties which may help reduce the incidence of colds and flu.
Adding Flaxseed To Your Eating Style
The seeds and ground flax can be easily added to your daily eating style. Buy it already ground (as ground, milled or meal) or grind it yourself. Ground flaxseed provides more benefits since it’s more digestible than the whole seeds. The seeds, however, can be sprouted, which have benefits as well, but that takes more time and effort.
Add Flaxseed to your diet by:
- Adding to smoothies, making sure to include plenty of water or milk since flaxseeds absorb liquid.
- Mixing into yogurt, kefir, cottage cheese, or cereal.
- Baking into muffins, cookies, breads, casseroles, pasta dishes, or meat loaves.
- Adding as an egg substitute, mixing with water, in recipes for pancakes, muffins and cookies.
The suggested daily amount is 1 to 2 tablespoons a day. If you can tolerate 2 tablespoons, you could increase the amount slowly, but should limit to 4 tablespoons a day. See Cautions below.
Add flaxseed to a food you habitually eat already!
Buying and Storing
While Flax Oil may seem easier to use, the oil goes rancid much sooner so it is rather cost prohibitive. Also, do not use flax oil for baking! Flax Oil should never be heated.
Ground flaxseed provides the most benefits and is less costly than the oil. You can buy flaxseed pre-ground as flax meal, but once the seeds are ground, the meal begins to oxidize so the benefits may lessen. Ideally, buy flaxseeds and grind a few tablespoons at a time as you use them. (You can use a small coffee grinder to grind them.) I grind approximately 4 tablespoons at a time, storing in a small container in the refrigerator and using it within a few days.
Store seeds and ground flaxseed in an airtight container in a freezer or refrigerator. And always check the Best Before date on the package to ensure the product is still fresh.
- When adding new high fiber foods, you want to ensure you drink enough water. Begin with a lower amount of flaxseed per day and pay attention to how your body responds.
- Some medications may interact poorly with flax and should be taken at different times of the day, away from eating flaxseeds. Talk to your doctor and/or pharmacist before adding flaxseeds to your diet if you are taking any medications or have a known health condition.
- Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding are advised to avoid flaxseed since it can affect hormone balance. If you are diagnosed with a thyroid condition, you may want to limit flaxseeds to 2 tablespoons a day due to the hormonal effects it may have on the thyroid.
When introducing flaxseeds to your diet, you may experience some temporary side effects, so it’s good to start slow, with 1 tablespoon or even less if you are prone to constipation or digestive stress.
Possible Side Effects may include:
- Bloating and gas
- Abdominal discomfort
- Loose stools
- Decreased appetite
One great way to experience the benefits of flaxseed is to eat them in their sprouted form. Soaking and then sprouting eliminates phytic acid and may greatly increase mineral absorption. The Flax Council of Canada recommends soaking flaxseeds for at least 10 minutes in warm water or for 2 hours in colder water. Then add the gel-like mixture (seeds plus water) to recipes. See below for some links on How to Sprout Flax Seeds.
Resources on Sprouting