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Get the Facts on Flax

The Little Seed With a Big Nutrition

-- By Becky Hand, Licensed & Registered Dietitian & Nicole Nichols, Health Educator
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Flaxseed has been a part of human and animal diets for thousands of years. Even in the days of Hippocrates, flaxseed was eaten for its health benefits. Recently, however, flaxseed has gained popularity among health-conscious Americans. Despite the hype surrounding this little seed, a lot of people have never heard of it. It may not exactly be a wonder food, but flaxseed certainly has nutritional benefits.

Nutritional Benefits
Flaxseeds contain the following nutrients:
  • Lignans. Flaxseeds are one of the best plant sources for lignans, a type of phytoestrogen that may protect against certain types of cancer, including breast cancer and prostate cancer. Even the National Cancer Institute has identified its cancer-fighting potential.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids. Flaxseeds are the best plant source of healthy omega-3's, which are also found in fish. Fifty grams of flaxseed has about the same amount of omega-3's as three pounds of salmon!
  • Fiber. Flaxseeds contain both soluble and insoluble fiber, which keep the digestive system in tip-top shape.
  • Protein. Flaxseed is a complete protein source, meaning that it contains every amino acid that your body can't make on its own. It’s uncommon to find plant-based foods that are complete proteins, so flaxseed makes a great addition to vegetarian diets.
One tablespoon of flaxseed contains:
  • 35 to 40 calories
  • 1.6 grams of protein
  • 2.8 grams of carbohydrate
  • 2.8 grams of fat (0.3 grams saturated, 0.6 grams monounsaturated, and 1.8 grams polyunsaturated)
  • 2.5 to 8 grams of fiber
  • 3 milligrams of sodium
Health Benefits
Research shows that flaxseed may have the ability to:
  • Prevent cancer and reduce tumor growth in the breasts, prostate and colon
  • Decrease the risks of developing heart disease, blood clots, strokes, and cardiac arrhythmia by lowering total cholesterol, LDL (bad) cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood pressure
  • Regulate bowel functions and prevent constipation
  • Relieve breast pain related to a woman’s hormonal cycle
  • Help improve blood glucose control in diabetics
  • Help reduce inflammation associated with arthritis, Parkinson’s disease and asthma
Flaxseed Types
Most grocery stores do sell packaged flaxseed on their shelves, but natural foods stores tend to also offer sell flaxseeds in bulk form too. There are two "types" of flaxseed: brown and golden. Although the color and price differ, the nutritional benefits are the same. The brown flaxseed is less expensive than the golden, but because golden flaxseed is lighter in color, it’s easier to hide in a variety of foods.
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About The Author

Becky Hand Becky Hand
Becky is a registered and licensed dietitian with almost 20 years of experience. A certified health coach through the Cooper Institute with a master's degree in health education, she makes nutrition principles practical, easy-to-apply and fun. See all of Becky's articles.

Member Comments

  • There is a product called 'omega crunch' that is a shelled flax seed. Your body digests is without requiring it to be ground. It was featured on Canadian Dragon's Den. - 1/9/2014 12:03:26 PM
  • I kept reading about the flaxseed going rancid thing, but never experienced it myself. Wasted money on the expensive brands and their ads for its freshness. If you're taking them for their Omega's 3, you're waaaay better off eating fish, or free range eggs, etc. - 12/13/2013 1:56:31 AM
  • I keep my flaxseed meal in the freezer, but not in an opaque container. So far I haven't experienced any issues. I put it in yogurt and oatmeal.

    Lately I've also been enjoying Enjoy Life Crunch Flax cereal. I'm sure it's not as good as plain ol flaxseed meal, but the crunch it brings to my yogurt is really, really pleasurable! - 11/2/2013 7:29:19 AM
  • I keep a bag of ground flaxseed in my pantry... I better go check if it's supposed to be refrigerated... - 7/27/2013 9:22:54 AM
  • KEITHRE
    About ground flax:
    If it can't be heated, how can it be added to things like meatballs, meatloaf, gravy, pancakes that earlier posts recommend?
    I just bought a big 3 lb bag of golden from SAMs that says its cold rolled and their proprietary method extends its life to 22 months.
    Anybody have experience with their products?
    - 5/22/2013 11:45:48 PM
  • NBTRIVEDI
    I roast the flax seeds thoroughly and then grind into powder. I have experience that this way the powder stays fresh non referigerated. I grind a weeks quota this way - 3/3/2013 7:37:50 AM
  • AZURE-SKY
    I often add ground flaxseed to my oatmeal after cooking it. It gives it a slightly nutty flavor and adds some extra fiber as well. I store it in a freezer bag in the freezer. It does not get rancid. There are some brands that are cold-processed that can be stored at room temperature, but make sure you read the label. - 6/24/2012 3:50:41 PM
  • In recipes, it is good to use in "gravy" as a 'thickener'.
    Also, if you are at all familiar with 'file gumbo' it is good to put in fresh ground 'flax seed' with the file powder...adds a great deal of 'extra' nutrition to an already "potent" Southern meal ("N'awlins").

    'Rue
    (as in 'roux') - 6/24/2012 2:27:16 PM
  • Ladies watch eating flaxseeds, I work for a gynocologist and she stated that this can have an estrogen type effect and can alter your periods, make them heavier than normal. So just watch how much you eat daily. Also would not use if pregnant./breast feeding. - 6/24/2012 2:22:00 PM
  • My husband and I have been eating ground flaxeed for many years. We usually grind about a week's worth and keep it in the refrigerator. We add 1 tablespoon per day. Even when we travel, we carry enough for our trip in an air tight container. We add it to our breakfast cereal or mix it with orange juice along with one tablespoon of chia.

    - 6/24/2012 12:01:45 PM
  • I don't like that the article mentioned adding whole seeds to bread and the such.
    I have read in MULTIPLE place that if you eat the whole seeds you lose ALL of the nutritional benefits due to how your body metabolizes them or digests them... something like that. I'm not a nutritionist!
    I've also seen comments stating the same.
    I've also read comments that state that the article says that if you store ground flax, it will become rancid.
    What I did is bought an inexinsive coffee grinder, and grind just what I need.
    Yesturday I made muffins and ground up 3 tablespoons to add to them. It took literally 10 seconds to grind them.
    While this may be a little time consuming to grind just what you need everytime you want to add it to your food, it's better than having the ground flax go bad on you or not getting the nutrition from the flax seeds! - 6/24/2012 11:37:50 AM
  • Flaxseed is also an important galactagogue! If you're a nursing mom, adding flaxseed to oatmeal cookies helps milk production! - 6/24/2012 11:05:47 AM
  • It makes a lovely pancake mix. A little grainier than the original, but otherwise delicious. :) - 4/10/2012 2:05:00 PM
  • Nice comprehensive article.
    Just like to add that flaxseed really needs to be bought whole and ground to release its magic, unground it passes intact thru the intestinal track.

    Once ground... it becomes rancid./oxidizes quickly... pre-ground flax is no doubt rancid by the time its bought from doing time on the store's shelves...unless its been vacuum packed with nitrogen. This is why they tell you to store in the freezer once you open it. IMO its best just to leave it packaged in its shell and invest in a grinder and grind it at home.

    If you're not into grinding it, and still want flaxseed's beneficial ALA and fiber, a better choice may be Chia Seed. It doesn't need to be ground, doesn't go rancid and doesn't contain the minute amount of cyanide the way flax seed does.

    : )
    Mzzchief - 2/29/2012 10:18:00 AM
  • KRISAMZ
    Another way to eat flaxseed and get all the nutritional benefits - toast it. This is done in a skillet like old fashioned popcorn. Use over vegetables for a nut-like taste. Also is a good snack. Store like ground flax.

    I disagree with some of the terminology in the article. Ground flax and flax meal are not the same thing. Flax meal is what is left after the oil is removed. Most of the nutritional benefits are gone from this version. Ground flax has all the nutrients and oil.
    I would like to see some recipes and meal plans on SparkPeople which include flax. - 2/29/2012 12:38:42 AM