6 Health Benefits of Flaxseeds
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 simple ways to enjoy them (try some of our healthy flaxseed recipes).
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 and most of them pass through the digestive tract.
Here is the nutritional breakdown for 1 tablespoon (7 grams) of ground flaxseeds:
- Calories: 37 kcal
- Protein: 1.3 g
- Total fat: 3 g
- Monounsaturated fats: 0.5 g
- Polyunsaturated fats: 2 g
- Fiber: 1.9 g
- Calcium: 18 mg
- Phosphorus: 45 mg
- Potassium: 57 mg
Flaxseeds are one of the richest plant sources of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), a plant-based version of omega-3 fatty acids., providing 2.35 g for every tablespoon of whole flaxseed. The amount present is more than what most adults need every day (the current ALA recommendation for adults is between 1.1 and 1.6 g per day).
These tiny and mighty seeds also contain protein and a range of vitamins and minerals. More importantly, flaxseeds are 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 several important ways. Read on to learn about their potential benefits.
1. Aid digestion
Most of us don't eat nearly enough fiber—the average adult gets only about 16 g daily, a far cry from the recommended 25 g per day for women and 38 g daily for men. Flaxseeds to the rescue—two tablespoons of ground flaxseed provide 15% of daily fiber needs for women and about 10% for men. Their insoluble fiber aids digestion, helps keep you regular and prevents constipation. Bye-bye, bloating and poop problems!
2. 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 g (not quite 4 tablespoons) of flaxseeds a day.
3. 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. A large review of research studies published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests consuming foods with ALA, such as flaxseeds, may lower the risk of heart disease by 10%. Learn more about the best foods to eat for your heart.
4. Reduce cholesterol
While eating flaxseeds can't replace cholesterol-lowering meds for folks who need them, some studies, such as the one published in 2020 in the International Journal of Angiology noted that consuming 50 g (about 7 tablespoons) of flaxseeds for four weeks resulted in a 9% and 18% reduction in the total cholesterol and "bad" LDL cholesterol, respectively. It is thought that the soluble fiber in flaxseeds binds cholesterol and pushes it out of the body, lowering blood cholesterol levels.
5. Lower blood pressure
Flaxseeds may also help lower blood pressure. That's good news since high blood pressure raises the risk of heart disease, stroke and other life-threatening problems. Scientists speculate that ALA and lignans play an important role in lowering blood pressure, where they may decrease the amount of fatty acid byproducts (aka plaque) accumulating and narrowing the blood vessels. One study that reviewed multiple research studies revealed that study participants who consumed 30 g (about 4 tablespoons) of ground flaxseeds every day for six months did not only lower their systolic blood pressure (the pressure when the heart contracts, pushing blood out) by 10 mm Hg, but they also had a 50% reduction in getting a heart attack and stroke.
6. 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. Other studies suggest that flaxseed may also lower the risk of prostate cancer in men. Still, the use of flaxseeds for cancer prevention remains debatable as there are not enough clinical studies to prove their effectiveness.
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.
While there are no specific recommendations for the amount of flaxseed consumption for good health, most experts agree to aim to eat 1 to 2 tablespoons a day. That's not hard to do, as they're easy to incorporate into many dishes. Largeman-Roth suggests, "Put ground flaxseed in muffins, cookies or breads. Ground flaxseed can replace one-quarter of the flour in some baked goods."
Here are some additional tips to easily add flaxseed into your meals and snacks:
- Mix a little ground flaxseed into yogurt.
- Stir ground flaxseed into hot oatmeal, overnight oatmeal and 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.
Flaxseeds are a nutrition powerhouse that offers many promising health benefits. There are countless ways to include flaxseeds as part of your diet. Experiment—flaxseeds are incredibly versatile, so try them with our flaxseed recipes or in some of your favorite recipes. "You can even use them in meatballs!" Largeman-Roth says.