Flaxseed: Its Health Benefits
Mar 21, 2017
After recently reading in Gwyneth Paltrow's GOOP newsletter that she tries to feed her children a tablespoon of lemon flavored flaxseed oil every morning, I thought, "lemon flavored?" I was so intrigued, especially because I worry about whether my children consume enough healthy fats that I bought a bottle that same day and added it to some Cajun-spiced catfish. It was surprisingly delicious! I then added some to sauteed vegetables... again, delicious!
Could flaxseed oil be a solution to one of my nutritional worries? We investigated further...
Flaxseed -- An Overview
Flaxseed can be consumed in several forms: ground flax seed (and it may be purchased as whole seeds or already ground up), and as flaxseed oil (which comes from the seeds of the flax plant).
Available in liquid and soft-gel capsule form, flaxseed oil contains both omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which are needed for health. For good health, your body needs twice as many omega-6 as omega-3s in order to combat inflammation. However, most of us already get a large amount of omega-6s from our diet and are deficient in omega-3s. Flaxseed contains approximately three times as much omega-3s as it does omega-6s.
Benefits of Flaxseed
According to WebMD.com, although flaxseed contains all sorts of healthy components, it owes its healthy reputation primarily to three ingredients:
- 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- 800 times more lignans than other plant foods
- Fiber. Flaxseed contains both the soluble and insoluble types.
Would the omega-3s in flaxseed oil address my concerns about our children getting enough good fats for brain development? It turns out that omega-3s from plant sources (e.g., flaxseed, nuts and nut oil, and canola oil) are not as useful to our bodies as the omega-3s from seafood (you may read my notes on this by clicking here: Nutritional Deficit Disorder by Dr. William Sears). However, Dr. William Sears describes flaxseed oil as a "very healthy oil" that he prescribes to children who need more nutrition from under eating.
Lilian Thompson, PHD, an internationally known flaxseed researcher from the University of Toronto, says that although the research isn't yet "well established," there is indication that flaxseed may help reduce the risks of certain cancers and lung disease, cardiovascular disease, inflammation, diabetes, and hot flashes.
- Check labels. Now that omega 3s are so popular, food packages want to advertise them on their labels. Some food makers slip in some of the less expensive omega 3s, like flaxseed oil and canola oil, yet the package will say, “fortified with omega 3s.” Look for a package label that reads “omega 3 DHA,” “omega 3s from marine sources,” make sure ground flaxseed, not whole flaxseed, was added. Flaxseed is a featured ingredient in cereals, pasta, whole grain breads and crackers, energy bars, meatless meal products, and snack foods.
- Whole flaxseed keeps longer. The outside shell in whole flaxseed appears to keep the fatty acids inside well protected. It’s a good idea to keep your whole flaxseed in a dark, cool place until you grind it. But as long as it is dry and of good quality, whole flaxseed can be stored at room temperature for up to a year.
- Buy it ground or grind it yourself. When eaten as a whole seed, flaxseed is more likely to pass through the intestinal tract undigested, which means your body doesn't get all the healthful components. To grind flaxseed yourself, the little electric coffee grinders seem to work best.
- Keep it in the freezer. The best place to store ground flaxseed is the freezer. Freeze pre-ground flaxseed in the bag you bought it in, or in a plastic sealable bag if you ground it yourself. The freezer will keep the ground flax from oxidizing and losing its nutritional potency.
- Buy either brown or golden flaxseed. There is very little nutritional difference between brown or golden flaxseed (except that brown is easier to find in most supermarkets).
- Milled = ground = flax meal. Don’t be confused by the different product names for ground flaxseed. Milled or ground flaxseed is the same thing as flax meal.
- Add flaxseed to a food you habitually eat. Every time you have a certain food, like oatmeal, smoothies, soup, or yogurt, stir in a couple tablespoons of ground flaxseed. Soon it will be a habit and you won’t have to think about it, you’ll just do it.
- Use it in baking. Substitute ground flaxseed for part of the flour in recipes for quick breads, muffins, rolls, bread, bagels, pancakes, and waffles. Try replacing 1/4 to 1/2 cup of the flour with ground flaxseed if the recipe calls for 2 or more cups of flour.
- Flaxseed oil does not have the fiber and has fewer lignans than the ground flaxseed. Read more on the Dr. Oz website: 3 Benefits of Flax.
My Related Notes: