Flaxseed is an extremely nutritious food that has been consumed for thousands of years. Today, we are still uncovering all the amazing ways that flaxseed can benefit our health. Flaxseeds are rich in healthy fats, dietary fiber, and various vitamins and minerals. Adding flaxseed into your diet can provide a major boost to your overall health and wellbeing.
Here are the top 10 scientifically-proven health benefits of flaxseed:
1. High in Fiber, Especially Soluble Fiber
Flaxseed is one of the richest sources of dietary fiber you can eat. A 1 tablespoon serving of flaxseed contains 2 grams of fiber. About 1 gram of that fiber is soluble fiber.
Soluble fiber forms a gel-like substance when mixed with water. It has numerous health benefits:
- Slows digestion and promotes feelings of fullness. This can help with weight control by making you eat fewer calories overall. One study found that consuming flaxseed fiber reduced appetite and led to decreased calorie intake during the day.
- Helps regulate blood sugar by slowing the rate at which food leaves the stomach and enters the bloodstream. Soluble fiber can reduce insulin resistance. This is extremely beneficial for those with type 2 diabetes.
- Lowers total blood cholesterol and “bad” LDL cholesterol levels. It also increases “good” HDL cholesterol. Improvements in cholesterol with daily flaxseed consumption are well documented. In one study, patients with high cholesterol saw a significant drop of 9% in total cholesterol and a 15% reduction in LDL after eating just 2 tablespoons of flaxseed daily for 3 months.
- Reduces blood pressure, especially in those with hypertension. The soluble fiber in flaxseed helps prevent the hardening of arteries that leads to heart disease. Research shows over 6 months, systolic blood pressure decreased significantly thanks to flaxseed’s fiber content.
Clearly, getting enough soluble fiber from flaxseed can have tremendous benefits for metabolic and heart health. The fiber keeps you satisfied, improves cholesterol, and lowers blood pressure.
2. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
In addition to fiber, flaxseed contains a type of polyunsaturated fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid or ALA. This is an essential omega-3 fatty acid that the body cannot produce on its own. We must obtain it through food sources.
Flaxseed oil has the highest concentration of ALA omega-3s available – even higher than fish oil. Just 1 tablespoon contains over 2 grams of ALA.
The omega-3s in flaxseed provide the following benefits:
- Reduce inflammation throughout the body and brain. Chronic inflammation contributes to a multitude of diseases. The anti-inflammatory power of omega-3s may help conditions like arthritis, asthma, colitis, and many more.
- Improve heart health by lowering blood pressure, reducing plaque buildup in arteries, and decreasing triglycerides. This reduces the risk of heart attack, stroke, and death from heart disease.
- Slow the buildup of plaque in arteries to promote good blood flow and protect against atherosclerosis. Studies show promise that ALA omega-3s from flaxseed can help prevent hardening of the arteries.
- Lower cancer risk. The ALA in flax shows protective benefits against breast, prostate, and colon cancers.
- Benefit brain health and defend against dementia. Omega-3s support brain function and cognition while also warding off cognitive decline that can lead to Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
While more research is still needed, the ALA omega-3s in flax show promise for improving a wide variety of health conditions and fighting disease.
3. Contains Lignans with Antioxidant and Estrogen Properties
Flaxseed contains unique antioxidants called lignans. These are a type of polyphenol phytochemical. When we eat lignan-rich foods, our gut bacteria convert the lignans into metabolites called enterolactone and enterodiol. These metabolites have estrogenic activity and other health benefits:
- Enterolactone and enterodiol function as phytoestrogens. This means they have mild estrogenic effects that can help balance hormones. For women going through perimenopause and menopause, flaxseed lignans can relieve hot flashes and night sweats associated with the decline of estrogen.
- Lignans are credited for flaxseed’s ability to reduce breast cancer risk. They help block estrogen receptors and suppress tumor growth. Lignans also have antioxidant and anti-angiogenic properties to inhibit tumor development.
- The estrogenic lignans are believed to benefit bone health. Studies show they can prevent and even reverse osteoporosis damage by stimulating the formation of new bone tissue.
- Lignans function as antioxidants in the body. They scavenge free radicals and reduce oxidative stress. This antioxidant activity is linked to lower risks of some cancers along with anti-aging benefits.
Flaxseed delivers a dose of unique lignans that offer antioxidant defenses along with hormone-regulating abilities.
4. High in Thiamine and Manganese
In addition to healthy fats and fiber, flaxseed also provides important micronutrients.
Flaxseed is very high in thiamine, also known as vitamin B1. One tablespoon of flaxseed contains 14% of the RDI for thiamine.
Thiamine is crucial for:
- Turning nutrients from food into energy. Thiamine helps convert carbs into glucose for energy production. It also plays a role in metabolizing fats and protein.
- Proper nerve and muscle function. The transmission of nerve signals relies on thiamine. It also supports muscle contraction.
- Brain health and mood. Thiamine helps with focus, memory creation, learning, and normal brain development. Low levels of B1 can contribute to cognitive impairment.
- Immune system function. Thiamine activates T-cells and disease-fighting lymphocytes that are part of the immune response. Deficiency leads to reduced antibody production.
Flaxseed is one of the richest food sources of thiamine. Meeting your daily intake requirements helps the body convert food into fuel and keeps the nervous system and immune system running optimally.
Flaxseed is also very high in manganese with each tablespoon providing 18% of the RDI.
Manganese is an essential mineral that:
- Assists bone formation by activating enzymes needed for bone building. This is key for preventing fractures and conditions like osteoporosis.
- Acts as an antioxidant to combat free radical damage and cell mutation that leads to disease.
- Helps metabolize carbs, amino acids, and cholesterol.
- Plays a role in blood sugar regulation.
- Supports thyroid and reproductive health.
Flaxseed delivers a significant dose of manganese to meet your daily needs of this crucial mineral.
5. High in Magnesium and Phosphorus
In addition to manganese and thiamine, flaxseed contains other beneficial minerals.
Flaxseed has high amounts of magnesium – 30% of the RDI in just 1 tablespoon.
Magnesium plays over 300 different roles in the body including:
- Regulating muscle and nerve function
- Blood sugar control
- Blood pressure regulation
- Protein and DNA synthesis
- Bone development
- Energy production
Most Americans do not get enough magnesium in their diet. Flaxseed is one of the most concentrated food sources of magnesium you can eat.
Flaxseed also provides phosphorus, with 1 tablespoon delivering 14% of the RDI. Phosphorus works closely with calcium for proper bone and tooth formation. It is also needed for healthy muscle contraction, kidney function, and to produce ATP for energy.
The powerful nutrient profile of flaxseed provides a wealth of benefits from the macro and micronutrients it supplies.
6. May Benefit Digestive Health
The fiber and healthy fats in flaxseed support digestive and gut health in multiple ways.
Soluble fiber acts as a prebiotic in the digestive system. It feeds and promotes the growth of healthy probiotic bacteria in the gut microbiome. Having adequate probiotics is key for digestive health and regularity.
The anti-inflammatory ALA fats in flaxseed also appear to protect the gut lining and mucosal layer. This may prevent leaky gut syndrome.
For people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), flaxseed shows benefits for reducing bloating, abdominal pain, constipation, and flatulence. It helps improve motility and outcomes of IBS symptoms.
Flaxseed also contains generous amounts of insoluble fiber. This adds bulk to stool and relieves constipation for more regular bowel movements. Just make sure to drink plenty of water when increasing fiber intake.
With all its fiber, healthy fats, and nutrients, flax can help achieve optimal digestive function and comfort. Adding it to your diet may relieve common GI issues.
7. May Aid in Weight Loss
Due to its superb nutrition profile, flaxseed can also support weight loss efforts. Here are some of the ways it helps with shedding excess pounds:
- Flaxseed is very low in carbs but high in fiber and healthy fats. This combination promotes feelings of fullness to curb appetite and reduce calorie intake.
- The soluble fiber forms a gel that slows digestion and absorption. This leads to more stable blood sugar and prevents energy crashes or cravings.
- The omega-3s may increase fat burning while also inhibiting new fat cell formation.
- Flaxseeds provide energy and nutrients needed when cutting calories for weight loss.
- The fiber cleans out the digestive tract and improves regularity. Poor digestion and constipation can hinder weight loss efforts.
- Flaxseed may lower levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin. One study also found it reduces levels of leptin, the satiety hormone.
- Thanks to the fiber and healthy fats, flax helps burn belly fat and reduces waist circumference. Visceral fat located in the abdominal region is the most dangerous kind that increases disease risk.
When combined with exercise and healthy eating, adding flaxseed to your daily diet can boost weight loss results. However, weight loss is highly individualized. Consume flaxseed as part of a calorie-controlled program tailored to your needs.
8. May Lower Cholesterol
As mentioned earlier, the soluble fiber content of flaxseed has been shown to decrease total and LDL cholesterol levels. Even a small daily dose can make big improvements to cholesterol numbers.
For people with hypercholesterolemia and high cholesterol issues, flaxseed can be an extremely beneficial supplement.
In multiple clinical trials, patients with high cholesterol ate anywhere from 1-3 tablespoons of flaxseed powder daily. Over the 3-12 month study periods, significant reductions were found in:
- Total cholesterol (6-18% decrease)
- LDL or “bad” cholesterol (9-22% decrease)
- Cholesterol/HDL ratio
- Apolipoprotein B (A marker of plaque buildup)
Some studies also found a small increase in HDL or “good” cholesterol.
The cholesterol-lowering effects of flaxseed are likely due to the soluble fiber attaching to cholesterol and removing it from circulation. The lignans may also help reduce cholesterol absorption.
For managing high cholesterol, a simple daily dose of ground flaxseed can produce major improvements alongside any cholesterol-lowering medication.
9. May Help Lower Blood Pressure
The many beneficial compounds found in flaxseed also contribute to lower blood pressure. This helps protect against hypertension and heart disease.
Thanks to the fiber, omega-3s, lignans and minerals, flaxseed is able to reduce blood pressure through multiple mechanisms:
- Soluble fiber inhibits clogging of arteries while the omega-3s keep blood vessels flexible for good flow. This reduces pressure.
- Lignans help prevent hardening of arteries and plaque buildup that can raise pressure.
- The fiber and omega-3s help regulate nitric oxide, which relaxes blood vessels to lower pressure.
- Fiber and plant compounds help reduce inflammation, leading to lower blood pressure. Chronic inflammation is a common cause of hypertension.
- The magnesium in flaxseed helps regulate blood pressure through vascular dilation. Most people do not get enough magnesium which can contribute to hypertension.
Numerous studies demonstrate flaxseed’s ability to lower high blood pressure, especially systolic pressure. The reductions seen were significant though somewhat modest. Still, incorporating flaxseed into your diet can help control hypertension and keep your heart healthy.
10. Easy to Add to Your Diet
The great thing about flaxseed is that it is very flexible and easy to incorporate into all kinds of foods and recipes. With its mild, nutty flavor, you can add flaxseed to:
- Cereal & granola
- Pancakes & baked goods
- Bread & muffins
- Energy bars & balls
- Salads, soups, and stir fry dishes
Flaxseed meal or powder blends seamlessly into foods, while the oil can simply be drizzled over dishes for added nutrition.
You want to grind whole flaxseeds right before eating to preserve the omega-3s from oxidizing and turning rancid. Ground flaxseed also has better nutrient bioavailability than whole seeds.
Look for golden or brown flaxseed varieties.
The standard recommendation is 1-2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed per day. You may slowly increase your intake to meet your health goals, up to around 3-4 tablespoons daily.
Drink lots of water when consuming flaxseed to aid digestion and nutrient absorption. Adding some lemon can help improve the bioavailability as well.
Conclusion: A Nutrient Powerhouse for Better Health
With all of its fiber, protein, essential fatty acids, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, it’s no wonder flaxseed provides such extensive health benefits. Adding this superfood into your regular diet protects nearly every part of the body while defending against numerous chronic diseases.
Aim to get around 1-3 tablespoons of flaxseed each day by sprinkling it on cereals, yogurts, baked goods, and meals. Your heart, digestion, immune system, and more will thank you!