Flaxseeds are a tiny, yet nutrient-packed food that contribute several important health benefits. Flaxseeds are available whole or ground, and they are also incorporated into many commercially prepared foods such as breakfast cereals, crackers, and bread. Flaxseeds are an excellent source of omega-3 essential fatty acids and antioxidants, and contain important amounts of fiber, vitamin B1, and copper, magnesium, phosphorus, and selenium.
Flaxseeds contain more lignans, a type of antioxidant found in some types of fiber, than any other type of food. Flaxseeds contain about 7 times the amount of lignans as sesame seeds, 338 times the amount as sunflower seeds, 475 times the amount as cashews, and 3200 times the amount as peanuts. Lignans help decrease inflammation associated with cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance, and some types of cancer, with research focusing primarily on breast, prostate and colon cancer.
Flaxseeds contain high amounts of the omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which our body converts into EPA and DHA, the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil. ALA may have some of the same benefits as fish oil in reducing inflammation that is a factor in several types of chronic disease including cardiovascular disease and arthritis.
Flaxseeds are high in fiber, with 4 grams of fiber per 2 tablespoons of whole or ground flaxseeds. The soluble fiber in flaxseeds helps slow down the emptying of the stomach into the small intestine, increasing the absorption of nutrients. This type of fiber also decreases risk of cardiovascular disease by increasing the amount of HDL, the ‘good’ type of cholesterol.
How to use flaxseeds
Flaxseeds and flaxseed oil have a pleasant nutty flavor that is easily incorporated into a variety of foods. Whole flaxseeds have a very tough outer shell, too tough for our teeth to break down. Whole flaxseeds are a good source of fiber but the beneficial ALA content is not available to be absorbed. Flaxseed oil contains the beneficial ALA, but no fiber or lignans.
To gain all the health benefits in flaxseeds, purchase ground flaxseed, or grind your own flaxseed using a clean coffee grinder. Store whole flaxseeds in an airtight container in a cool, dark spot for 6-12 months. Ground flaxseeds must be stored in the refrigerator or freezer to prevent the fat from becoming rancid, and should be consumed within 2-4 months.
Grinding and typical oven temperatures used in baking do not significantly decrease the amount of ALA in flaxseeds. Adding ground flaxseeds to bread and muffins, or purchasing commercially baked bread with added ground flaxseeds, increases the antioxidant content of the bread and lowers the glycemic index.
Flaxseed oil is easily destroyed by heat, light and oxygen. Look for flaxseed oil made from fresh pressed seeds that is bottled in dark containers. Store in the refrigerator to prevent rancidity and use only on cold foods or add to foods after cooking since it has a low smoke point.
Simple ways to add 1-2 tablespoons of ground flaxseeds to your foods each day:
- Sprinkle on cold or hot cereal
- Stir into yogurt
- Add to the dry ingredients in muffins and bread
- Mix into casseroles
- Add to smoothies or fruit/vegetable juice blends
- Stir into thick soups like lentil soup or chili
- Mix into salad dressings or sprinkle on vegetable salads
Due to the fiber content, start with 1-2 teaspoons of ground or whole flaxseeds per day to avoid gas, bloating, or constipation. Drink 1-2 glasses of water with every meal that contains whole or ground flaxseeds. Gradually increase the amount of whole or ground flaxseeds over several weeks to improve tolerance.
Talk with your healthcare provider before adding flaxseeds to your diet as they may decrease the absorption of some medications and may interfere with fish oil, omega-3 supplements, or anticoagulant medications.
Source: Summit Medical Group