Flaxseed, also known as linseed, is the seed of the flax plant, which is used for linen, linseed oil and as a food source. It is incredibly good for you and this means that you should really consider including it as part of your diet.
Flaxseed contains a cornucopia of nutrients; most importantly the omega-3 fatty acid called alpha linolenic acid (ALA), which our bodies convert to eicosapentanoic acid (EPA) and docosahexanoic acid (DHA). These nutrients are known for their inflammation fighting properties, which can assist people with arthritis and auto-immune diseases (e.g. diabetes and multiple sclerosis). In obese people with a body-mass-index (BMI) greater than 30, flaxseed supplementation reduces inflammatory blood markers (C-reactive protein) slightly.
Flaxseed is the best dietary source of lignans, which our intestinal bacteria break down into phytoestrogens. Lignans may play a role in the prevention of oestrogen-associated cancers (e.g. breast and ovarian), osteoporosis, and heart disease.
Lignan-rich diets – containing whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, fruit and vegetables – have been consistently associated with a lessened risk of heart disease. By routinely adding flaxseed or its derivatives to your usual diet, for at least 12 weeks, you may reduce both your total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol. The benefits are greater in women and in those with high cholesterol.
Flaxseed is also high in both soluble fibre (which helps in lowering cholesterol) and insoluble fibre (which helps for constipation). Ten grams of flaxseed contains one gram of soluble fibre and three grams of insoluble fibre. We need to consume about 27g of fibre from foods per day.
Consuming more than 30 g of flaxseed daily for more than 12 weeks can help with weight loss and lower your waist circumference if your BMI is greater than 27.
By eating flaxseed routinely, you can achieve a small reduction in your blood pressure over 12 weeks.
BONUS – vegetarians/vegans
Flaxseed is especially rich in vitamin B1 (thiamine), minerals (magnesium, phosphorus) and electrolytes (potassium). It is a good alternative food source for vegetarians and vegans since it has the same omega 3 fatty acid beneficial effects as fish oil. It is also a good source of vegetable protein.
How to prepare flaxseeds
Flaxseeds can be ground into a flour/meal or pressed into oil, which can then be incorporated as a functional food ingredient into baked foods, juices, milk and dairy products, muffins, dried pasta products, macaroni and meat products.
A word of caution: don’t go overboard with using flaxseed. More than 45 to 50g per day may increase stool frequency or cause diarrhoea. It also contains an ingredient that prevents absorption of vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) which may need to be supplemented. Its high-fat content causes products containing flaxseed to go rancid quickly, which can shorten storage time. Always refrigerate it in a sealed container.
Avoid flaxseed if you are on radiation therapy for cancer. Be very cautious of flaxseed if you have a sesame seed allergy. Avoid eating the whole seeds if you have diverticulosis as it can cause infection. Be careful of the amount you eat when you are on anti-coagulants (e.g. warfarin) – it can increase bleeding.
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