The nutrients in flaxseed may help lower the risk of diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. For this reason, it is sometimes thought of as a functional food, a food that can be consumed to achieve health purposes.
Flax is one of the oldest fiber crops in the world. It is known to have been cultivated in ancient Egypt and China. In Asia, it has played a role in Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years.
Today, flaxseed is available as seeds, oil, powder, tablets, capsules and flour. It is consumed as a dietary supplement to prevent constipation, diabetes, cholesterol, cancer, and other conditions.
Here are 10 health benefits of flaxseeds that are backed by science.
- Flaxseeds Are Loaded With Nutrients
Grown since the beginning of civilization, flaxseeds 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, fiber and omega-3 fatty acids, in addition to being a rich source of some vitamins and minerals.
One tablespoon of ground flaxseeds contains the following:
- Calories: 37
- Protein: 1.3 grams
- Carbs: 2 grams
- Fiber: 1.9 grams
- Total fat: 3 grams
- Saturated fat: 0.3 grams
- Monounsaturated fat: 0.5 grams
- Polyunsaturated fat: 2.0 grams
- Omega-3 fatty acids: 1,597 mg
- Vitamin B1: 8% of the RDI
- Vitamin B6: 2% of the RDI
- Folate: 2% of the RDI
- Calcium: 2% of the RDI
- Iron: 2% of the RDI
- Magnesium: 7% of the RDI
- Phosphorus: 4% of the RDI
- Potassium: 2% of the RDI
Interestingly, flaxseeds’ health benefits are mainly attributed to the omega-3 fatty acids, lignans and fiber they contain.
- Flaxseeds Are High in Omega-3 Fats
If you are a vegetarian or don’t eat fish, flaxseeds can be your best source of omega-3 fats.
They are a rich source of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a mostly plant-based omega-3 fatty acid.
ALA is one of the two essential fatty acids that you have to obtain from the food you eat, as your body doesn’t produce them.
Animal studies have shown that the ALA in flaxseeds prevented cholesterol from being deposited in the blood vessels of the heart, reduced inflammation in the arteries and reduced tumor growth.
A Costa Rican study involving 3,638 people found that those who ate more ALA had a lower risk of heart attack than those who consumed less ALA .
Also, a large review of 27 studies involving more than 250,000 people found that ALA was linked to a 14% lower risk of heart disease.
Numerous studies have also linked ALA to a lower risk of stroke.
Furthermore, a recent review of observational data concluded that ALA had heart health benefits comparable to eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), two of the more well-known omega-3 fats .
- Flaxseeds Are a Rich Source of Lignans, Which May Reduce Cancer Risk
Lignans are plant compounds that have antioxidant and estrogen properties, both of which can help lower the risk of cancer and improve health.
Interestingly, flaxseeds contain up to 800 times more lignans than other plant foods.
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 flaxseeds 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 flaxseeds a day while following a low-fat diet showed reduced levels of a prostate cancer marker, suggesting a lower risk of prostate cancer.
Flaxseeds 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 thus far points to flaxseeds being a potentially valuable food in the fight against various cancers.
- Flaxseeds Are Rich in Dietary Fiber
Just one tablespoon of flaxseeds contains 3 grams of fiber, which is 8–12% of the daily recommended intake for men and women, respectively.
What’s more, flaxseeds contain two types of dietary fiber — soluble (20–40%) and insoluble (60–80%).
This fiber duo gets fermented by the bacteria in the large bowel, bulks up stools and results in more regular bowel movements.
On one hand, soluble fiber increases the consistency of the contents of your intestine and slows down your digestion rate. This has been shown to help regulate blood sugar and lower cholesterol.
On the other hand, insoluble fiber 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 or diverticular disease.
- Flaxseeds May Improve Cholesterol
Another health benefit of flaxseeds is their ability to lower cholesterol levels.
In one study in people with high cholesterol, consuming 3 tablespoons (30 grams) of flaxseed 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 flaxseed powder daily for one month resulted in a 12% increase in “good” HDL cholesterol.
In postmenopausal women, consuming 30 grams of flaxseeds daily lowered total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol by approximately 7% and 10%, respectively.
These effects appear to be due to the fiber in flaxseeds, as it binds to bile salts and is then excreted by the body.
To replenish these bile salts, cholesterol is pulled from your blood into your liver. This process lowers your blood levels of cholesterol.
This is definitely good news for those wanting to improve their cholesterol
- Flaxseeds May Lower Blood Pressure
Studies on flaxseeds have also focused on its natural ability to lower blood pressure.
A Canadian study found eating 30 grams of flaxseeds 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, flaxseeds 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 flaxseeds 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%.
- They Contain High-Quality Protein
Flaxseeds are a great source of plant-based protein, and there’s growing interest in flaxseed protein and its health benefits. Flaxseed 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 tumors and had anti-fungal properties.
If you are considering cutting back on meat and worried that you will be too hungry, flaxseeds may just be your 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’s likely 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.
- Flaxseeds May Help Control Blood Sugar
Type 2 diabetes is a major health problem worldwide.
It’s characterized by high blood sugar levels as a result of either the body’s inability to secrete insulin or resistance to it.
A few studies have found that people with type 2 diabetes who added 10–20 grams of flaxseed 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 fiber content. Research has found that insoluble fiber 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 flaxseed oil. Flaxseed oil lacks fiber, 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.
- Flaxseeds Keep Hunger at Bay, Which May Aid Weight Control
If you have the tendency to snack between meals, you might want to consider adding flaxseeds to your beverage to stave off hunger pangs.
One study found that adding 25 grams of ground flaxseeds to a beverage reduced feelings of hunger and overall appetite.
The feelings of reduced hunger were likely due to the soluble fiber content of flaxseeds. It slows digestion in the stomach, which triggers a host of hormones that control appetite and provide a feeling of fullness.
Flaxseeds’ dietary fiber content may aid weight control by suppressing hunger and increasing feelings of fullness.
- Flaxseeds Can Be a Versatile Ingredient
Flaxseeds or flaxseed oil can be added to many common foods. Try the following:
- Adding them to water and drinking it as part of your daily fluid intake
- Drizzling flaxseed oil as a dressing on salad
- Sprinkling ground flaxseeds over your hot or cold breakfast cereal
- Mixing them into your favorite 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