10 health benefits of flaxseed
Flaxseed, also known as linseed, is an important vegan source of omega-3 fatty acids and has a range of other nutritional benefits
What are flaxseeds?
Flaxseeds (or linseeds) come from the flax plant, Linum usiatatissium. There are two main types of flaxseeds that are consumed: golden and brown. Their nutritional profile is the same, but they are slightly different in colour and, while they both have a nutty taste, golden flaxseeds are slightly sweeter and brown flaxseeds have more of a toasted flavour.
Flaxseeds are typically available as whole, milled or ground flaxseeds or linseeds. You can also buy flaxseed oil.
Flaxseeds can be grown in the UK as well as globally, so you will find them in store all year round, but the British flax season is around July to September. Flax plants develop five-petalled flowers that bloom in the summer and then, after pollination, they develop round seed pods that house the flax seeds. When these pods turn yellow, and the seeds rattle inside, they are ready to be harvested.
Flaxseeds are very versatile and can be eaten hot or cold, in smoothies and porridge, soups and cakes. If using flaxseed oil, this can be used on salads, in bean dips and hummus, and also in soups and stews.
Health benefits of flaxseed include:
- Helping to protect against blocked or narrowing arteries
- Helping to maintain healthy blood pressure
- Supporting blood sugar management
- May protect against breast cancer
- May support healthy brain development in babies
- May protect against menopausal symptoms
- Supports healthy skin
- Helps support a healthy microbiome
- May help weight loss
- May help to ease IBS and similar digestive symptoms
Nutritional analysis of flaxseed
15g (1 tbsp) of ground flaxseeds contains:
- 4g protein
- 6g fat
- 9g carbohydrate
- 3.3g fibre
- 0.2mg vitamin B1
- 0.2mg copper
- 57mg magnesium
- 1.1mg iron
Flaxseeds are most known for their high fibre and high omega-3 content. Being plant-based, the omega-3 found in flaxseeds is in the form of ALA (alpha linolenic acid), which may not convert as effectively as animal-based omega-3 but it is still a good addition to the diet, especially if you don’t consume oily fish.
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What are the health benefits of flaxseed?
1. They help protect against blocked or narrowed arteries
Animal studies have shown that the anti-inflammatory effect of flaxseeds appears to have a beneficial impact on cholesterol and may help in reducing atherosclerosis (the build-up of fats and cholesterol on artery walls, which can reduce blood flow).
2. They help maintain healthy blood pressure
Human and animal studies have demonstrated that flaxseed helps to decrease both systolic and diastolic blood pressure, by improving lipid metabolism and offering anti-inflammatory benefits.
3. They help support healthy blood sugar management
4. They may offer protective benefits against breast cancer
There have been both human and animal studies that indicate flaxseeds offer a significant protective benefit against breast cancer, thanks to their protective plant compounds and omega-3 profile which is naturally anti-inflammatory.
5. They may help support healthy brain development in babies
A 2011 animal study found that maternal diets that included flaxseed helped support healthy brain development in newborns. More research is needed to determine the benefit in humans, but we know that consuming omega-3 helps to increase learning, memory and blood flow to the brain.
6. They may help protect against menopausal symptoms
Flaxseeds contain phytoestrogens, plant-based polyphenols similar to human oestrogen. These phytoestrogens are converted by the gut microbiome, making them bioavailable to the body offering potential protective benefits against menopausal symptoms.
7. They help support healthy skin
A study in 2010 found that women who supplemented with flaxseed oil saw improvement in both skin roughness and hydration.
8. They help support a healthy microbiome
Consuming flaxseeds have been shown to help support a healthy microbiome, and therefore have the potential to support overall health. Flaxseeds are a good source of fibre, including soluble fibre, which acts as a prebiotic thereby feeding the good bacteria in our large intestine.
9. They may help with healthy weight loss
Flaxseeds are high in fibre, and consuming flaxseed may help reduce appetite due to the increased feelings of fullness and satiety from the fibre, helping to promote healthy weight loss, and may help individuals looking to reduce their BMI.
10. They may help with improving digestive symptoms and IBS
As well as supporting a healthy microbiome, flaxseeds may help improve digestive issues such as constipation and diarrhoea, as well as improving symptoms of IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) in some individuals.
What’s the healthiest way to eat flaxseed?
Ground or milled flaxseeds appear to offer the best health benefits, rather than whole flaxseed, as their omega-3 content and fibre is more available to the body when consumed. Whole flaxseeds usually remain undigested as they pass through the body whole.
Flaxseed oil offers higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids than milled, but, as the levels are still beneficial, and the ground flaxseeds come with the additional benefit of fibre, ground flaxseeds would still be the healthiest option overall.
How to store flaxseeds
The challenge with flaxseeds is that they can go rancid if not stored properly. It is best to store flaxseeds in the fridge or freezer and use within 45 days of opening.
If buying flaxseed oil, look for cold-pressed varieties and those that are in dark bottles. Flaxseed oil can be sensitive to light and heat, so do not store near the hob and do not use at very high temperatures, like frying.
Five ways to add more flaxseed to your diet
- Add 1-2 tbsp to your morning porridge, granola or cereal
- Add 1-2 tbsp to a smoothie
- Add 1-2 tbsp when breading chicken or fish
- Add several tbsp to a crumble topping
- Add 1-2 tbsp to a soup to make it thicker
Are flaxseeds safe for everyone?
It is possible to have a flaxseed allergy. If there is any sign of an allergic reaction such as difficulty breathing, swelling of the face, tongue or lips, then call 999 immediately, as this can be life-threatening.
Those taking blood thinners or blood pressure medication are advised to speak to their GP before adding flaxseeds to their diet, in case they lower blood pressure or thin the blood too much. Flaxseeds may also help lower blood sugar and it is advised that if you take medication for diabetes, that this too is checked with your GP before consuming flaxseeds on a regular basis.
There has also been some hype around flaxseeds being toxic because they contain cyanide. However, you would have to eat over 1kg of flaxseeds a day for this to be of concern, and that consuming 1-2 tbsp a day (about 15-30g) is perfectly safe.
The bottom line…
Flaxseeds are super-versatile and can easily be added to your diet on a daily basis. They offer lots of potential health benefits, as well as being a great source of fibre and omega 3. Ground flaxseeds are the better option, but just remember to keep them in the fridge once opened.
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