Health Benefits of Flaxseeds
These little guys may be tiny, but they're big on flavor and nutrition. Here's why flaxseeds are so good for you, plus some tasty ways to enjoy them.
If you haven't tried flaxseeds yet, it's high time you did. These tiny gems have been around for thousands of years, and today they're prized more than ever for their powerful health benefits, nutty flavor and versatility.
Here's why flaxseeds—whole or ground, brown or golden—are so good for you, along with some crazy-simple ways to enjoy them (try some of our healthy flaxseed recipes).
Flax Nutrition Facts: What's in Them
As its name suggests, flaxseed is a seed, not a grain. Ground flaxseed is best for most people, as whole flaxseeds are harder to digest. One tablespoon of ground flaxseed has 37 calories and provides nearly 2 grams of fiber. Flaxseeds are also one of the richest plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids—there are 2.35 grams of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) in 1 tablespoon of whole flaxseed (it's recommended that most adults get between 1.1 and 1.6 grams of ALA per day). You'll get protein, vitamins and minerals too.
Flaxseeds are also an astonishingly rich source of lignans, a plant compound that's loaded with disease-fighting antioxidants. In fact, flaxseeds have up to 800 times more lignans than beans, grains, fruits, vegetables and other fiber-rich plant foods.
Small Package, Big Benefits
"These little seeds are truly amazing," says Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, a nutrition and wellness expert and the author of Eating in Color. Multiple studies suggest that adding flaxseeds to your diet can boost your health in a number of important ways. Read on to learn about their potential benefits.
Most of us don't eat nearly enough fiber—the average adult gets only about 15 grams a day, a far cry from the recommended 25 grams a day for women and 38 grams a day for men. Flaxseeds to the rescue: just 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed provides 16% of the daily fiber needs for women and about 11% DV for men. Their insoluble fiber aids digestion, helps keep you regular, and prevents constipation. Bye-bye, bloating and poop problems!
Help with weight loss
Flaxseeds are also high in soluble fiber, which helps you feel full so you're less likely to overeat. A 2017 review of studies found that eating whole flaxseeds may help with weight loss, especially in very overweight people. In the studies, the people who lost the most were those who stayed on a flaxseed-supplemented diet for 12 weeks or longer and ate more than 30 grams (not quite 4 tablespoons) of flaxseeds a day.
Boost heart health
One of flaxseeds' biggest benefits is their high ALA (plant-based omega-3) content, says Largeman-Roth. Your body doesn't produce omega-3s on its own, so you have to get them from foods like fish and—you guessed it—flaxseeds. In fact, flaxseeds are second only to chia seeds as the plant foods highest in ALA. Research shows that people who eat more foods with ALA have a lower risk of heart disease—by up to 14%, according to one large review of more than two dozen studies. Learn more about the best foods to eat for your heart.
Of course, eating flaxseeds can't replace cholesterol-lowering meds for folks who need them. But several small studies show that eating flaxseeds may help in the fight against high cholesterol. During digestion, the soluble fiber in flaxseed helps bind cholesterol and pushes it out of the body, lowering cholesterol levels in the blood. In one small study of people with high cholesterol, eating 30 grams a day of flaxseed powder for three months helped lower total cholesterol by 17% and "bad" LDL cholesterol by nearly 20%. In another very small study of postmenopausal women, eating 30 grams of flaxseeds every day for three months lowered their LDL and total cholesterol by 7% and 10%, respectively.
Lower blood pressure
A number of studies show that flaxseeds can help lower blood pressure. That's good news, since high blood pressure raises the risk of heart disease, stroke and other life-threatening problems.
At the end of a 6-month study of 110 people with hypertension, the blood pressure of those who ate 30 grams of milled flaxseed a day (about 4 tablespoons) was lower than those who were on a placebo. The researchers said the blood pressure benefits from eating flaxseed could lead to 50% fewer strokes and 30% fewer heart attacks. (Try these Three Drinks to Lower Blood Pressure.)
Potentially help fight cancer
Remember lignans, those high-antioxidant compounds found in flaxseeds? They may be powerful cancer fighters, according to several studies—including one of more than 6,000 women in Canada that found that those who regularly ate flaxseeds were up to 18% less likely to develop breast cancer. Post-menopausal women seemed to benefit the most.
Other small studies suggest that flaxseeds may help lower the risk of prostate cancer in men. Evidence is conflicting, though, and more research is needed.
How to Use Flaxseeds
Pictured recipe: Seeded Whole-Grain Quick Bread
"I like sprinkling whole flaxseeds over oatmeal for a nutty crunch and extra fiber, but to really unlock the benefits of the ALA, it's better to use them ground," says Largeman-Roth. "You can buy the seeds ground, or grind them yourself in a spice grinder or coffee grinder," she adds. Store whole or ground flaxseeds in the fridge for up to six months.
Most people should aim to eat 1 to 2 tablespoons of flaxseeds a day. That's not hard to do, as they're easy to incorporate into many dishes:
- Bake ground flaxseed in muffins, cookies or breads. "Ground flaxseed can replace one-quarter of the flour in some baked goods," says Largeman-Roth.
- Mix a little ground flaxseed into yogurt.
- Stir ground flaxseed into hot oatmeal or cold cereal.
- Blend ground flaxseed into smoothies.
- Add a little ground flaxseed to your favorite pancake or waffle recipe.
- Mix ground flaxseed into mayonnaise for sandwiches or salad dressings.
- Top a green salad with a tablespoon of whole flaxseeds.
- Sprinkle loaves of bread with whole flaxseeds before they bake for a delicious crunchy topping.
- Experiment! Flaxseeds are incredibly versatile, so try them in some of your favorite recipes. "You can even use them in meatballs!" Largeman-Roth says.