For centuries, flax seeds have been prized for their health-protective properties.
In fact, Charles the Great ordered his subjects to eat flax seeds for their health. So it’s no wonder they acquired the name Linum usitatissimum, meaning “the most useful.”
Nowadays, flax seeds are emerging as a “super food” as more scientific research points to their health benefits.
FLAX SEEDS ARE LOADED WITH NUTRIENTS
Grown since the beginning of civilization, flax seeds are one of the oldest crops. There are two types, brown and golden, which are equally nutritious.
A typical serving size for ground flaxseeds is 1 tablespoon (7 grams).
Just one tablespoon provides a good amount of protein, fibre and omega-3 fatty acids, in addition to being a rich source of some vitamins and minerals.
Flax seeds are good sources of many nutrients. Their health benefits are mainly due to their content of omega-3 fats, lignans and fibre.
Lignans are plant compounds that have antioxidant and oestrogen properties, both of which can help lower the risk of cancer and improve health.
Interestingly, flax seeds contain up to 800 times more lignans than other plant foods.
BENEFITS OF FLAX SEEDS
Breast Cancer: Observational studies show that those who eat flaxseeds have a lower risk of breast cancer, particularly postmenopausal women.
Additionally, according to a Canadian study involving more than 6,000 women, those who eat flax seeds are 18% less likely to develop breast cancer. However, men can also benefit from eating flaxseeds.
In a small study including 15 men, those given 30 grams of flax seeds a day while following a low-fat diet showed reduced levels of a prostate cancer marker, suggesting a lower risk of prostate cancer.
Flax seeds also appeared to have the potential to prevent colon and skin cancers in laboratory and animal studies. Yet, more research is needed to confirm this.
Nevertheless, the evidence available till now points to flax seeds being a potentially valuable food in the fight against various cancers.
Constipation: Just one tablespoon of flaxseeds contains 3 grams of fibre, which is 8–12% of the daily recommended intake for men and women, respectively. Flax seeds contain two types of dietary fibre, soluble (20–40%) and insoluble (60–80%).
This fibre gets fermented by the bacteria in the large bowel, bulks up stools and results in more regular bowel movements.
On one hand, soluble fibre increases the consistency of the contents of intestines and slows down the rate. This has been shown to help regulate blood sugar and lower cholesterol.
On the other hand, insoluble fibre allows more water to bind to the stools, increases their bulk and results in softer stools. This is useful for preventing constipation and for those who have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or diverticular disease.
High Cholesterol: Another health benefit of flax seeds is their ability to lower cholesterol levels.
In one study in people with high cholesterol, consuming 3 tablespoons (30 grams) of flax seeds powder daily for three months lowered total cholesterol by 17% and “bad” LDL cholesterol by almost 20%.
Another study of people with diabetes found that taking 1 tablespoon (10 grams) of flax seeds powder daily for one month resulted in a 12% increase in “good” HDL cholesterol.
In postmenopausal women, consuming 30 grams of flax seeds daily lowered total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol by approximately 7% and 10%, respectively.
These effects appear to be due to the fibre in flaxseeds, as it binds to bile salts and is then excreted by the body.
To replenish these bile salts, cholesterol is pulled from the blood into the liver. This process lowers blood levels of cholesterol. This is definitely good news for those wanting to improve their cholesterol.
Blood Pressure: Studies on flax seeds have also focused on its natural ability to lower blood pressure. A Canadian study found eating 30 grams of flax seeds daily for six months lowered systolic and diastolic blood pressure by 10 mmHg and 7 mmHg, respectively.
For those who were already taking blood pressure medication, flax seeds lowered blood pressure even further and decreased the number of patients with uncontrolled high blood pressure by 17%.
Furthermore, according to a large review that looked at data from 11 studies, taking flax seeds daily for more than three months lowered blood pressure by 2 mmHg.
While that might seem insignificant, a 2-mmHg reduction in blood pressure can lower the risk of dying from stroke by 10% and from heart disease by 7%.
Immunity: Flaxseeds are a great source of plant-based protein, and there is growing interest in flax seed protein and its health benefits. Flax seed protein is rich in the amino acids arginine, aspartic acid and glutamic acid. Numerous lab and animal studies have shown that flaxseed protein helped improve immune function, lowered cholesterol, prevented tumours and had anti-fungal properties.
Persons considering cutting back on meat and worried about alternate source of protein, flax seeds may just be the answer. In fact, in one recent study, 21 adults were given an animal protein meal or plant protein meal. The study found no difference in terms of appetite, satiety or food intake noted between the two meals.
It is likely that both the animal and plant protein meals stimulated hormones in the gut to bring about the feeling of fullness, which resulted in eating less at the next meal.
Blood Sugar: Diabetes mellitus is a major health problem worldwide. There are two types of diabetes. In type-I, pancreas does not produce insulin, hence it is called insulin dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM). In type-II, insulin production is either insufficient or it does not work properly. This type is called non insulin dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM).
A few studies have found that people with type 2 diabetes who added 10–20 grams of flax seed powder to their daily diet for at least one month saw reductions of 8–20% in blood sugar levels.
This blood sugar-lowering effect is notably due to flaxseeds’ insoluble fibre content. Research has found that insoluble fibre slows down the release of sugar into the blood and reduces blood sugar. However, one study found no change in blood sugar levels or any improvement in diabetes management. This might be due to the small numbers of subjects in the study and the use of flax seed oil. Flaxseed oil lacks fibre, which is credited with flaxseeds’ ability to lower blood sugar. Overall, flaxseeds can be a beneficial and nutritious addition to the diet of people with diabetes.
Weight control: People whohave the tendency to have snacks between meals, might want to consider adding flax seeds to a beverage to stay off hunger pangs.
One study found that adding 25 grams of ground flax seeds to a beverage reduced feelings of hunger and overall appetite.
The feelings of reduced hunger were likely due to the soluble fibre content of flax seeds. It slows digestion in the alimentary canal, which triggers a host of hormones that control appetite and provides a feeling of fullness. Flaxseeds’ dietary fibre content may aid weight control by suppressing hunger and increasing feelings of fullness.
Flax seeds as a versatile ingredient: Flax seeds or flax seed oil can be added to many common foods. Few are suggested for trial:
Adding them to water and drinking it as part of your daily fluid intake
Drizzling flax seed oil as a dressing on salad
Sprinkling ground flax seeds over hot or cold breakfast cereal
Mixing them into any favourite yogurt
Adding them into cookie, muffin, bread or other batters
Mixing them into smoothies to thicken up the consistency
Adding them to water as an egg substitute
Incorporating them into meat patties
Tips for adding flax seeds in food:
Consume ground seeds rather than whole seeds, as they are easier to digest.
Human intestines cannot break down the tough outer shell of the seeds therefore there will be no benefit. One can still buy whole flax seeds, grind them in a coffee grinder and store the ground flax seeds in an airtight container and use as and when required.
SUMMARY: The highly nutritious flax seeds are beneficial in many diseases / conditions:
Obesity / Overweight