Flaxseed: make it the next addition to your grocery list! That little golden or brown shell of a seed is holding a powerhouse of nutrition. It’s a health food that has been recognized for thousands of years and dates back to ancient Greece and Hippocrates, who understood that food is medicine.
Flaxseed is also known as linseed, and studies have shown that it helps fight heart disease, diabetes, strokes and certain types of cancers. Flaxseed can also help improve digestion and your complexion, lower cholesterol, balance hormones, reduce sugar cravings and enhance weight loss, among many other benefits! Let’s crack open the shell and look what’s inside.
One Tablespoon of freshly ground flax contains:
- 37.38 Calories
- 7% Water
- 1.3 g Protein
- 2 g Carbs (0.1 g Sugar, 1.9 g Fiber)
- 3 g Fat
- 0.26 g Saturated
- 0.53 g Monounsaturated
- 2.01 g Polyunsaturated
- Omega-3 1.6 g
- Omega-6 0.41 g
Flaxseed is also a good source of vitamins B1 and B6, manganese, magnesium, and phosphorus, selenium, as well as iron, potassium, copper and zinc.
The Major League Players
Flaxseed is a home run hitter in any diet. Here are the three major league players going to bat for you in flaxseed and what makes them outstanding in the field of nutrition:
Omega-3 essential fatty acid: Flaxseed is one of the richest plant-based sources of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), one of 3 types. Since we don’t produce these fats ourselves, it is necessary to consume them through our diet. Omega-3 fats are a vital part of cell membranes throughout the body and affect the function of the cell receptors in these membranes. They are in the forefront for making hormones that regulate blood clotting, contraction and relaxation of artery walls, and inflammation. These fats also adhere to receptors in cells that control genetic function. The human body likes to burn ALA for energy.
Lignans: This is a class of plant compounds called phytoestrogens that have both antioxidant and plant estrogen qualities. The major lignan found in flaxseed is known as secoisolariciresinol diglucoside. It is metabolized into enterolactone and enterodial within our bodies, which can affect many of our tissues, including those in the reproductive and cardiovascular systems. Flaxseed is the richest vegetable source of lignans and has up to 800 times more than any other plant foods. Flaxseed also has been shown to help the body detoxify and reduce the risk of colon cancer.
Fiber: Flaxseed contains both soluble and insoluble fiber. This strong fiber content, including mucilaginous fiber, helps to slow gastric emptying and can improve intestinal absorption of nutrients. Flaxseed fiber also helps to stabilize the movement of food through the gastrointestinal system. The soluble fiber binds to bile acids such as oxidized cholesterol and toxic hormone metabolites and helps to pull them out of the body.
Prevention and Healing
Breast cancer: Studies have shown flaxseed to prevent breast cancer and slow the growth of breast tumors. Women who eat flaxseed may see a rise in the levels of endostatin in their breasts. Endostatin is a protein produced by your body to help starve tumors of their blood supply. Flaxseed also has been shown to minimize menopausal syndrome symptoms by reducing hot flashes and their intensity.
Prostate enlargement and cancer: Prostate gland enlargement is a common condition as men get older, affecting half of the male population by their 50s and 80 percent by their 80s. Also called benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), prostate gland enlargement can cause annoying urinary symptoms. Research has shown that flaxseed can be used to treat BPH. Consuming 3 tablespoons a day can give the same relief as some commonly prescribed drugs.
Another study shows that men consuming flaxseed had a slower prostrate tumor growth rate. Flaxseed may affect how the tumor cells clump together and grip onto other cells. The lignans in the flaxseed help with choking off the tumor’s blood supply and therefore keeping it from spreading.
Heart disease: Our Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio should be at a level of 2:1 to promote a cardio protective effect. Sources of plant-derived omega-3 fatty acids such as flaxseed, aid in the dietary quest to keep that ratio low. Therefore, increased consumption of food sources that provide omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial and help lower your risk of cardiovascular disease. Omega-3 fats also lower blood pressure and heart rate, and improve blood vessel function.
Several studies have been done looking at the affects of flaxseed in the daily diet. One study compared the affects of dietary flaxseed with cholesterol-lowering statin therapy in people with a high total cholesterol level (more than 240 mg/dL). Total cholesterol, LDL levels and triglycerides all showed improvement with the flaxseed-eating group that was comparable to those taking statin drugs. Other studies have shown that dietary flaxseed can slow the progression of atherosclerotic plaques. However, the suppression of atherosclerosis by flaxseed is the result of its lignan content and not the result of ALA content.
Strokes: By reducing the formation of atherosclerotic plaques you also reduce the risk of plaque breaking off to form a clot, thus, blocking a vessel that could cause a stroke. Consuming omega-3 fatty acid from flaxseed helps lower blood pressure and the inflammatory process, which decreases the risk of vessel damage and potential rupture.
Beautiful complexion: The omega-3, ALA, fats in flaxseed improves the skin and hair by supplying the body with essential fatty acids and B vitamins that can help reduce dryness. It also can improve symptoms of acne, eczema and rosacea. A 2010 study discovered that the addition of flaxseed oil to your diet can reduce skin sensitivity and improves skin barrier function and condition. Flaxseed also has been helpful in eye health by reducing symptoms with dry eye syndrome.
Weight loss: Flaxseed is a great dietary addition when trying to lose weight. The fiber will help the body to feel fuller faster. It also slows digestion, which prevents glucose from spiking the blood sugar. Excess sugar is stored as fat, so balancing the blood sugar helps you lose weight. High blood sugar triggers the release of insulin, which signals the body to cease breaking down stored fat, reducing the excess burn-off.
Tips on Buying and Using Flaxseed
Buy flaxseed whole because the whole food is always better than any of its extracted components. However, when eaten whole flaxseed’s hard protective shell keeps it from being digested, and most seeds will pass through the body without health benefits. Therefore, it’s time to add this little seed to your daily grind. Small electric coffee grinders work well, and so do small high-speed blenders with a grinding blade. Once ground, use the seeds immediately or shortly after. If there is a delay in the consumption, refrigerate the ground product to preserve its nutrients, but use within 24 hours for best bioavailability.
Flaxseed can be purchased whole as golden or brown seeds. They both have about equivalent nutritional breakdown so it becomes a matter of personal preference and availability. They store well in a cool dark place but don’t need refrigeration. Flax meal, sometimes called milled or ground, is void of most of the beneficial oils. It does work well as an egg replacement and for increasing dietary fiber in meals or baked goods. Flaxseed oils are often void of the lignans unless stated on the package that it contains them.
Find ways to incorporate flaxseed into your daily routine. It works well mixed into oatmeal, smoothies and yogurt. Add flaxseed to pancakes and waffles. Disguise it in sauces, gravies and soups. Sprinkle it over vegetables or fruit. Use your imagination, but start grinding!
Savory Morning Oatmeal
1/3 cup old fashion organic oats
1/3 cup almond or cashew milk
1/3 cup water
1 swirl of liquid aminos
1 tbsp whole flaxseeds, freshly ground
1 tbsp hemp seed hearts
1 tbsp chia seeds
Small amount of almond slivers, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, walnut pieces
1/8 tsp turmeric
2-4 grinds of black pepper
1 brazil nut
1 small piece of dulse seaweed
In a microwave safe bowl add the oatmeal, nut milk, water and one swirl around the bowl with the liquid aminos. Microwave for 1.5 minutes at high power, then 3 minutes at a reduced power level. This keeps it from overflowing in the bowl. While this is cooking, grind your flaxseeds. Add the remaining ingredients to the ground flax and add it to oatmeal when it is finished cooking and mix. Add more nut milk to desired consistency and more or less aminos to taste.
This oatmeal is packed with protein, fiber and omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins and minerals. The turmeric and pepper add a small bit of anti-inflammatory seasoning; the Brazil nut is for daily selenium and the seaweed for iodine. You can add a handful of baby greens if you want to get some greens in here or make the following smoothie to accompany your breakfast or a mid morning snack.
Simple Green Smoothie
¾ cup nut milk (use vanilla if you like it sweeter)
½ pineapple juice
1 ripe banana, peeled
1 tbsp flaxseed
4 cups fresh spinach
1 cup mango (fresh or frozen)
Place all ingredients in a high-speed mixer and blend for 30 seconds to a minute.
Susan Musial Bigelow is vice president of Health Coach Connect and a Licensed Respiratory Care Practitioner with a passion for organic gardening. She believes good health starts in the kitchen. Sue earned her Bachelor’s of Animal Science from the University of Massachusetts and worked for many years in the veterinary and pet industries with a focus on animal nutrition, where she noticed that animals’ skin and ear infections often could be cured with dietary changes. Throughout her journey, Sue continued to educate herself regarding health, wellness and nutrition, spirituality and lifestyle improvements, realizing all issues have a root cause. Going through her own personal and career transformation, Sue earned a degree in Respiratory Therapy and later received her Masters of Science in Administration from Saint Michael’s College. After witnessing too many patients dying of preventable chronic disease, she was motivated to pursue a certificate as an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach. Her passion embraces animals, horseback riding, kayaking, cooking, and walks in the wilderness. Visit Health Coach Connect at www.healthcoachconnect.com.