Flax seeds are the richest plant source of important nutrients that do amazing things for your health. Expansive fields of blue flax flowers yield billions of tiny seeds-and you don’t have to eat a lot to reap the benefits. You do, however, need to eat them correctly because the ‘magic’ health promoting ingredients in flax seeds are fragile and easily broken down. The best, and easiest way to add this health promoting powerhouse food to your diet is to sprinkle freshly ground flax seeds on your food every day. This simple addition to your diet will make a huge difference in how you feel now, and to what diseases you develop over the course of your lifetime.
Why Eat Flax Seeds:
The quick answer is that they’re loaded with things that:
- Lower your cholesterol,
- Prevent clogged arteries and heart attacks,
- Reduce your risk of developing, and dying from, some of the more common, and horrible cancers
- Reduce your aches and pains
- Help you to be one of those people who look and feel younger than their age.
The longer answer is that flax seeds (and flax oil) are the richest plant source of omega-3 fatty acid (called alpha-linolenic acid) which:
- Fights heart disease
- Reduces inflammation (The most obvious inflammation is arthritis and bone/joint pain, which is my motivating reason for loving flax! Inflammation, however is much bigger; it’s what causes pain, redness and symptoms from all sorts of medical problems including skin conditions such as acne, rosacea, psoriasis, and eczema.)
- Reduces your risk of developing some forms of cancer like breast, prostate, skin, colon, and lung
- Has been shown to slow the spread of existing cancers including ovarian and breast cancer
Flax seeds (but not flax oil alone) are also:
- The richest plant source of phytoestrogens, which have anticancer effects
- The richest plant source of something called plant lignans that fight belly fat, diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and clogged arteries. These lignans are converted in your gut (by your gut bacteria so eat probiotic rich foods like kefir and yogurt) into enterodiol and enteroloactone. It’s these later two compounds that fight belly fat etc.
- Packed with powerful antioxidants which help you stay youthful as you age. You need good antioxidant defense systems for healthy aging because they protect you from free radicals and it’s free radicals that break down your body over time. These same antioxidants help keep you mentally sharp as you age.
- Packed with fiber (we all know the obvious reason why that matters) which is another way that they help to lower your cholesterol.
- Packed with vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that help keep you healthy
Eat just 1 to 4 tablespoons per day of freshly ground flax seeds and you’re set! I eat about ¼ cup of golden flax seeds (flax meal) every day and have for years. I grind my seeds every morning in a coffee grinder (one that I don’t use for coffee). I throw the flax meal on my morning yogurt, sprinkle it with raw almonds and a little cereal or granola, add some fresh fruit, top it with soy milk and it tastes great. Other options are to add the freshly ground flax meal to a salad or a smoothie. Ground flax seeds have a soft, slightly nutty flavor and I love it with yogurt, fruit, cereals, oatmeal and other grains.
It’s important to know that the magic nutrients in flax seeds break down quickly after you grind the seeds. This happens because of exposure to air and light. If you’re not going to eat your ground flax meal immediately, store it in the fridge in a dark container to protect it from light and air, and use it as soon as possible. You can buy pre-ground flax meal but it’s expensive and you never know if it was prepared and stored properly. It’s also possible that the fragile nutrients in flax seeds are broken down by heat, like during baking. This means that baked foods with flax meal probably don’t have the same benefits as freshly ground flax meal. Lastly, you can’t just eat the seeds without grinding them because the human digestive tract can’t break into the seed’s outer shell, you have to grind the flax seeds to release their powerful nutrients.
In the future there may be drugs and supplements to treat diseases using extracts that concentrate the active components of flax seeds. For the present time, the best way to reap the benefits of flax seeds is to eat the seeds as freshly ground flax meal. I always prefer getting nutrients by eating whole foods rather than taking supplements because processing involves steps that can alter and destroy fragile nutrients. Processing also separates an ‘active’ ingredient from all the other ingredients present in the ‘whole food'; often you need all the ingredients working together to get the health promoting magic. My bias is that ‘you can’t outsmart mother nature’. Plus, it’s easy to ‘over dose’ on an active ingredient in a supplement, but it’s hard to overdose on it if you’re eating it as a whole food.
Both animal and human studies provide evidence that eating flax seeds and their important nutrients are safe. Only pregnant women need to exercise caution in the amount of flax seeds they eat. If you have questions, of course ask your doctor.
To sum it up: Adding 1 to 4 tablespoons of freshly ground flax seed meal to your daily diet is a simple and inexpensive way to help you fight cancer, heart disease and inflammation…… and to age gracefully.
If you found this information helpful, you may also want to read:
Health effects with consumption of the flax lignan secoisolariciresinol diglucoside, Adolphe JL, et. al., Br J Nutr, 2010 Apr; 103(7):929-38.
Experimental and clinical research findings on the cardiovascular benefits of consuming flaxseed, Bassett CM, et. al., Appl Physiol Nutr Metab, 2009 Oct;34(5):965-74
Decreased severity of ovarian cancer and increased survival in hens fed a flaxseed-enriched diet for 1 year, Ansenberger K, et. al., Gynecol Oncol 2010 May;117(2):341-7
Photo Attribution: Jim Linwood