The Health Benefits of Adding Flaxseed to the Diet

Flaxseed provides many health benefits and may prevent many diseases by simply adding one to two tablespoons to the diet each day. This tiny seed has been helping people stay healthy for over 5,000 years and today is still one of the most balanced foods for obtaining the proper amount of omega-3, omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids in the daily diet.

Nutritional Benefits of Flaxseed

According to Mark Stengler, ND, a naturopathic medical doctor and author of The Natural Physician’s Healing Therapies, many of today’s diseases are related to a deficiency in essential fatty acids. Most of the fats eaten by the average person are the “bad fats,” saturated and trans fat, which have a toxic effect on the immune and nervous systems. In a perfect world, people would eat a diet rich in the “good fats,” omega-3, omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids. These fats, which are found in flaxseed, help to improve the health of all cells in the body, including brain cells, and eliminate toxic waste from cells.

Flaxseed is also rich in many vitamins and minerals, including vitamins B1, B2, C, E and carotene, lecithin, iron, zinc, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus and calcium. Flaxseed contains over one-hundred times more phytonutrients, called lignans, as compared to its competitors wheat bran, soybeans, buckwheat, millet and oats. Lignans are beneficial for fighting cancer, bacteria, viruses and fungi. Flaxseed also contains both soluble and unsoluble fiber which is beneficial for the digestive tract as well as lowering cholesterol and regulating blood-sugar levels.

Disease-Fighting Power of Flaxseed

Flaxseed is beneficial in preventing and treating many diseases and conditions. These include:

Lowers Cholesterol – A study conducted at Iowa State University’s Nutrition Research Center found that adding three tablespoons of flaxseed to the daily diet can reduce cholesterol levels in men by up to 10 percent. However, these same results were not found in women.

Reduces Osteoporosis Risk – A study found that adding flaxseed to the diet decreased the risk of osteoporosis in post-menopausal women and women with diabetes.

Arthritis – The omega-3 fatty acids in flaxseed is beneficial in helping to keep joints lubricated and lowers inflammation of the joints. This is especially helpful for osteoarthritis but can also be beneficial for rheumatoid arthritis. However, for rheumatoid arthritis it is recommended to supplement the flaxseed by eating cold water fish, like salmon and mackerel, or taking a fish oil supplement.

Cancer Prevention and Treatment – Flaxseed has shown to be beneficial in the prevention and treatment of some cancers including breast cancer and prostate cancer. It is believed that the primary factor is the lignans in flaxseed. Lignans help to support the immune system as well as have a balancing effect on hormones.

Digestive Disorders – People who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis and chronic constipation could benefit from adding flaxseed to their diet. The high fiber in flaxseed helps to relieve constipation and flaxseed may also help to calm the inflammation in the digestive tract. Flaxseed also feeds good bacterial in the intestines which is generally low in people who have these types of disorders.

Menopause – Flaxseed may relieve hot flashes and night sweats in menopausal women. The lignans in flaxseed are beneficial in balancing hormones. The suggested dose is 40 grams per day.

Memory Aid – The brain is comprised of 60 percent fat and essential fatty acids are an important component of this fat. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is an essential nutrient for memory and learning and flaxseed helps contribute DHA to the brain. The omega-3 fatty acids in flaxseed also have an anti-inflammatory effect which can contribute to brain health.

Other Health Benefits of Flaxseed – Flaxseed is also beneficial in treating acne, eczema and in building up the immune system.

Adding Flaxseed to the Diet

Flaxseed is available as seeds, oil and as a supplement pill. Flaxseed has a distinctive nutty flavor and can easily be added to food in a variety of ways. However, the seeds must be ground in a coffee grinder before placed in food to receive the full health benefits. Use ground seeds immediately because they can turn rancid very quickly. Adults should have one to two tablespoons of flaxseed a day. It is recommended to start with half a tablespoon and slowly work up to two tablespoons a day to help the body adjust to the high fiber content. It is also imperative to drink plenty of water while taking flaxseed to help move the seeds through the digestive tract.

Flaxseed oil is also available and can also be added to food. It is recommended to buy small bottles of flaxseed oil because it can also go rancid quickly once the bottle has been opened. Do not use flaxseed oil for cooking foods in because the heat will take away the nutrients in the oil. Adults should have one to two tablespoons a day. Flaxseed oil is also available in capsule form.

Flaxseed is packed full of health benefits in each tiny seed. Adding it to the diet is a simple way to boost health and prevent many dangerous diseases and conditions.

Tips & Tricks for Eating More Flaxseed

Most people know that fatty fish--like salmon--is a great source of Omega-3 fatty acids, which have been linked to improved cardiovascular health. But did you know that flaxseeds are also a great source of Omega-3s?

For folks who dislike fish--or vegetarians who choose not to eat seafood--flaxseeds are an adequate source of Omega-3s. But getting the full benefits of the fatty acids in these little brown seeds requires a lot more than just munching a handful straight from the bag.

You can purchase flaxseeds in a few different ways, including the whole seeds, ground seeds or flaxseed oil. Here are a few suggestions:

Whole Flaxseeds: The body just passes whole flaxseeds, so you'll need to grind them up to take advantage of the Omega-3 fatty acids they contain. They're most palatable when they've been ground fine. Since the seeds are typically too small for most food processors, many people find a coffee grinder is the best appliance for grinding flaxseeds. Try to grind only the amount you'll need.

Ground Flaxseeds: Flaxseeds can be purchased already ground and packaged in a bag. This is not the best way to buy them, however, since they go rancid quickly. If you do purchase them, store them in the refrigerator or freezer to extend their shelf life. Once you grind flaxseeds, they need to be used soon.

Flaxseed Oil: Like the ground seeds, flaxseed oil will go rancid quickly. It should come in an opaque container--typically a black bottle--and it should also be refrigerated. Check the expiration date, since the shelf life of this oil is very short. Once you open the bottle, you should use it all within six to eight weeks. This oil is unstable at high temperatures, so you can't cook with it or heat it. Instead, you will need to use it as a condiment, dressing or ingredient in a cold recipe.

Here are a few tips for adding flaxseeds to your diet:

* Add ground flaxseeds to muffins, pancakes, breads and biscuits
* Sprinkle ground flaxseeds in yogurt and cereal.
* Buy products with added flaxseeds, such as cereals or pastas.
* Make cold salad dressings with flaxseed oil.
* Add flaxseed oil to smoothies.
* Drizzle flaxseed oil as a condiment for baked potatoes, garlic bread, etc.

Flaxseed Oil as a Natural Arthritis Treatment

Using flaxseed oil as a natural arthritis treatment makes good sense and is recommended by many leading arthritis publications, including the Arthritis Foundation. When selecting natural arthritis treatments, flaxseed oil provides an inexpensive way to obtain omega-3 fatty acids.

Arthritis Pain and Inflammation and the Link to Essential Fatty Acids

Essential fatty acids are the "good" fats the human body cannot make on its own. Scientists assign them numbers - omega-3, omega-6 and omega-9. The ratio, rather than the quantity, is what's most important. According to the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University, the typical Western diet is usually full of omega-6 fatty acids but deficient in omega-3. That's not surprising, given the plethora of corn and soy in the average Western diet - both plants rich in omega-6 and deficient in omega-3.

When omega 3 fatty acids are plentiful in the diet, they are plentiful in human cells. They tend to decrease the inflammatory response. This decreases inflammation and in turn, arthritis pain. Other beneficial effects include lowering the risk of heart disease, improvements in vision and mood, and improvements in any disorder caused or exacerbated by the inflammatory response.

Flaxseed Oil Supplements as Natural Remedies for Arthritis

Although the FDA has not approved the claim that flaxseed oil supplements are a natural remedy for arthritis, there is so much anecdotal information based on sound scientific knowledge of how omega-3 fatty acids work that many doctors are comfortable suggesting flaxseed oil supplements as natural remedies for arthritis.

Many brand names and types of flaxseed oil supplements are found in pharmacies, vitamin stores and natural health food stores nationwide. One popular brand is Barleans flax seed oil. Barleans flax seed oil (the company spells flaxseed as "flax seed") is an organic flaxseed oil rich in plant lingans, which the body turns into useful substances to reduce inflammation and balance hormones. Barleans flax seed oil is available as a liquid which can be used as a food oil in salad dressings or with any meal.

Flaxseed oil supplements may be easier for some patients to take. These supplements vary in potency and dose, so read the label and follow label directions before taking flaxseed oil supplements. For vegans and vegetarians, avoid capsules containing gelatin since gelatin is made from animal hooves and slaughterhouse by-products. Organic flaxseed oil should be free from pesticides and obtained from flax plants grown according to government organic standards.

Other Natural Remedies for Arthritis

There are many other natural remedies for arthritis that patients can try. A diet for arthritis pain relief is based upon good nutritional recommendations and includes healthy fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low fat protein sources. Herbs may offer some relief, along with gentle exercises such as t'ai chi, yoga and walking to maintain mobility and improve flexibility.

As always, follow physician's recommendations. If allergic reactions or unpleasant reactions occur when taking supplements, stop taking them and seek medical treatment. Flaxseed oil supplements should not be taken by patients who are taking blood thinning medication, cholesterol lowering medication, or certain heart medications without doctor's approval.

Flaxseed Lowers Total and LDL Cholesterol

For several years, the cholesterol-lowering virtues of grains and their oils have been touted by nutritionists and practitioners of “natural medicine.”

Unfortunately, these claims haven’t been universally supported by research; the findings from most randomized studies have been confounded by small sample sizes, inconsistencies in products tested, and other weaknesses in study design.

Finally, however, a meta-analysis of 28 studies comparing flaxseed and its derivatives (flaxseed oil and flax lignans) with placebo or other products lends strength to claims that flaxseed confers cholesterol-lowering benefits. (Pan A, et al. Meta-analysis of the effects of flaxseed interventions on blood lipids.

Meta-analysis Lends Statistical Power to a Group of Studies

- The meta-analysis represented a reasonably good cross section of the population: Five of the studies were conducted exclusively in postmenopausal women; one included only premenopausal women; ten trials included subjects of both sexes; ten were conducted in men only; one trial did not specify the gender composition of the study sample, and one reported results separately by gender.
- The duration of the trials ranged from two to 52 weeks, with a median duration of 8.5 weeks. Ten of the 28 trials tested flaxseed in whole, ground, or defatted form in doses ranging from 2 – 5 tablespoons (20 – 50 grams). Flaxseed oil was evaluated in 13 of the trials in doses ranging from one to 38 grams (standardized for alpha-linolenic acid).
- Flaxseed lignan was tested in daily doses ranging from 200 to 600 mg.
- Wheat, wheat bran or germ, sunflower seed, or manioc flour were used as comparison controls in the initial studies.

Flaxseed Reduces Total and LDL Cholesterol Levels

Although the study’s authors suggested caution in interpreting their findings and concluded that “further studies are needed to determine the efficiency of flaxseed on lipid profiles… and prevention of cardiovascular disease,” they also concluded that flaxseed confers cholesterol-reducing benefits:

- Both total cholesterol and LDL-cholesterol levels were reduced significantly in groups using whole flaxseed or lignan, but not oil. These reductions tended to be greater in the higher-quality studies.
- Declines in lipid values were higher in individuals who had higher lipid values at the studies’ onset (baseline).
- The highest reductions in total and LDL-cholesterol were noted in women as a group, but many of these women had higher baseline cholesterol values.
- No significant changes were seen in HDL-cholesterol or triglyceride levels in all groups and subgroups tested.
- Optimal doses of flaxseed or lignan were not addressed in the meta-analysis.

Cholesterol and Flaxseed: The Bottom Line

Whole or ground flaxseed and flaxseed lignan, but not flaxseed oil, are associated with significant reductions of both total and LDL-cholesterol levels. Flaxseed does not significantly affect levels of triglycerides or HDL-cholesterol.

Flaxseed is a widely available, edible grain that is rich in alpha-linolenic acid, lignan, and fiber; 25% of flaxseed’s dietary fiber is in soluble form. Flaxseed can be added to breads, cereals, and other foodstuffs for consumption on a daily basis.

Easy Ideas for Cooking With Ground Flaxseed

Ground flaxseed uses, including acting as a wheat substitute in bread, are varied. The small roundish seeds of the flax plant are often crushed and pressed to produce flaxseed oil, which contains both Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids. The hull of the seed, however, is the portion that is used as flax meal, substituting for other types of flour in cooking.

Flax Seed Nutrition Information

Flax offers many health benefits, due to the various components of the flax seed. The hull of the seed is a source of soluble fiber, which improves digestion. The oil contained within the seed provide Omega 3 and Omega 6 essential fatty acids. The American Cancer Society even suggests that flax consumption may benefit in the prevention of various types of cancer.

Ground Flaxseed Provides Vital Nutrients

According to the nutrition profile produced by, flax seeds contain many nutrients that are part of the recommended daily allowance for health, such as vitamin B-6. In addition, one tablespoon of ground flax seeds contains 2% of the recommended daily allowance of folate. Folate, also known as folic acid, is a valuable nutrient for women who are pregnant, or who plan to become pregnant. Flax seeds also contains various necessary minerals, including phosphorus, potassium, and manganese.

Grinding Golden Flax Seeds For Maximum Health Benefits

Flax seeds are extremely small, hard, and difficult to break open by chewing. In order to benefit from the many healthy nutrients within the flax seed, grinding is necessary. A coffee grinder easily grinds a few tablespoons of golden flax seeds, enough for a daily serving or a ground flaxseed muffin. Ground flaxseed should be refrigerated, in order to prevent the oil from becoming rancid.

Ground Flaxseed for Diabetics

Most diabetics are forced to limit carbohydrate consumption, in order to avoid blood sugar increases. Flax meal, which is made from ground flaxseeds, has an extremely low glycemic impact, due to the high fiber content. Substituting ground flaxseed for other types of flour creates bread products that do not result in higher blood sugar levels for a diabetic.

Cooking With Ground Flax Seed Meal

Ground flaxseeds behave slightly differently in foods than other grain flours, due to the high high oil content of freshly ground flax meal. The presence of flax oil in the meal also eliminates the necessity for adding any butter, oil, or other ingredients typical to breads. Different brands of flax seeds result in different flavors, textures, and even colors when cooked. To create a quick bread with ground flaxseed, combine 4 Tablespoons of flax meal with one egg, a dash of baking soda, a teaspoon of banana flavoring and sweetening to taste. Mix thoroughly in a microwave-safe bowl, and microwave for approximately two minutes, depending on the settings on your microwave.


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