Flaxseed: Why it’s One of the Most Powerful Plant Foods on Earth
Flaxseed has been called one of the most powerful plant foods on the planet. You’ve probably seen it in products including granola bars, cereals, and even tortilla chips. The tiny seed is packed with nutrients including: omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, minerals, and essential vitamins. Not only is it delicious, but many health experts suggest that it may also help reduce your risk of heart disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes.
Flax seed owes its healthy reputation primarily to these three ingredients:
- Omega-3 essential fatty acids. These “good” fats have been shown to have heart-healthy effects. Each tablespoon of ground flaxseed contains about 1.8 grams of plant-based essential fats, making them an excellent choice for vegetarians to get omega-3s.
- Lignans. Lignans may protect against estrogen-dependents cancers, such as breast cancer, by blocking enzymes that are involved in hormone metabolism. Flax seed contains 75-800 times more lignans than other plant foods.
- Fiber. Flaxseed contains both the soluble and insoluble types of fiber.
Types of Flaxseed
Available at most grocery and health food stores, flaxseed comes in two varieties: brown and golden. Although the color and price differ, the nutritional benefits are the same. While the brown flax seed is slightly less expensive, speaking as a mom, the lighter flax is much easier to hide in recipes to provide added fiber and nutrition for your picky eaters. I use ground flaxseed in everything from breadcrumbs, to cereal, and baked goods.
Flaxseed comes in both whole and ground forms. Whole flax seeds will store well for a long period of time because the seed remains intact. This is good if you buy the seeds in bulk from your health food store. You can grind the whole seeds as needed with a specialty grinder, food processor, or even a coffee grinder.
Ground flax must be stored in an air-tight container in the refrigerator or freezer. While buying ground flax may save you the step of grinding, it’s important to note that it is also highly perishable when exposed to air and light.
Flax can also be purchased in oil form. This is the most expensive way to purchase flaxseed. While you can add flax oil to many foods, it is not meant for cooking. Heat will cause flaxseed oil to go bad and destroy its healthy properties, but use it raw in smoothies, salads, and other cold items for an added health benefit.
HealthBenefits of Flaxseed
Incorporating flaxseeds into your diet has also been shown to decrease the ratio of LDL-to-HDL cholesterol in several human studies. It has also increases the level of apolipoprotein A1, which is the major protein found in HDL cholesterol –the “good” cholesterol.
In some cases, flaxseed has been shown to work just as well as statins to lower cholesterol. Flax also helps to reduce clotting time, which in turn reduces the chance for heart attacks and strokes.
A Great Source of Fiber
Flaxseeds are high in both soluble and insoluble fiber, making them a natural laxative. Just one ounce of flax provides 32% of the USDA’s reference daily intake of fiber. The natural fiber in flax helps the body to absorb water, and softens the stool. It will also help you stay full longer, which is an added bonus for those of us trying to lose a few pounds.
Help for Menopausal Symptoms
Just one ounce of ground flaxseed per day has been shown to regulate estrogen levels in post-menopausal women. This dosage of flax may also protect post-menopausal women from heart disease. Like soy, flaxseed is a phytoestrogen (estrogen-like substances that are found in plants). It is the richest known plant source of phytoestrogens, which help to stabilize hormonal levels which can provide relief of menopausal symptoms.
With its nutty flavor, a small amount of flaxseed goes a long way. In general, consuming 1-2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed each day is considered safe for most adults.
Flaxseed can add flavor, texture, and nutrients to almost any food. Some great ideas to incorporate flaxseed into your diet include:
- Sprinkle ground flaxseed on cereal, oatmeal, yogurt, and salads
- Mix ground flaxseed into meatloaf, meatballs, and into other items with bread crumbs
- Add whole flaxseeds to granola bars, muffins, breads, and other baked goods