Flaxseed cultivation dates back to ancient Egypt and China. In Asia, it has been utilized in Ayurvedic medicine for millennia. Nowadays, flaxseed is easily obtainable in various forms such as seeds, oils, powder, tablets, capsules, and flour. It is commonly used as a dietary supplement to promote regularity, prevent conditions like constipation, diabetes, high cholesterol, heart disease, cancer, and more.
In this Probiotiv‘s article, we’ve delved into the possible perks of Flaxseed Benefits for your health. Keep reading!
Flaxseed, a plant-based food, offers beneficial fats, antioxidants, and fiber, contributing to numerous health advantages.
Regarded by many as a potent plant food, flaxseed is associated with potential benefits in lowering the risk of heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes. It’s remarkable that such a small seed, with a history dating back to ancient Babylon, carries such significance.
Flaxseed’s cultivation traces back to 3000 BC in Babylon, and in the 8th century, King Charlemagne recognized its health advantages, enforcing laws mandating its consumption. Today, after thirteen centuries, some experts assert that preliminary research supports Charlemagne’s intuitive understanding.
Flaxseed is present in a wide range of modern foods, including crackers, frozen waffles, and oatmeal. The demand for flaxseed has grown significantly, leading to the introduction of nearly 300 new flax-based products in the U.S. and Canada in 2010. Agricultural usage has also risen, as flaxseed is utilized as feed for chickens, resulting in eggs with higher omega-3 fatty acid levels.
The notable health benefits of flaxseed can be attributed to three key components:
- Omega-3 essential fatty acids, which are beneficial fats known for their heart-healthy effects. A tablespoon of ground flaxseed contains approximately 1.8 grams of plant omega-3s.
- Lignans, possess both plant estrogen and antioxidant properties. Flaxseed contains 75 to 800 times more lignans than other plant foods.
- Fiber, encompassing both soluble and insoluble forms, contributes to its overall health profile.
As per the United States Department of Agriculture, a 7 g serving of ground flaxseed contains:
- Energy: 37.4 calories
- Protein: 1.28 g
- Fat: 2.95 g
- Carbohydrate: 2.02 g
- Fiber: 1.91 g
- Calcium: 17.8 mg
- Magnesium: 27.4 mg
- Phosphorus: 44.9 mg
- Potassium: 56.9 mg
- Folate: 6.09 micrograms (mcg)
- Lutein and zeaxanthin: 45.6 mcg
A teaspoon of Flaxseed also contains trace amounts of various vitamins and minerals, though not in significant quantities. Additionally, it provides lignans, tryptophan, lysine, tyrosine, and valine, along with predominantly unsaturated, beneficial fats.
It is advisable to consume ground flaxseed rather than whole flaxseed to ensure optimal nutrient absorption by the intestines.
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Health Benefits of Flaxseed
Flaxseed contains some nutrients that may have various health benefits. Like other plant-based foods, flaxseed is rich in antioxidants. These can help prevent disease by removing molecules called free radicals from the body.
Cancer risk reduction
Flaxseed, rich in omega-3 fatty acids, has been associated with potential cancer prevention. Studies indicate its ability to inhibit the growth of various cancer cells.
Additionally, the presence of lignans, antioxidants in flaxseed, can impede tumor growth by blocking new blood vessel formation.
A 2013 survey observed a reduced incidence of breast cancer in regular flaxseed consumers. A 2018 review concluded that flaxseed may lower the risk of postmenopausal breast cancer. Lignans, as phytoestrogens, exhibit estrogen-like properties, but recent research suggests a possible protective role against breast cancer.
Enhanced cholesterol and heart health
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends incorporating more fiber, omega-3s, and lignans into the diet for improved heart health. Flaxseed contains these beneficial nutrients. It also contains phytosterols that inhibit cholesterol absorption in the intestines, potentially reducing LDL cholesterol levels.
A study in 2010 observed a decrease in cholesterol levels, particularly with higher lignan dosage. Another study in 2012 showed that flaxseed consumption lowered LDL cholesterol and aided fat removal. Omega-3 oils, commonly found in oily fish, have been associated with reduced cardiovascular risk. Flaxseed could serve as a plant-based alternative to marine omega-3 sources, beneficial for those following a plant-based diet.
Alleviated arthritis symptoms
The Arthritis Foundation suggests that Flaxseed may alleviate joint pain and stiffness. While evidence supporting its use is limited, the ALA in flaxseed is believed to have anti-inflammatory properties. Flaxseed can be consumed in various forms:
- Ground (one tablespoon daily)
- Oil (one to three tablespoons daily)
- Capsules (1,300–3,000 mg daily)
Diminished hot flashes
Researchers reported that Flaxseed might decrease the frequency and intensity of hot flashes in menopausal women not undergoing estrogen therapy.
A 2007 study involving menopausal women found that consuming 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed daily, mixed into cereal, juice, or yogurt, resulted in a 50% reduction in hot flashes and a 57% decrease in their intensity. The women experienced noticeable improvements within one week and maximum benefits within two weeks.
However, another study in 2012 comparing postmenopausal women and breast cancer patients who consumed a bar containing 410 milligrams of phytoestrogens from ground flaxseed with those who consumed a placebo bar did not observe a significant reduction in hot flashes.
Improved blood sugar levels
Lignans and other phytoestrogens may contribute to lowering the risk of chronic conditions like diabetes.
In a 2013 study, 25 individuals with prediabetes (obese or overweight males and menopausal females) were given daily doses of either 0 g, 13 g, or 26 g of Flaxseed for 12 weeks. The 13 g dosage showed potential in reducing glucose and insulin levels and improving insulin sensitivity, while the other dosages did not yield the same effect.
Additionally, a rodent study conducted in 2016 suggested that the compounds found in flaxseed could potentially reduce the occurrence of type 1 diabetes and delay the onset of type 2 diabetes. However, it is important to note that these results may not be directly applicable to humans.
In the same year, a study involving 99 individuals with prediabetes compared the effects of consuming 40 g or 20 g of flaxseed daily to those who did not consume flaxseed or a placebo. The consumption of flaxseed appeared to have a positive impact on reducing blood pressure, but it did not significantly improve blood sugar levels or insulin resistance.
The specific effects of flaxseed on diabetes symptoms are still uncertain.
Prevention of constipation
Flaxseed provides insoluble fiber, which remains undissolved in water and adds bulk to the digestive tract, aiding in regularity.
However, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) states that there is limited evidence supporting flaxseed’s effectiveness in reducing constipation.
The NCCIH emphasizes that consuming flaxseed without sufficient water can exacerbate constipation and potentially result in intestinal blockage. Additionally, excessive consumption of flaxseed or flaxseed oil can lead to diarrhea.
Mitigation of radiation effects
In 2013, scientists discovered evidence indicating that dietary lignans derived from flaxseed aided in the recovery of mice exposed to radiation.
The mice that consumed lignans exhibited reduced levels of inflammation, injury, oxidative damage, and fibrosis. They also demonstrated a higher survival rate compared to those that did not consume lignans.
If subsequent human studies yield similar outcomes, lignans sourced from flaxseed may hold potential in the treatment of lung conditions following radiation exposure or radiation therapy.
The NCCIH is currently supporting research to determine if the nutrients in Flaxseed offer benefits for:
- Ovarian cancer
- Cardiovascular disease
- Metabolic syndrome
Flaxseed is also used in Ayurvedic medicine for the following purposes:
- Enhancing overall health
- Restoring the skin’s pH balance
- Preventing chronic conditions like diabetes, atherosclerosis, and arthritisProviding cancer protection
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The nutrients in flaxseed may not be suitable for everyone. It is important to consult a doctor or avoid flaxseed products if you:
- Take blood thinners like warfarin (Coumadin) or aspirin
- Use nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
- Use cholesterol-lowering medications
- Have hormone-sensitive breast or uterine cancer
- Are pregnant or breastfeeding
- Have a flaxseed allergy
In general, those who consume flaxseed should:
- Avoid consuming raw or unripe flaxseeds, as they may contain harmful compounds.
- Consume ground flaxseed with an adequate amount of fluids to prevent digestive issues.
- Purchase small bottles of flaxseed oil in dark containers and store them in the refrigerator to prevent spoilage. Also, refrain from using the oil past its expiration date.
- Avoid heating flaxseed oil during cooking. Instead, add it to already prepared dishes and avoid reheating it in the microwave.
Does ground flaxseed have more health benefits than whole flaxseed?
Most nutrition experts suggest using ground flaxseed instead of whole flaxseed because it is more easily digested, ensuring you receive all the benefits.
You can purchase whole or ground flaxseed in bulk at grocery and health food stores. Grinding whole seeds at home is possible using a coffee grinder or food processor.
Here are some tips for incorporating flaxseed into your Super Green Diet:
- Add a tablespoon of ground flaxseed to your hot or cold breakfast cereal.
- Mix a teaspoon of ground flaxseed into mayonnaise or mustard when making a sandwich.
- Incorporate a tablespoon of ground flaxseed into an 8-ounce container of yogurt.
- Bake ground flaxseed into cookies, muffins, bread, and other baked goods.
Remember to consume flaxseed with an ample amount of water or fluids, as you would with other fiber sources. Avoid taking flaxseed at the same time as oral medications. Consult your doctor before trying any dietary supplements.
Flaxseed can be consumed in various forms: ground, as an oil, or in capsules. It is also found in pre-packaged foods like muffins, pastas, snack bars, and milk substitutes. Or you can find it in Super Greens Powder.
With ground Flaxseed you can be added to:
- Breakfast cereals
- Soups and stews
- Salads and sandwiches
- Flaxseeds can also be incorporated into muffin mixes or used as a breadcrumb substitute for coating chicken.
However, excessive use of flaxseed can result in a bitter taste that may not be appealing to everyone. To mitigate this, it is recommended to start with small amounts and gradually increase according to personal preference.
More tips for using, buying, and storing flaxseed:
Buy it ground or grind it yourself. Whole flaxseed may pass through undigested, so opt for ground flaxseed. Electric coffee grinders work well for grinding flaxseed at home.
Milled = ground = flax meal. Don’t be confused by different names; milled and ground flaxseed are the same.
Choose brown or golden flaxseed. Golden flaxseed is visually appealing, but brown flaxseed is more common in supermarkets. Nutritionally, there is little difference between the two.
Find it in stores or online. Many supermarkets carry ground flaxseed in the flour or cereal section. Health food stores and online retailers also offer flaxseed.
Check the product label. Ensure that products contain ground flaxseed, not whole flaxseed. Cereals, pasta, breads, energy bars, and snack foods often contain flaxseed.
Add it to your favorite foods. Mix a couple tablespoons of ground flaxseed into oatmeal, smoothies, soup, or yogurt regularly.
Incorporate it into dark, moist dishes. Flaxseed blends well in dark sauces or meat mixtures like enchilada casserole, chicken parmesan, chili, beef stew, meatloaf, or meatballs.
Use it in baking. Substitute ground flaxseed for part of the flour in recipes for breads, muffins, pancakes, and more.
Store it in the freezer. Freeze ground flaxseed in its original bag or a sealed plastic bag to preserve freshness and nutritional value.
Whole flaxseed has a longer shelf life. Store whole flaxseed in a cool, dark place until grinding. It can be kept at room temperature for up to a year if dry and of good quality.
Flaxseed and its products contain abundant antioxidants, particularly lignans. While they may offer certain health advantages, the current evidence is insufficient to validate them definitively. So, prior to incorporating flaxseed into one’s routine, it is advisable to consult with a physician to ensure its safety and suitability.
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