Eating for Health: Exploring the Benefits of FlaxseedsPublished on Friday, October 27, 2023 by
The Nutritional Marvel of Flaxseeds
On many lists of superfoods, more and more often flaxseeds are appearing. I’m not surprised by this, seeing as the little food packs a mighty nutritional punch. A growing body of research surrounding flaxseeds shows benefits for cancer reduction, diabetes, cardiovascular health, skin health, and gastrointestinal health.
Many of my patients have heard of flaxseeds and have a general idea that they can be healthy but have no idea why or how to use them. The goal of this article is to answer these questions.
The Nutritional Powerhouse: The Health Benefits of Flaxseeds
Flaxseed can be purchased either ground or whole, which I will explain later. But to discuss flaxseed’s nutritional composition, I will refer to whole flaxseeds. A serving size of 2 tablespoons provides 110 calories, 6g of fiber, 6g of polyunsaturated fats, 2g of monounsaturated fats, and 4 grams of protein. It also contains a wide micronutrient variety, including calcium, potassium, phosphorus, and iron (among others).
Flaxseeds are also the richest dietary source of the phytochemical lignan, which has several anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties.
An article published in the scientific journal Nutrients outlines some key research on the benefits of flaxseeds:
- Diabetes: Multiple randomized controlled trials show flaxseed supplementation has reduced blood glucose in subjects with type 2 diabetes and prediabetes.
- Cancer: A systematic review of 10 human trials indicated that flaxseed reduces tumor growth in women with breast cancer and may decrease the risk of developing breast cancer. Other research indicates improved breast cancer mortality with flaxseed supplementation.
- Cardiovascular health: Various studies in different animal models found that flaxseed helped lower circulating cholesterol levels, reduced levels of trans fats, and even improved atherosclerosis.
- Gastrointestinal: Early animal studies demonstrate the potential for flaxseeds to alter the gut microbiome. At least two randomized control trials have indicated flax seed’s potential use in relieving constipation. One trial showed that flaxseed improved constipation symptoms even more than psyllium, a common fiber supplement.
Ground or Whole? The Best Way to Incorporate Flaxseeds
Now that I’ve convinced you of some of its benefits, let’s talk about using it in our diet. As I mentioned earlier, you can purchase flaxseeds ground or whole. Typically, I recommend choosing ground flaxseeds. This is because they tend to be easier to digest, which helps to make some of their properties bioavailable, including the omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid. If you can’t find them whole, you can always grind them yourself in a spice grinder.
However, if you choose ground flaxseeds, be aware that exposure to light and oxygen makes them lose some nutrition properties more quickly than the whole form. Keeping them stored in a cool, dark place or even the fridge can help them to stay shelf-stable longer. Whether you choose ground or whole, you can still get health benefits while enhancing your meals and snacks.
Flaxseeds in Your Diet
Whole flaxseed is great when you want a little texture. It can be used as a crunchy salad or soup topper, added to baked goods, or as part of a nutrient-dense granola recipe.
Ground flaxseed is a little easier to mix into things like smoothies, sprinkled on yogurt and cereal, or even mixed with water or milk.
- Food Data Central. (n.d.). Seeds, Flaxseed. In USDA Food Data Central. Retrieved September 20, 2023, from https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/169414/nutrients
- Linus Pauling Institute. (2021). Lignans. In Micronutrient Information Center. Retrieved September 20, 2023, from https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/dietary-factors/phytochemicals/lignans
- Parikh, M., Maddaford, T.G., Austria, J.A., Aliani, M., Netticadan, T., & Pierce, G. (2019). Dietary flaxseed as a strategy for improving human health. Nutrients, 11(5):1171.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6567199/
Savannah DuffyMS, RDN, LD