Flaxseeds, also known as linseeds, truly pack a powerful nutritional punch for their tiny size. These small wonders have been around since Mesopotamian times when they were grown for oil, seeds and fiber. Flax is a member of the Linaceae family, of the genus Linum, and botanically named Linum usitatissimum.
Not only are these chewy seeds a nutritious and delicious addition to your diet but they also contain some valuable therapeutic properties that can help keep you looking and feeling your best. Mother Nature has packed these seeds with omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, minerals and essential vitamins.
Research findings have shown that flaxseeds can help reduce the risk of fatal but preventable diseases and conditions including such killers as heart disease and cancer.
Description & Types
Flax is an attractive and stately plant that has an upright growing habit and reaches a mature height of 3 to 5 feet while bearing beautiful light-blue flowers. Flax can be grown in a wide range of climates and thrives in fertile, well-drained soil and full sun. Flax is easy to grow and is often in gardens as a wildflower.
The flax fruit pod is a round, dry capsule that is 6-9 mm in diameter and contain numerous brown or slightly yellow seeds that are smooth, glossy coat and a flat shape that looks somewhat like sesame seeds but larger.
There are two cultivars of flax; one is grown mainly for its oil, seeds and the other for fiber. The majority of flaxseed available commercially is brown in color.
Why Ground Flaxseed is Best
The body is unable to digest flaxseed in its whole form; it simply passes through the gastrointestinal tract undigested. To benefit from the nutritional and therapeutic value of whole flax, it must be ground. You can use a coffee grinder or even a powerful food processor to grind the seeds. Once you grind them, the seeds will go rancid very quickly, so it is a good idea to store them in the fridge in an airtight container and use them within a few days of grinding. If ever your flax meal tastes bitter, it is probably old and should be thrown away. The meal should always taste nutty and fresh.
Health Benefits of Flaxseeds
Research continues to discover more and more about the medicinal benefits of the humble flaxseed. Here are just a few of the ways that flaxseed can improve your health.
1. Reduce the Risk of Cancer
Cancer kills over 7.6 million people worldwide. However, lignans (chemical compounds) found in flaxseed, have antioxidant properties that can help keep cancer at bay. In numerous animal studies, lignans have been shown to shrink cancerous tumors, and they have also been used to treat both breast and prostate cancer in humans. Lignans are also thought to help lower the risk of development of hormone-related cancers including prostate and ovarian cancer among others.
2. Promotes Healthy Skin & Hair
If you are want to enhance the health and appearance of your skin and hair you should consume flaxseed on a regular basis. Flaxseed contains ALA (Alpha-linolenic acid) fats. These omega -3 fatty acids help moisturize your scalp and nourish your hair. They improve hair elasticity, leading to less breakage and can help reduce dandruff and other scalp conditions.
Also, the anti-inflammatory properties in flaxseeds prevent the permanent hair loss condition known as Cicatricial alopecia.
These same omega-3 fatty acids help increase the speed at which wounds heals. Flaxseed is known for its high anti-inflammatory properties. Consuming flaxseed daily minimizes skin irritations, rashes, inflammation, and redness. Eating flax seeds help reduce the likeliness of acne, dermatitis, and psoriasis as well.
To reap the health benefits of flaxseed oil, you can mix it in with essential oils and use it as a moisturizer. You can also take the oil internally; two tablespoons will do the trick. For a totally natural and high effective exfoliant, prepare a scrub using ground flaxseeds. Mix flaxseed powder with a little plain yogurt and raw honey and rub it on your skin in a circular motion for about ten minutes and rinse with warm water. Pat dry with a dry and clean towel. The scrub removes dead skin cells and leaves it feeling soft and silky.
3. Improve Satiety
Consuming flaxseed helps keep the munchies away. Because it contains soluble fiber that swells in the stomach after absorbing various liquids, flax fills you up fast and keeps you feeling fuller for longer. If you are prone to late night snack attacks, eating flaxseed throughout the day can help reduce these cravings and promote healthy weight loss.
4. Improve Nutrient Absorption
The ability of the digestive tract to absorb nutrients can be reduced over time if you consume a highly processed diet. Flaxseed helps enhance nutrient absorption in the digestive tract in various ways. As previously mentioned, flax is rich in soluble fiber which acts as a glue, holding food in the stomach for longer and, therefore, helping with absorption of nutrients.
The fiber in flax is also known to help cleanse the lining of the intestines and remove toxins and waste. This means that all of the nutrient absorbing parts of the gut get an efficiency boost.
5. Regulate Hormones
Flaxseed contains powerful hormone regulation capabilities. The main ingredient in flax, lignans, are chemical compounds known as phytoestrogens. They mimic the natural properties of estrogen when consumed and, therefore, work to complete the various functions associated with the hormone. For women going through menopause, these can be used to supplement their natural estrogen levels. They can also help substantially reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Additionally, consuming the seeds can help menstruating women maintain a regular cycle. To ensure that you gain these benefits from flaxseed you will need to consume about two tablespoonfuls every day.
6. Regulate Cholesterol
According to the Mayo Clinic, eating flaxseed on a regular basis can help lower your cholesterol, which will also lower your risk of heart disease. In a 2010 study published in Nutrition Research, it was discovered that 100 mg of flaxseed lignan can reduce cholesterol levels in men with moderately elevated cholesterol levels. In another study, 40 patients with elevated cholesterol levels were instructed to take 20 grams of ground flaxseed per day. These results were compared to a group taking statin drugs, and it was found that those who took the flax did just as well as those who took the drugs.
7. Substitute for Regular Flour
People who usually experience stomach problems after consuming gluten or simply want an alternative can choose flaxseed. Flaxseed in ground form can be used as grain-free cooking flour in combination with other types of gluten-free flour such as coconut flour.
8. Help with Constipation
Consuming a 1- 3 tablespoonfuls of flaxseed oil on a daily basis can help ease constipation naturally. Since flaxseed contains a high amount of fiber, it helps food move through the digestive tract easily thus reducing the risk of constipation. The fiber in the flaxseed is also known to enhance the formation and survival of various types of gut-friendly bacteria which enhance gut health in general.
9. Boost Levels of Antioxidants
Regular consumption of flaxseed will help boost your normal intake of natural antioxidants. These have anti-aging capabilities, enhance cellular health and even regulate hormones.
10. Balance Blood Sugar
Flaxseed helps to balance blood sugar and may play a role in the prevention of diabetes. Adding flax to your diet also helps to prevent spikes in blood sugar. In one study, diabetic participants who consumed one tablespoon of ground flax daily for a month had a lower drop in fasting sugars, triglycerides, and cholesterol when compared to the control group. Also, the group that consumed the flax also had a drop in A1C levels.
11. Counter Effects of Radiation
Consumption of flaxseed on a regular basis has been found to help reduce the effect of radiation on the skin. The main properties of flaxseed that provide this protection are its anti-inflammatory nature and its high levels of antioxidants.
12. Rich in Vitamins & Minerals
Flaxseed is rich in a variety of healthy vitamins and minerals that work to give you better overall health. Some of the main minerals in flaxseed include selenium, magnesium, phosphorus, manganese, potassium, copper, iron and zinc. Vitamins found in flaxseed include vitamin B1 and B6. All these nutrients have a positive boost on essential bodily processes.
13. Boost Immunity
Consuming flaxseed on a regular basis helps to support optimal function of the immune system. Flaxseed is loaded with iron that helps with oxygen transport throughout the body and to organs and cells. Iron helps fight infection by providing the immune system with plenty of oxygen. Oxygen is also vital to energy maintenance and keeping your body strong and healthy.
Together the omega-3 fatty acids and lignans in flax help keep the white blood cells strong so that they can fight off disease. Since lignans are known to contain effective antiviral and antibacterial properties, it is reasonable to expect that regular consumption may help the body fight against the common flu and colds.
14. Reduce Inflammation
Inflammation in the body is necessary to facilitate healing. However, free radicals and other negative elements can cause serious inflammation which subsequently leads to physical damage in the body. If unchecked, inflammation can lead to serious damage in the body which manifest in a variety of conditions including arthritis.
The good news is that you can be able to deal with this inflammation by simply including flaxseed into your diet. The lignans and omega 3 fatty acids found in flaxseed help reduce this inflammation as well as enhancing the rate of healing where necessary.
How to Eat More Flaxseed:
Here are just a few ways to add more flaxseed to your diet.
- Use flaxseed as an egg substitute in baked goods.
- Sprinkle flaxseed on yogurt, cottage cheese, cereals, oats and rice.
- Add flaxseed to your smoothies.
- Add flaxseed to soups, curries and casseroles.