Is flaxseed the new wonder food? Preliminary studies show that it may help fight heart disease, diabetes and breast cancer (scroll down to read in detail).
You probably already know that magical linen textile comes from a fascinating plant called Flax. It’s truly one of a kind plant that can be used top to bottom: we make linen thread out of stems, and we widely use flaxseed (pictured) that comes from the flower part of the plant. All that with none to zero waste! So what makes flaxseed so amazing, that some call it one of the most powerful plant foods on the planet?
Flaxseed was cultivated in Babylon as early as 3000 BC. In the 8th century, King Charlemagne believed so strongly in the health benefits of flaxseed that he passed laws requiring his subjects to consume it. Now, thirteen centuries later, some experts say we have preliminary research to back up what Charlemagne suspected.
Flaxseed is found in all kinds of today's foods from crackers to frozen waffles to oatmeal. The Flax Council estimates close to 300 new flax-based products were launched in the U.S. and Canada in 2010 alone. Not only has consumer demand for flaxseed grown, but agricultural use has also increased. Flaxseed is what's used to feed all those chickens that are laying eggs with higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids.
Although flaxseed contains all sorts of healthy components, it owes its primary healthy reputation to three of them:
- Omega-3 essential fatty acids, "good" fats that have been shown to have heart-healthy effects. Each tablespoon of ground flaxseed contains about 1.8 grams of plant omega-3s
- Lignans, which have both plant estrogen and antioxidant qualities. Flaxseed contains 75 to 800 times more lignans than other plant foods
- Fiber. Flaxseed contains both the soluble and insoluble types
There’s some evidence it may help reduce your risk of heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes. That’s quite a tall order for a tiny seed that’s been around for centuries.
Here are some health benefits of flax seeds that are backed by science.
Flax Seeds Are a Rich Source of Lignans, Which May Reduce Cancer Risk
Lignans are plant compounds that have antioxidant and estrogen properties, both of which can help lower the risk of cancer and improve health.
Interestingly, flax seeds contain up to 800 times more lignans than other plant foods.
Observational studies show that those who eat flax seeds have a lower risk of breast cancer, particularly postmenopausal women.
Additionally, according to a Canadian study involving more than 6,000 women, those who eat flax seeds are 18% less likely to develop breast cancer.
However, men can also benefit from eating flax seeds.
In a small study including 15 men, those given 30 grams of flax seeds a day while following a low-fat diet showed reduced levels of a prostate cancer marker, suggesting a lower risk of prostate cancer.
Flax seeds also appeared to have the potential to prevent colon and skin cancers in laboratory and animal studies. Yet, more research is needed to confirm this.
Nevertheless, the evidence thus far points to flax seeds being a potentially valuable food in the fight against various cancers.
Flax seeds contain a group of nutrients called lignans, which have powerful antioxidant and estrogen properties. They may help in preventing breast and prostate cancer, as well as other types of cancer.
Flax Seeds Are High in Omega-3 Fats
If you are a vegetarian or don't eat fish, flax seeds can be your best source of omega-3 fats.
They are a rich source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a mostly plant-based omega-3 fatty acid.
ALA is one of the two essential fatty acids that you have to obtain from the food you eat, as your body doesn't produce them.
Animal studies have shown that the ALA in flax seeds prevented cholesterol from being deposited in the blood vessels of the heart, reduced inflammation in the arteries and reduced tumor growth.
A Costa Rican study involving 3,638 people found that those who ate more ALA had a lower risk of heart attack than those who consumed less ALA.
Also, a large review of 27 studies involving more than 250,000 people found that ALA was linked to a 14% lower risk of heart disease.
Numerous studies have also linked ALA to a lower risk of stroke.
Furthermore, a recent review of observational data concluded that ALA had heart health benefits comparable to eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), two of the more well-known omega-3 fats.
Flax seeds are a rich source of the omega-3 fatty acid ALA. Plant-based ALA fatty acids are proven to have heart health benefits and are linked to a lower risk of stroke.
Flax Seeds May Improve Cholesterol
Another health benefit of flax seeds is their ability to lower cholesterol levels.
In one study in people with high cholesterol, consuming 3 tablespoons (30 grams) of flaxseed powder daily for three months lowered total cholesterol by 17% and "bad" LDL cholesterol by almost 20%.
Another study of people with diabetes found that taking 1 tablespoon (10 grams) of flaxseed powder daily for one month resulted in a 12% increase in "good" HDL cholesterol.
In postmenopausal women, consuming 30 grams of flax seeds daily lowered total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol by approximately 7% and 10%, respectively.
These effects appear to be due to the fiber in flax seeds, as it binds to bile salts and is then excreted by the body.
To replenish these bile salts, cholesterol is pulled from your blood into your liver. This process lowers your blood levels of cholesterol.
This is definitely good news for those wanting to improve their cholesterol.
The high fiber content of flax seeds can help lower cholesterol and may play an important role in improving heart health.
Flax Seeds May Help Control Blood Sugar
Type 2 diabetes is a major health problem worldwide.
It's characterized by high blood sugar levels as a result of either the body's inability to secrete insulin or resistance to it.
A few studies have found that people with type 2 diabetes who added 10–20 grams of flaxseed powder to their daily diet for at least one month saw reductions of 8–20% in blood sugar levels.
This blood sugar-lowering effect is notably due to flax seeds' insoluble fiber content. Research has found that insoluble fiber slows down the release of sugar into the blood and reduces blood sugar.
However, one study found no change in blood sugar levels or any improvement in diabetes management.
This might be due to the small numbers of subjects in the study and the use of flaxseed oil. Flaxseed oil lacks fiber, which is credited with flax seeds' ability to lower blood sugar.
Overall, flax seeds can be a beneficial and nutritious addition to the diet of people with diabetes.
Flax seeds may lower blood sugar due to their insoluble fiber content. They can be a beneficial addition to the diet of people with diabetes.
Flax Seeds Can Be a Versatile Ingredient
Flax seeds or flaxseed oil can be added to many common foods. Try the following:
- Adding them to water and drinking it as part of your daily fluid intake
- Drizzling flaxseed oil as a dressing on salad
- Sprinkling ground flax seeds over your hot or cold breakfast cereal
- Mixing them into your favorite yogurt
- Adding them into cookie, muffin, bread or other batters
- Mixing them into smoothies to thicken up the consistency
- Adding them to water as an egg substitute
- Incorporating them into meat patties
They Contain High-Quality Protein
Flax seeds are a great source of plant-based protein, and there's growing interest in flaxseed protein and its health benefits. Flaxseed protein is rich in the amino acids arginine, aspartic acid, and glutamic acid.
Numerous lab and animal studies have shown that flaxseed protein helped improve immune function, lowered cholesterol, prevented tumors and had anti-fungal properties.
If you are considering cutting back on meat and worried that you will be too hungry, flax seeds may just be your answer.
In fact, in one recent study, 21 adults were given an animal protein meal or plant protein meal. The study found no difference in terms of appetite, satiety or food intake noted between the two meals.
It's likely both the animal and plant protein meals stimulated hormones in the gut to bring about the feeling of fullness, which resulted in eating less at the next meal.
Flax seeds are a good source of plant-based protein and can be an alternative protein source for people who do not eat meat.
The Bottom Line
When it comes to nutritional goodness, flax seeds are full of it.
Though tiny, they are rich in the omega-3 fatty acid ALA, lignans and fiber, all of which have been shown to have many potential health benefits.
They can be used to improve digestive health, lower blood pressure and bad cholesterol, reduce the risk of cancer and may benefit people with diabetes.
As a versatile food ingredient, flax seeds or flaxseed oil are easy to add to your diet.
With many proven health benefits and possibly more, there's no better time than now to grab some flax seeds from your local grocery store.