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.
Here are 10 health benefits of flax seeds that are backed by science.
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 flax seeds 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 flax seeds contains the following (1):
- 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, flax seeds’ health benefits are mainly attributed to the omega-3 fatty acids, lignans and fiber they contain.
If you are a vegetarian or don’t eat fish, flax seeds 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 flax seeds 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 (11).
Lignans are plant compounds that have antioxidant and estrogen 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.
Observational studies show that those who eat flax seeds have a lower risk of breast cancer, particularly postmenopausal women
Just one tablespoon of flax seeds contains 3 grams of fiber, which is 8–12% of the daily recommended intake for men and women, respectively (17Trusted Source).
What’s more, flax seeds 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.
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 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
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
Flax seeds 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, flax seeds may just be your answer.
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 flax seeds’ insoluble fiber content. Research has found that insoluble fiber slows down the release of sugar into the blood and reduces blood sugar.
If you have the tendency to snack between meals, you might want to consider adding flax seeds to your beverage to stave off hunger pangs.
One study found that adding 2.5 grams of ground flax fiber extract to a beverage reduced feelings of hunger and overall appetite.
The feelings of reduced hunger were likely due to the soluble fiber content of flax seeds. It slows digestion in the stomach, which triggers a host of hormones that control appetite and provide a feeling of fullness
Flax seeds 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 flax seeds 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
Many impressive health benefits are attributed to consuming flax seeds.
Here are some tips on how you can add these tiny seeds into your diet.
Consume Ground Seeds Rather Than Whole
Opt for ground flax seeds, as they are easier to digest.
You won’t reap as many benefits from whole flax seeds, as your intestines cannot break down the tough outer shell of the seeds.
That being said, you can still buy whole flax seeds, grind them in a coffee grinder and store the ground flax seeds in an airtight container.
What About Flaxseed Oil?
The resurgence of the use of flaxseed oil is due to its nutritional properties and health benefits.
It’s usually extracted by a process called cold pressing.
Given that oil is sensitive to heat and light, it’s best kept in dark glass bottles and stored in a dark, cool place like a kitchen cabinet.
Because some of its nutrients are heat sensitive, flaxseed oil is not suitable for high-temperature cooking.
How Much Do You Need?
The health benefits noted in the studies above were observed with just 1 tablespoon (10 grams) of ground flax seeds per day.
However, it’s recommended to keep serving sizes to less than 5 tablespoons (50 grams) of flax seeds per day.