Small but mighty, flaxseed delivers when it comes to nutrition and is one of the most approachable and affordable superfoods available.
This is the ultimate guide to flax seeds including everything you need to know about why flaxseeds are good for you, how to pick them, store them, and of course, eat them!
Every week it seems like there is a new superfood on the scene but flaxseed is one that has been around for years and is often overlooked. However flax seeds are affordable, easy to use, and chockful fo nutritional benefits.
What Are Flax Seeds?
That’s a great question. I often look at these little seeds — flax, hemp, chia, sesame, pumpkin, etc. — and I wonder how can such a tiny little thing contain so many good-for-you ingredients? How are all those nutrients crammed into such a small receptacle?
Sprinkled, milled, baked, soaked, or stirred, these days making sure you get adequate intake of all the good stuff can be as easy as literally tossing a dash of seeds onto whatever it is you’re already making. Isn’t that wonderful?
Today though, I want to focus on the fabulous flax. You may have heard them called “linseeds” as well, though I find that most people and brands stick to the “flax” title. High in fiber and omega-3 fatty acids, plus packing plenty of protein and other necessary vitamins and minerals, flax is also versatile. Whether you choose to toss some on a salad, grind them up to add to a breading, or whipped up in a smoothie, there’s no doubt you’ll learn to love flax as much as I do.
Are Flax Seeds Good for You?
Yes, of course they are — would I write about them if they weren’t? All kidding aside, though, flax seeds are high in fiber and the awesome omega-3s, plus they also contain protein to help aid in muscle repair and building, and are low in fat. Some studies show they could also lower your cholesterol and blood pressure as well as your risk for some kinds of cancers. The fiber in flax seeds also help fill you up, which is great if you’re trying to lose or maintain weight.
The Nutritional Benefits of Flaxseeds
If you feel like you might be adverse to eating the seeds, you don’t need to worry about adding a lot of flaxseeds to your diet to reap its benefits. According to the USDA, one tablespoon of flaxseed contains 49 calories, 2 grams of protein, 3 grams of carbs, 2 grams of fiber, 0 sugar, and 4 grams of fat. The little seeds are also a great source of vitamins B1 and B6, folate, calcium, and omega-3s.
The Health Benefits of Flax Seeds
- They contain fiber. Not a ton of fiber, to be sure, but considering how little flax seed you need to eat to get in two grams, it’s an excellent fiber source. Let’s face it, not everyone enjoys eating lots of fruits, veggies, and whole grains. I get it. You can consider adding flaxseeds here and there as a fiber “topper” if you will. Just enough to make sure you are giving your body what it needs. Adequate fiber intake is important for your body as it helps to prevent and relieve constipation and can improve your digestive health. Fiber also helps to keep your body weight within a healthy range and also lowers your risk of heart disease and diabetes.
- They are a healthy protein source. We need protein in our diets to maintain everyday cell function. From tissue growth and repair to maintaining our nails, skin, and hair, we need to make sure we are getting adequate protein to function properly. If you are worried you won’t be able to find good protein sources outside of a meat-based diet, you can rest assured. Flaxseeds are a great source of plant proteins, and will fill your protein needs easily.
- They can lower your cholesterol. In one study, subjects who consumed flaxseed powder every day for three months showed marked improvement in cholesterol levels. While this might seem like too much for you, if you are watching your cholesterol levels or trying to lower them, then adding flaxseeds to your diet could be an easy win for your heart health.
- They contain omega-3 fatty acids. I love, love, love good fats. Flaxseeds are one of the best sources for the type of omega-3 fatty acid they contain: alpha-linolenic acid. Although flax seeds don’t contain enough omega-3 EPA and DHA to be noteworthy, the alpha-linolenic acid can help to lower your cholesterol and keep your heart healthy.
- They are cancer-fighting. The lignans found in flaxseeds are a small, but mighty source of antioxidants. Lignans are a type of phytoestrogen, that is a plant compound that contains similar properties to that of estrogen. Scientists believe that lignans can help lower the risk of cancer (particularly breast cancer in women and prostate cancer in men).
- They are good for your heart. The same cancer-fighting lignans in flax seeds have also been shown to help lower your blood pressure. One study suggests that lignans help fight inflammation while also working to lower your systolic blood pressure, and thus increase your overall heart health.
- They could help prevent bone loss. Although more research is needed, some recent studies suggest that the same plant-based estrogen sources (i.e. lignans) can help counteract the effects of menopause and diabetes, like bone loss and osteoporosis.
- A good source of healthy fats. Although flaxseeds do contain 4 grams of fat per serving, none of the fat is saturated. Plus, remember those fatty acids, fiber, and lignans? I would go ahead and say to embrace the fat on this food.
- They are low-calorie. Last, but certainly not least, one serving of flax seeds contains only 49 calories. That’s the same as ½ a tablespoon of natural peanut butter, an ⅛ of an avocado, or ¾ cup of almond milk. So go ahead, sprinkle some seeds around like food fairy dust.
Are Flax Seeds Good for Weight Loss?
Flax seeds contain so many good vitamins and nutrients. Plus, they have fiber to help fill you up and good fats to help your heart, bones, cells, muscles, and just about every part of your body, making them a no-brainer to add to your diet for weight-loss.
Can Flaxseed Be Bad for You?
Although flaxseed overall is a great addition to almost any diet, it is possible to overdo it or for your body to react adversely to digesting it. You could see an increase in bowel movements, or experience more gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, or other stomach discomfort. These effects are largely due to overdoing flax consumption.
Make sure you drink water when you eat flax to help your intestines absorb it. Be aware of what you’re eating — although you might be adding some to your diet every day, so might companies to foods billed in the health category. Read your labels to make sure you’re not eating too much flax in one day. Also, since flax contains estrogen-like qualities, it’s best to avoid it if pregnant or breastfeeding.
Choosing Flax Seeds
Flax seeds are either brown or golden in color. (Fun fact: They are used for making material such as linen and in wood-finishing products — who knew?) They can be eaten whole, ground, or used in oil form. When choosing one color over the other, keep in mind both are nutritionally similar. However, there is a difference in taste between the two. Brown seeds are said to taste earthier, while golden seeds possess a nuttier flavor.
When choosing one over the other, remember that both can pass through your digestive system whole. Therefore, if you choose to grind the seeds, you might want to choose the nuttier flavor of the golden seed over the brown one. You can find flax seeds whole, ground, or in oil form at your grocery or health foods store. Make sure the packaging is opaque (as light can damage the seeds) and be sure to check the expiration date on the products you purchase.
How to Store Flax Seeds
All versions of flax seeds will last longer if stored in the refrigerator, but whole seeds will also keep in a tightly sealed container in cool, dry spot for up to a year. Flaxseed oil is best kept refrigerated though, to keep it from spoiling.
How Much Flaxseed Should Be Consumed in a Day?
The recommendation for eating flax seeds is about two to four tablespoons per day, total. That includes whether you eat them whole, ground, or in oil form.
Is Flaxseed Oil As Good As Flax Seeds?
That depends on why you’re eating it. If your main focus is to get your fill of omega-3s, then flaxseed oil is the way to go. If you’re interested in the fiber content of flax, then you should go for ground flaxseed, as the oil is stripped from any fiber-containing parts of the flax. For best results, interchange the two.
How Should You Eat Flax Seeds?
By now you know there are three ways to eat flax seeds — say it with me now — whole, ground, or in oil form. Remember when you eat them whole you may not be digesting them, so it’s better to grind them up or use the flaxseed oil. However, I realize sometimes you just want to throw in a few seeds and be done with it. Just keep in mind you might not be getting all the benefits you could from eating flax in other forms.
That being said, I do enjoy eating flax in a variety of ways.
Some mornings, I like to get a jump-start on my nutrition with these Flaxseed Meal Pancakes. Made with flaxseed meal, eggs, almond milk (or other non-dairy milk alternative) and a few other ingredients, these pancakes are a great meal for anyone following a low-carb, Paleo, or grain-free diet.
Another breakfast favorite are these Banana Flax Pancakes. Weighing in at under 350 calories, these muffins are as delicious as they are nutritious.
If you’re on the meal-prep bandwagon, like I am (and who wouldn’t be, amiright?) these Low Carb Yogurt Parfaits with Strawberries, Flax, and Chia Seeds are perfect for a make-ahead breakfast or snack.
Although you can make this Low Carb Chia and Flax Cereal with just about any of your favorite nuts or seeds, I prefer the combination of flax and chia because of the wonderful crunch from the chia and and nutritional benefits from the flax meal that I get from eating both side-by-side. Flavor the cereal however you want — apples and mini cinnamon, berries, chocolate, almonds, bananas — the options are almost limitless.
Store-bought energy and other granola bars can seem like a healthy go-to, but are generally full of mostly sugar and other hidden, not-so-great ingredients. That’s why I like to take matters into my own hands and make my own bars, like these No Bake Peanut Butter Banana Oat Bars. Stir together bananas, oats, flax meal, chia seeds, peanut butter, chocolate, cinnamon, and a few other ingredients, refrigerate, cut, and enjoy any time, day or night.
Another easy way to get more flaxseed into your diet is to think about them as a condiment for virtually anything. Sprinkle them on oatmeal, yogurt, into smoothies, on salads, roasted vegetables, and more.
I hope you enjoy flax as much as I do!