The Benefits of Flaxseed
Is flaxseed the new wonder food? Preliminary studies show that it may help fight heart disease, diabetes and breast cancer.
Flaxseed Isn't a Magic Bullet
It's tempting to think of flaxseed as a super food because of its many potential health benefits. But keep in mind there is no magic food or nutrient that guarantees improved health.
What matters is consistently making great dietary choices as part of an overall healthy lifestyle.
Who Shouldn’t Use Flaxseed?
Until more is known, Thompson says, pregnant women and possibly breastfeeding mothers should not supplement their diets with ground flaxseed.
"Our own animal studies showed that flaxseed exposure during these stages may be protective against breast cancer in the offspring. But a study of another investigator showed the opposite effect," Thompson says.
Tips for Using Flaxseed
Many experts believe it's better to consume flaxseed than flax oil (which contains just part of the seed) so you get all the components. But stay tuned as researchers continue to investigate.
Thompson says, "Ground flaxseed, in general, is a great first choice, but there may be specific situations where flax oil or the lignans (taken in amounts naturally found in flaxseed) might be as good."
How much flaxseed do you need? The optimum dose to obtain health benefits is not yet known. But 1 to 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed a day is currently the suggested dose, according to the Flax Council of Canada.
Here are more tips for using, buying, and storing flaxseed:
- Buy it ground or grind it yourself. Flaxseed, when eaten whole, is more likely to pass through the intestinal tract undigested, which means your body doesn't get all the healthful components. If you want to grind flaxseed yourself, those little electric coffee grinders seem to work best.
- Milled = ground = flax meal. Don’t be confused by the different product names for ground flaxseed. Milled or ground flaxseed is the same thing as flax meal.
- Buy either brown or golden flaxseed. Golden flaxseed is easier on the eyes, but brown flaxseed is easier to find in most supermarkets. There is very little difference nutritionally between the two, so the choice is up to you.
- Find it in stores or on the Internet. Many supermarket chains now carry ground flaxseed (or flax meal). It’s usually in the flour or "grain" aisle or the whole-grain cereal section and is often sold in 1-pound bags. You can also find it in health food stores or order it on various web sites.
- Check the product label. When buying products containing flaxseed, check the label to make sure ground flaxseed, not whole flaxseed, was added. Flaxseed is a featured ingredient in cereals, pasta, whole grain breads and crackers, energy bars, meatless meal products, and snack foods.
- Add flaxseed to a food you habitually eat. Every time you have a certain food, like oatmeal, smoothies, soup, or yogurt, stir in a couple tablespoons of ground flaxseed. Soon it will be a habit and you won’t have to think about it, you’ll just do it.
- Hide flaxseed in dark, moist dishes. The dishes that hide flaxseed the best are dark sauces or meat mixtures. No one tends to notice flaxseed when it's stirred into enchilada casserole, chicken parmesan, chili, beef stew, meatloaf, or meatballs. For a 4-serving casserole, you can usually get away with adding 2 to 4 tablespoons of ground flaxseed. For a dish serving 6 to 8, use 4 to 8 tablespoons.
- Use it in baking. Substitute ground flaxseed for part of the flour in recipes for quick breads, muffins, rolls, bread, bagels, pancakes, and waffles. Try replacing 1/4 to 1/2 cup of the flour with ground flaxseed if the recipe calls for 2 or more cups of flour.
- Keep it in the freezer. The best place to store ground flaxseed is the freezer. Freeze pre-ground flaxseed in the bag you bought it in or in a plastic sealable bag if you ground it yourself. The freezer will keep the ground flax from oxidizing and losing its nutritional potency.
- Whole flaxseed keeps longer. The outside shell in whole flaxseed appears to keep the fatty acids inside well protected. It’s a good idea to keep your whole flaxseed in a dark, cool place until you grind it. But as long as it is dry and of good quality, whole flaxseed can be stored at room temperature for up to a year.