Flaxseeds have been part of the human diet since 4000BC. There are two varieties, brown and golden, and they share similar nutritional characteristics. Flaxseeds owe their high nutritional profile to three main components: lignans, omega-3 fatty acids, and fiber.
- Flaxseeds have 800 times more phytochemicals – known as lignans - than other oil seeds. Lignans act as phytoestrogens and have proven to reduce hormone-dependent cancers (specifically prostate and breast cancers) and cardiovascular risk.
- A type of omega-3 fatty acid known as alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is found in flaxseeds. Two tablespoons have 3.5 grams of ALA, which is higher than the NIH recommendation! Omega-3 fatty acids decrease risk of inflammatory conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and arthritis.
- Flaxseeds contain both soluble and insoluble fiber, roughly 2 grams per tablespoon (0.5 grams soluble). Fiber is healthful for digestion (constipation), cardiovascular health (lowering total and LDL cholesterol) and diabetes (controlling blood glucose and lowering HgA1c).
So which incarnation is better: whole flaxseeds, flaxseed meal (ground/milled) or flaxseed oil? Like most things, it depends.
For the full benefit: I usually recommend ground flaxseeds because the nutrients are more bioavailable and easier for our bodies to digest.
To aid constipation: Whole flaxseeds tend to pass through our intestine undigested, which means that we don’t absorb all of the nutrients. They can have a laxative effect (if taken with enough fluid) and can relieve constipation.
For healthy fats: All forms of flax are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, however flaxseed oil does not have fiber or lignans, since both are found in the fibrous part of the plant.
Where to buy? Flaxseeds have gone mainstream and can be purchased in health food stores and most grocery stores.
How to store? Ground flaxseed and flaxseed oil have a shorter shelf-life than flaxseeds. I suggest refrigerating for higher retention of nutrients.
How to cook? Omega-3s found in whole and crushed flaxseeds remain stable and intact while cooking in high heat; on the other hand, the omega-3s in flaxseed oil do not.
How to use? Flaxseeds can be a part of every meal.
- Add to hot or cold cereals
- Combine in sauces/condiments like mustard or light mayo
- Sprinkle on yogurt, toasted bread or whole-grain waffles
- Blend into homemade smoothies
- Cook in casseroles
- Bake in cookies, muffins, or breads
- Add flaxseed oil to salads or smoothies
- Use crushed flaxseed as breading for chicken or fish
Best brand? The one that only has 1 ingredient! For products containing flaxseeds, Nature’s Path, Bob’s Red Mill, Kashi, KIND, and Simply Beyond are some companies that consistently use them.
Recommendation: Make flaxseeds a part of your daily diet. Start with 1 tablespoon and slowly (and as tolerated) add up to 2 tablespoons a day.
NOTE on ALA: We do not benefit equally from the omega-3s found in flaxseeds (ALA) as we do from those found in fatty fish – (EPA and DHA, or EicosaPentaenoic Acid and DocosaHexaenoic Acid). Our bodies have to convert ALA to EPA and DHA in order to use it, making the process relatively inefficient.
Originally posted on NYHRC Tumblr
- What’s new in flax? We’re glad you asked. Today’s Dietitian.
- Flaxseed Oil. University of Maryland Medical Center.
- The World’s Healthiest Foods.
Edited and photographed by TCabrarr