As a doctor and longtime wellness geek I know that flax seed health benefits are something we all want! These tasty little seeds are the richest plant source of important nutrients that are plant powerhouses. Flax grows in beautiful fields of blue flax flowers that yields billions of tiny seeds. You don't have to eat a lot to reap the benefits. You do need to store and prepare them correctly though because the nutrients are fragile and easily broken down on contact with light and air.
What is the easiest way to add flax seeds to you diet every day?
The best, and easiest way to add this powerhouse of flax seed health benefits 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.
What are the health benefits of eating flax seeds?
Flax seeds are 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 powerful health promoting nutrient in flax seeds and flax oil is omega-3 fatty acid (called alpha-linolenic acid).
Flax seeds are one of the highest plant sources of this important nutrient.
What are the health benefits of omega-3 alpha-linoleic acid from flax seeds?
- 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
What are the different health benefits between flax seeds and flax oil?
Flax seed (but not flax oil alone) health benefits include:
- They are the richest plant source of phytoestrogens, which have anticancer effects
- They are 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.
- Flax seeds are 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 its free radicals that break down your body over time. These same antioxidants help keep you mentally sharp as you age.
- Flax seeds are packed with fiber (we all know the obvious reason why that matters) which is another way that they help to lower your cholesterol.
- Flax seeds are packed with vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that help keep you healthy
How many flax seeds should you eat a day for health benefits?
You can 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 fresh 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.
Why should you prepare fresh flax seed meal every day?
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.
I also wonder if the fragile nutrients in flax seeds are broken down by heat, like during baking. I think that baked foods with flax meal probably don’t have the same benefits as freshly ground flax meal. I like to eat them freshly ground every morning.
Do you need to grind flax seeds to get the health benefits?
Yes, you do. 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.
The best way to reap the health benefits of flax seeds every day is to grind them fresh and add them to your food, such as cereal or salad.Cynthia Bailey, MD
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.
To see more of my recommendations for the optimal diet for supporting health, click here for my free eBook Diet Guide.
Adolphe JL, et. al., Health effects with consumption of the flax lignan secoisolariciresinol diglucoside, Br J Nutr, 2010 Apr; 103(7):929-38.
Photo Attribution: Jim Linwood