Flax Seed

Flax Seed

A newer dietary staple

A few years ago, when flax seed became the newest "health food," many of us had never heard of it. However, this tiny, nutritious seed has now become a popular part of many healthy diets.

Whether you eat the tastier (and usually more expensive) golden flax or the standard brown flax, you are getting a substantial nutritional benefit, especially if you grind the seeds right before you eat them.

Benefits of eating flax

They contain Lignans*

The concern about hormone replacement therapy (HRT), and its potentially negative effect on health, has increased the interest in the subject of "lignans," phyotestrogenic* compounds that are found in abundance in flaxseeds. 

These lignans may provide protection against hormone-sensitive cancers such as breast cancer (although food experts cannot seem to agree about this issue).

In addition, there is evidence that, for post-menopausal women, lignans can provide some protection against heart disease--a benefit formerly attributed to HRT--and may help to alleviate some of the undesirable effects of menopause, such as hot flashes and osteoporosis.

Men may also benefit from the addition of lignan-rich flax seeds to their diet, since studies have shown that flaxseed may help inhibit tumor growth in the case of prostate cancer.

Lignans may also improve insulin resistance, a factor that may provide protection against Type II diabetes.

For more information on lignans, click on this link.

Fun Fact:  History tells us that the flax plant originated in the Fertile Crescent in ancient times. The plant is used to make linen--that fabric so comfortable to wear in summer (if you don't mind ironing it and how easily it becomes wrinkled while you are wearing it!).

The use of the flax seed for medicinal and nutrition purposes appears in ancient Greece and Rome and later, expanded across Medieval Europe. Eventually, flax was brought to North America, where its use is now widespread.

Omega-3 fatty acids

Flax is high in Omega-3 fatty acids, in the form of ALA (alpha-linolenic acid), which have been shown to be beneficial in lowering cholesterol, especially the LDL or "Lousy" type. There is also evidence that these Omega-3 fatty acids may help lower blood triglycerides and blood pressure, as well as promote healthy bones. These ALA's are used by your body to produce substances that are anti-inflammatory, and therefore useful in keeping you healthy, since inflammation is often the underlying cause of illness.


Fiber has been the watchword in nutrition circles for a number of years and for good reason. In addition to promoting good digestion and elimination, fiber can contribute to a healthy colon and decreased exposure to harmful toxins. Sufficient fiber in the diet has also been associated with decreased risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer and irritable bowel syndrome. Flax is a great source of fiber, at about 2 grams per Tablespoon.

Interesting Fact: You may have heard that you need to get your Omega-3's from animal sources, but vegetarians and vegans can get their essential Omega-3 fats from flax seeds, walnuts and chia seed. These foods are sources of linolenic acid and not DHA, another important Omega-3 fat.

Since linolenic acid is the essential fatty acid*, as long as you are getting a sufficient amount of this one, your body can produce the other Omega-3 fats that it needs.

However, there is algae that can provide a non-animal source of DHA, a non-essential fatty acid, and this is available in supplement form, if you are concerned.

Other nutrients

Flax is a good source of some important minerals including Manganese,Copper, Magnesium and Phosphorus as well as Vitamin B6 and Folate. 

Click here for more information on Minerals.

Click here for more information on Vitamins.

How to use flax seed

The best way to take advantage of the benefits of flax is to buy it in bulk and grind it yourself, as needed, using a small electric coffee grinder. Since flax begins to deteriorate as soon as it is ground, it will have the most benefit if you grind it yourself. In this way you can avoid the potential harm of eating ground seeds that have become rancid.

On the other hand, if you eat the seeds whole, they will mostly just go right through you, providing a laxative effect, but not much nutrition.

Tip: Brush out the coffee grinder between grindings using a small paintbrush or cloth. Washing it out with water will shorten the life of your grinder.

Once the seed is ground

Sprinkle freshly ground flax seeds on yogurt, cereal in juice or in your favorite smoothies.

Grind flax and add to baked goods in place of a small portion of the flour. I use about 1/2 cup in pancakes and muffins and 3/4 cup in a two-loaf bread recipe. You can experiment and see what amount works best for your recipes and taste. 

Sprinkle ground flax seeds on lightly-cooked vegetables for extra nutrition and flavor.

Where do I buy flax?  Due to its recent upswing in popularity, flaxseed is now available in many grocery stores--usually in the health food  or baking section. If you can't find it locally, you can also buy flax at a variety of online sites.

Flaxseed comes in a golden variety, which is milder in flavor and also supposed to be higher in nutritional value, and a brown variety.

Caveat: Although, flaxseed is good for you, as with any food, you can get too much of a good thing so, don't overdo it. Two Tablespoons each day is sufficient to get the benefits without any adverse effects.  In the beginning, to avoid digestive upset, you may want to start with a teaspoon and work your way up to two Tablespoons.

There are many stories of people who have benefited from adding flaxseed to their diet. In addition, scientific studies are ongoing about the effect of flaxseed in preventing and treating disease. There is no doubt, however, that flaxseed is a whole, unprocessed food that can be part of a healthy eating lifestyle to help keep you feeling well.

Glossary for Flaxseed page

*Essential Fatty Acids are fats that you must get from food since they cannot be manufactured by your body.

*Lignans  are polyphenols found in some plant foods (flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, tea, whole grains) that have phytoestrogenic properties and may have beneficial properties.

*Phytoestrogens  are estrogen-like compounds that come from plants and therefore are not generated within the endocrine system.  The jury seems to be out whether phytoestrogens are good for everyone, but many health experts say they may help prevent cancer, heart disease and high blood pressure in some people.

Click here to go from Flax Seed page to Omega-3 Fats page.