FOOD, FACTS and FADS

Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health

Are Flaxseeds Nutritious?

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flaxseeds

A lot of attention has been on using eating flax seeds lately. Flax seeds are added to protein and energy bars, put on cereals or blended in smoothies

Are there any benefits or are they just a fad? The flax plant is native an area of the Mediterranean Sea to India. The native Egyptians and Ethiopians used the plant for many functions but most importantly at that time for making linen fabric.

The flax plant grows to just over 3 feet and produces small round fruits with brown glossy seeds. The seeds can be made into flaxseed oil and used for hundreds of years for varnishing and painting, It is also known as linseed oil.

Why is flax seed so nutritious? It is high in fiber, protein, thiamine, magnesium, phosphorus, and copper. It is also a good source of vitamin B6, folate, calcium, potassium, iron, zinc and selenium. It also contains alpha linolenic acid (an essential omega-3 fatty acid) and lignans (plant estrogens). Freshly ground flaxseed meal with its fiber is said to help keep the hunger hormone, ghrelin suppressed and contains and helps reduce inflammation.

For the best absorption of nutrients, flax seed should be consumed as ground or milled form. It is a hard seed that at home needs to be ground in a coffee bean grinder for best results

Is there any evidence to support the health claims? One study in 2008 reported that flax seed caused some changes associated with some indications that protected against prostate cancer. However, one study is not enough and more research is obviously needed.

Flax seeds have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and other potentially beneficial effects on the cardiovascular system, particularly blood pressure benefits. Based on 15 clinical trials that included over 1300 people that used flaxseed in some form, flaxseed intake lowered systolic blood pressure by nearly 3 points and diastolic by more than 2 points. This seems like a small difference, but when combined with other foods that appear to lower blood pressure like dairy foods, olive oil, nuts, whole grains, blueberries and dark chocolate or eating a DASH diet (basically fruits and vegetables), the cumulative effects will be more effective.

One tablespoon of flaxseed (ground) has about 40 calories, 3 grams of fat (more than half of which is ALA), almost 2 grams of protein, and more than 2 grams of fiber. Store the seeds, ground or whole, in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freezer to keep them fresh longer and grind them just before using to limit rancidity.

Bottom line: Like other seeds, flaxseeds are a nutritious food. Include some in your diet if you like them, but skip supplements, since the most health benefits likely come from the combination of the seeds’ components (rather than from isolated extracts).

 

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