How Healthful is Flaxseed?
Flaxseed benefits are slightly different from flaxseed oil. The seed provides extra health promoting nutrients that aren’t present in the oil.
However, you will need to consume a lot more ground flaxseed to receive the equivalent amount of omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids.
Depending on your current lifestyle and if you have any particular medical conditions you might prefer to consume one source over the other.
This article will give you an insight as to what health benefits flaxseed provide, compared to its oil.
Introduction to Flaxseed
Flaxseeds originate from the flax plant – a broad-leaf with small, narrow leaves. The flax plant grows up to around 35 inches high with multiple stems that divide at their tips, bearing attractive blue flowers.
Each flower develops into a round seed capsule measuring 2 – 3 cms in diameter, where it produces the flaxseeds. Each capsule contains on average 5-6 seeds.
The seeds are protected within a shiny, hard shell and are a little larger than sesame seeds. Traditionally the flaxseeds have been brown but more attractive golden colors are being produced to boost their appeal in the market.
The flaxseed plant is grown all over the world and the 2 main countries responsible for the majority of flax exports are Canada and China.
Although flaxseed oil contains a higher concentration of essential fatty acids, ground flaxseeds have other beneficial nutrients such as fiber, protein, lignans, and other nutrients including vitamins A, B1, B2, C, D and E, and the majority of major and trace minerals.
“It’s no wonder this amazing seed is described as a ‘complete food source’.
Approximately 40% of the flaxseed (by weight) is oil and 55% of that oil is the all important alpha linolenic acid (ALA). The rest of the seed is made up of approx 22% protein, 12% fiber, and 10% mucilage.
This highly versatile seed is used for several products other than as a food source. In the era, it was the staple crop of the American farming economy.
Before the introduction of cotton, most of the clothes were made from either wool or linen. The linen fiber from the stems of flax was a major source of fiber for clothes and other products.
Flaxseed oil, also known as linseed oil was used as a natural preservative for wood treatment and is still found in hardware stores today.
Health Benefits of Flaxseed
1. Anti-Inflammatory Properties
It is important to consume more omega 3 fatty acids to combat the high levels of omega 6 that is present in many popular foods such as margarine, animal fats, and vegetable oils like sunflower oil.
Omega 6 acts as a pro-inflammatory whereas omega 3 is recognized as a good anti-inflammatory. The omega 3 fats found in flaxseeds help to reduce inflammation that is a significant factor in conditions such as arthritis, osteoporosis, and asthma.
2. Bone Health
The need to ensure a better balance of omega 3 and omega 6 fats in our diet correlates also to the amount of bone loss we suffer.
Studies have revealed that bone loss is significantly less in people who consumed more anti-inflammatory omega 3 fatty acids in their diet.
3. Lower Blood Pressure
More often than not high blood pressure is a result of a poor diet and a lack of exercise. Most doctors these days recognize this fact and suggest natural treatments, such as regular exercise and eating more fruit and vegetables to lower blood pressure, before resorting to drugs.
Scientists have confirmed that a diet rich in omega-3, polyunsaturated fats have been shown to reduce high blood pressure. Flaxseeds (particularly flaxseed oil) are the richest known source of these essential fatty acids and are an excellent natural treatment.
A double-blind experiment on 60 adults confirmed that alpha linolenic acid (ALA) found in flaxseeds, significantly reduced systolic and diastolic blood pressure readings.
Just one tablespoon of flaxseed oil or 1 tablespoon of ground flaxseed every day, will provide you with enough ALA to help lower high blood pressure.
4. Reduce High Cholesterol with Flaxseed
When people think of lowering cholesterol, unfortunately, they think of using statin drugs. This way of thinking also seems to be a physicians ‘standard practice’ . It comes to treating high cholesterol and is another example of ‘Big Pharma’ making trillions of dollars off the back of unnecessary and potentially harmful drugs.
There was a study that involved 40 patients with high cholesterol levels – more than 240 mg/dL. Half the group was given 20 grams of ground flaxseed per day and the other half was treated using statin drugs.
“Flaxseeds contain the highest amounts of the essential fatty acids we need to reduce high cholesterol levels.”
After 60 days both groups showed a reduction in LDL and HDL cholesterol but with virtually no difference in the levels of reduction between the two. Flaxseed did the same job as statins but without any side effects and at a fraction of the cost!
Recent studies conducted by Dr. Stephen Cunnane at the University of Toronto confirmed that flax lowers blood cholesterol levels.
If your cholesterol levels are higher than you would like, then try eating flaxseed (approx 2 – 3 grams a day) for a few months. After this time, check your levels again. I bet you see a reduction!
5. Flaxseed and Cancer
Flaxseeds contain high amounts of lignans which are a chemical compound found in plants and act as an antioxidant. Lignans also contain anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties.
“Flaxseeds have the highest concentration of lignans – up to 800% more than any other vegetables or grains.
Studies by the US Food and Drug Administration, the American Cancer Society and the Mayo Clinic have all recognized that lignans contain powerful anti-cancer properties and may be linked to a lower rate of breast and colon cancer.
6. Helps in Pregnancy
Flaxseed contains an incredible array of health promoting compounds including essential fatty acids in the form of omega-3 and omega-6, vitamins, minerals, fiber, protein and lignans. All of which make flaxseed and pregnancy a perfect partnership and a food source that can promote mother and baby’s health.
Consume Flaxseed During Pregnancy is best for mother and baby’s health
Flaxseed also contains good amounts of protein – approx 10% of our daily recommended allowance per 2 tablespoons.
How To Use Flaxseed in Your Diet
Whether you grind it yourself or buy it pre-grounded. You can sprinkle it onto lots of foods including cereals, yogurt, and smoothies. You can also add it to cooking such as bread and muffins.
Buying whole flaxseeds and grinding them yourself is a cheaper alternative. You more possibilities of adding it to different food sources – although more time consuming.
The Rise of Flaxseed Popularity
Flaxseed and its uses steadily declined after the Second World War when petroleum became increasingly used and other crops such as wheat and oats started replacing flaxseed.
But today flaxseed is becoming popular again and demand for this crop is rising. Natural fiber clothes such as linen are now sought after and often preferred over synthetic material.
Whole flaxseed is simply the seed as it is cultivated from the pod of the flax plant. It is sold unprocessed or refined in any way.
Lots of bread/muffin recipes and similar foods include the addition of whole flaxseed. It is cheaper to buy flaxseed this way and the flaxseeds have a much longer shelf-life. Their natural, protective shell will keep the kernel fresh for up to a year or more.
The problem with eating whole flaxseed is more often than not, the seed is passed straight through the body without releasing its healthy essential fatty acids and other potent nutrients.
For that reason, whole flaxseed should be ground down using a coffee or spice grinder and added to foods.
I enjoy the process of grinding flaxseed, as and when I need it. I sometimes grind some to store in an airtight jar and keep it in the refrigerator for a few weeks.
Pros and Cons of Whole Flaxseed:
- Flaxseed is cheaper to buy.
- It has a much longer shelf-life than ground flaxseed or flaxseed oil.
- Flaxseed can be added to recipes and food whole or can be ground down.
- It contains good amounts of essential fatty acids plus other important nutrients including lignans, protein, fiber, manganese, and magnesium.
- Flaxseed needs to be ground down to benefit from its healthy fatty acids and nutrients.
- It is not as convenient as pre-ground flaxseed.
- It has less essential fatty acids than flaxseed oil.
As you can guess, ground flaxseed is just that, flaxseed that comes pre-ground, which saves you the trouble of grinding them yourself.
Ground or milled flaxseed still contains all the healthy fatty acids and nutrients of whole flaxseed but once opened, will not keep for as long as whole flaxseed.
Stored in a dark container, ground flaxseed will keep in the refrigerator for around 3 months. It will keep even longer if stored in the freezer.
Pros and Cons of Ground Flaxseed:
- It saves you the time and effort of having to grind the flaxseed yourself.
- Ground Flaxseed has the same healthy nutrients and fatty acids as whole flaxseed.
- It still has a decent shelf-life of around 3 months +.
- Ground Flaxseed can be easily added to a variety of cold and hot foods.
- It is more expensive than the whole flaxseed.
- Ground Flaxseed is not as convenient as taking a flaxseed oil supplement.
- It has less essential fatty acids than flaxseed oil.
How Much Flaxseed Should I Take Daily?
For healthy adults, 2 to 3 tablespoons of flaxseed will provide excellent health benefits.
Is Flaxseed Safe for Young Children and Toddlers?
Flaxseed comes from a natural plant source containing many beneficial nutrients and is considered safe for people of all ages. I would suggest starting with just a teaspoon daily for young children.
Is Flaxseed Good for Constipation?
Yes, it has been shown that flaxseed works well for people suffering from constipation, diarrhea or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Flaxseed is high in fiber and a high-fiber diet helps you have soft, regular bowel movements, reducing constipation.
How Long Does Whole Flaxseed Keep For?
Whole flaxseed will keep fresh for 2 – 3 years if stored in a cool, dry place.
Is It Safe To Take Flax Seed and Flaxseed Oil?
Yes, there is nothing wrong with consuming both the flax seed and the oil. You’ll get the benefit of excellent amounts and proportions of omega 3, 6 and 9 essential fatty acids through the oil.