Flaxseeds are tiny seeds that come from the flax plant. This plant belongs to the Linaceae family, which also includes the common weed plantain. The word “flax” is believed to originate from the Latin word “floccus,” meaning a wool-like thread, due to the nature of its fibers. These seeds are often referred to as a superfood because of their nutritional profile. It makes them a popular ingredient in many recipes.
Flax Seeds Nutrition Facts
According to the USDA, one tablespoon of ground flax seeds contain (10):
- Calories: 37
- Protein: 1.3 grams
- Carbs: 2 grams
- Fiber: 1.9 grams
- Total fat: 3 grams
- Saturated fat: 0.3 grams
- Monounsaturated fat: 0.5 grams
- Polyunsaturated fat: 2.0 grams
- Omega-3 fatty acids: 1.6 g
- 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
Benefits Of Flax Seeds
Here are ten flax seed health benefits that make them stand out from all other superfoods:
Rich In Fiber
Flaxseeds contain high amounts of dietary fibers, which help improve the health of your digestive system. Fiber is essential for proper bowel movements and can relieve uncomfortable symptoms like constipation, diarrhea, hemorrhoids, and bloating (7). A study also showed that people who consumed more dietary fiber had a significantly lower risk of developing diverticular disease (1).
Excellent Source Of Healthy Fats
Healthy fats play an important role in the health of our body. They help us absorb essential nutrients, support cell growth, and protect our organs. Flaxseeds are an excellent source of healthy fats, especially omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids have been linked to a variety of health benefits like improving heart health, reducing inflammation, and preventing chronic diseases (11).
High In Lignans
Lignans are plant compounds that have powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Flaxseeds are one of the richest sources of lignans. These compounds may reduce your risk of developing certain types of cancer by blocking the effects of estrogen and other cancer-promoting agents (11).
Good Source Of Protein
Protein is an important nutrient that plays a vital role in the growth and repair of our cells. It can also help us feel full after a meal, which is important for weight loss. Flaxseeds contain about 1.3 grams of protein per tablespoon, making them an excellent source of this nutrient (10). Some studies have found that consuming flaxseed increased the levels of satiety hormones like leptin in animals, as well as produced higher post-meal ratings of fullness in humans (2).
High In Antioxidants
Flaxseeds are rich in antioxidants like vitamin E and selenium. They help neutralize free radicals that damage cells and cause inflammation, which may eventually lead to heart disease and other chronic conditions like obesity and cancer. Studies show that flaxseed oils supplementation can reduce some markers of inflammation in people with metabolic syndrome.
Good Source Of Magnesium
Flaxseeds are a good source of magnesium, which is an essential mineral for the proper functioning of our nervous system. It also plays an important role in regulating blood sugar levels and reducing symptoms of depression, anxiety, insomnia, and migraine headaches. Magnesium deficiency is associated with diabetes, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and other chronic conditions (9).
Flaxseeds contain high amounts of lignans which may play a role in alleviating the effect of hormone imbalance. Lignans act as phytoestrogens (plant-based substances with weak estrogen-like activity), which means they can mimic the effects of estrogen in the body. This could be beneficial for someone experiencing symptoms of menopause. Flax lignans have also shown promise in reducing the growth of some types of hormone-sensitive tumors (2).
Regulates Blood Sugar Levels
Flaxseeds are a good source of fiber and magnesium, both of which help regulate blood sugar levels. Fiber slows down the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream, while magnesium helps improve insulin sensitivity. A study showed that people with type 2 diabetes who consumed flaxseed powder had a significant reduction in blood sugar levels and HbA1c (a marker for long-term blood sugar control).
Lower Cholesterol Levels
Flaxseeds contain high amounts of dietary fiber and omega-3 fatty acids, both of which have been found to reduce blood cholesterol levels. Several studies have found that people who included flaxseed in their diet or supplemented it had a significant reduction in their total cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol levels (2).
Promotes Weight Loss
Due to its high dietary fiber content, flaxseeds can help promote weight loss by improving gut health and making you feel full longer. Fiber also helps improve blood sugar control, which is important for reducing your risk of several chronic diseases associated with obesity. A systematic review and meta-analysis found that participants in controlled trials experienced significant reductions in body weight and waist circumference.
Constipation is a common problem that affects people of all ages. It can be caused by a variety of factors, including a low-fiber diet, dehydration, and lack of exercise. Flaxseeds are a good source of fiber, which can help relieve constipation and other digestive problems (2).
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How To Use Flax Seeds As An Ingredient
Flax seeds or flaxseed oil can be added to many common foods. Try the following:
- Drizzling flaxseed oil as a dressing on a salad
- Adding ground flaxseeds to water and drinking daily
- Adding flaxseeds to soups and stews
- Mixing flaxseed meal with fruit smoothies
- Mixing flax seeds in yogurt
- Adding them to water as an egg substitute
- Adding them to meat patties
- Adding ground flaxseed to baked goods
- Sneaking them into mashed potatoes by blending the seeds in a blender
Tips For Adding Flax Seeds To Your Diet
Here are some tips for getting the many health benefits of these seeds:
Consume Ground Flax Seeds Rather Than Whole
Ground flax seeds are more easily digested than whole seeds. They also offer the same benefits as whole flaxseeds, including high amounts of fiber, heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, and cholesterol-lowering phytochemicals (2).
Flaxseed Oil Has A Very Strong Flavor
Flaxseed oil is pale yellow in color and has a strong nutty flavor that may not appeal to everyone. You can mix it with soy or walnut oil before adding it to foods for an improved taste.
Bursting The Flax Seeds Is Key To Unlock Their Nutrients
In order for flaxseeds to offer their full health benefits, it’s helpful for them to be ground up or “broken.” Whole seeds can pass through your digestive system mostly intact and without releasing their nutrients. In order to get the most from these seeds, you need a powerful high-speed blender or spice/coffee grinder that can break open the seeds and release the lignans inside. Your body then absorbs these phytonutrients much more readily than it would with whole flaxseeds.
The Nutrients In Flaxseed Oil Are Heat Sensitive
Flaxseed oil is heat sensitive with a low smoke point and should not be cooked at high temperatures. It’s best to add it to foods after they have been cooked or use it as a cold dressing.
Store Flaxseeds In The Refrigerator Or Freezer
Once flaxseeds are ground, they spoil quickly and can go rancid. For this reason, it’s best to store them in the refrigerator or freezer.
Mix Them With Other Ingredients For Added Health Benefits
Flax seeds don’t have to be consumed on their own to offer health benefits. You can mix them with other ingredients to create healthful dishes that are both delicious and nutritious. For example, try adding them to a bowl of oatmeal, a green salad, or a smoothie.
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Flax Seed Side Effects
Dry flax seeds are usually well-tolerated, and allergy is rare. Still, it’s recommended to drink plenty of water when eating these seeds because they are high in fiber. Some of the health effects of consuming too much of these seeds are:
Impaired Thyroid Function
Flax seeds, especially unripe ones, naturally contain plant compounds called cyanogenic glycosides. These compounds can bind with sulfur compounds in your body to form thiocyanates that impair function of your thyroid glands (6). Moderate portions are highly unlikely to cause any adverse effects in healthy individuals. However, those with thyroid problems should consider avoiding high amounts of flax seeds, and everyone should avoid raw or unripe flaxseeds.
Poor Absorption Of Minerals
Overconsumption of flax seeds can also lead to poor absorption of minerals from food. This is because of the high levels of phytic acid in flaxseeds bind to minerals like zinc, iron, and calcium, making them unavailable for absorption. Phytic acid is a naturally occurring compound that can also be found in other plant foods like grains, legumes, and nuts (8). Soaking or sprouting flaxseeds may help reduce the phytic acid content.
Constipation And Diarrhea
Consuming large amounts of flaxseeds can cause constipation and diarrhea in some people. If this occurs, reduce your intake and drink plenty of fluids (3). You should always drink plenty of fluids when you eat flaxseed or other high fiber foods and supplements.
Phytoestrogens Risks During Pregnancy
Flax seeds and flaxseed oil naturally contain compounds called phytoestrogens that can mimic estrogen in your body. Although these plant-based estrogens are much weaker than the estrogen found in birth control pills, experts still recommend caution during pregnancy. There is some concern that they may disrupt hormonal balance and increase the risk of lower birth weight, and there is not enough evidence to know for sure what effects they may have during pregnancy (5). Talk to your OB/GYN about foods to avoid or limit during pregnancy, and always discuss any diet changes or supplements you are considering with your doctor before starting them.
Blood Thinning Effects
Flaxseeds and their oil naturally contain Omega -3 fatty acids that when consumed in large doses, can act as blood thinners. It’s still unknown if this effect is large enough to cause problems such as excessive bleeding, but it’s best to be cautious by avoiding flax seeds and flaxseed oil if you’re already on blood-thinning medication or have a bleeding disorder (4).
The Bottom Line
Flax seeds are a nutrient powerhouse that offer a variety of health benefits. They are especially high in fiber, lignans, and Omega-3 fatty acids. Although they have some potential side effects when consumed in large amounts, these seeds are generally well-tolerated and safe for most people to eat. So go ahead and add them to your next meal!
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Dietary fibre intake and the risk of diverticular disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective studies (2019, nih.gov)
- Flax and flaxseed oil: an ancient medicine & modern functional food (2014, nih.gov)
- Flaxseed: Uses, Side Effects, Dose, Health Benefits, Precautions & Warnings (2021,emedicinehealth.com)
- FLAXSEED (n.d., webmd.com)
- Flaxseed and Flaxseed Oil (2020, nih.gov)
- Flaxseed-a potential functional food source (2014, nih.gov)
- Health benefits of dietary fiber (2009, pubmed.gov)
- Reduction of phytic acid and enhancement of bioavailable micronutrients in food grains (2013, nih.gov)
- Review: Subclinical magnesium deficiency: a principal driver of cardiovascular disease and a public health crisis (2018, nih.gov)
- Seeds, flaxseed (2019,usda.gov)
- The benefits of flaxseed (2016, usda.gov)